Occupational health and safety on the agenda at ETUC summer school

Report ETUC OSH summer school

(Brussels, 23 September 2022) The ETUC organised a summer school on occupational health and safety (OSH) on 8 and 9 September 2022 to discuss the challenges and priorities of OSH in the EU. The event was attended by ETUC affiliates and its federations ETUCE (European Trade Union Committee on Education), EPSU, Eurocadres, IndustriALL, and EFBWW (European Federation of Building and Wood Workers).

The event began with a presentation by Stefan Olsson, newly appointed Deputy Director for the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL), European Commission, on the future of EU strategic framework on OSH 2021-2027. He stated that OSH was initially seen as a threat to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). However, sentiments have now shifted in favour of OSH after the COVID-19 pandemic and the broader social agenda including the platform work proposal will address more issues related to workers’ statutes and social security coverage. Many of the ETUC demands have been taken on board such as the objective of “zero work-related accidents”, a greater focus on gender and an occupational response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, affiliates underlined the lack of ambition to combat cancer at work, psycho-social risks including insufficient staffing levels as a major health risk not least in public services, as well as the lack of reference to the role of the EU sectoral social dialogue. EPSU added that digitalisation also brings a strong OSH dimension (blurring of work/private life boundaries, work intensification, overtime, invasion of privacy, protection of personal data, cognitive effects). In central government, the social partners will sign an agreement on 6 October on digitalisation with a section on OSH, which provides for the inclusion of staffing levels in health risk assessments. The social partners intend to submit a request for a legislative implementation of the agreement to the Commission, and it is hoped that the forthcoming rules on social partners agreement as part of the ongoing review of social dialogue will soon be clarified.

In response, Mr. Olsson agreed on the importance of health risk assessments, which he reminded is a legal provision in the 1989 OSH Framework Directive which covers both physical and mental health and that the upcoming cross-sectoral negotiations on telework and the right to disconnect would contribute to the fight against psycho-social risks. He confirmed that the proposal on fighting asbestos at the workplace would be published in the next few days. On the matter of staffing levels, he said that there was no EU legal competence to deal with this matter. He agreed that the different sectoral social dialogue committees have an important role to play as in the case of the Silica Directive. He confirmed that the pending Communication on Social Dialogue would be postponed until early next year. He queried about the views on making EU funding conditional upon compliance with OSH.

The second presentation was given by William Cockburn, Interim Executive Director, EU-OSHA, on the longstanding challenges of OSH. He stated that the main challenges are: climate change (extreme heat and cold), digitalisation, non-standard employment (50% of new jobs), psycho-social risks, outsourcing, pandemics, population ageing and public attitudes towards certain groups of workers (both positive and negative e.g. nurses). Cockburn underlined that most governments were unprepared in the fight against Covid-19 - even though researchers had sent warning signals many years ago. During the discussion, Cockburn underlined the shortages of labour inspectors to tackle those health risks and that in addition to the human factor, occupational accidents amount to 3% of GDP in the EU.

The last presentation on the first day was given by Julian Scola, the head of the communication department at the ETUC, on the Zero Death at Work campaign. He stated that campaign has been successful so far as it has been signed by 10 ministers, 11 MEPs, 43 trade union leaders and many more. However, it still requires signatures from more ministers and heads of state by April 2023. The petition can be found on the ETUC website.

The next day started with a presentation by Charlotte Grevfors Ernoult, Head of Unit - Health and Safety, DG-EMPL, European Commission on EU legislation on occupational cancer. She stated that cancer is the leading cause of occupational death in the EU as 52% of work-related deaths are due to cancer. Therefore, the EU published a new Chemical Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) in October 2020 and amended EU directive (2004/37/EC) on the Protection of Workers From the Risks Related to Exposure to Carcinogens or Mutagens at Work in March 2022 to protect workers against the dangers of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances (CMRs).

Next, a joint presentation was given by Wim van Veelen, policy advisor on health and safety, FNV; Kris Van Eyck, chair of the workers’ group, Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health and Julia Nedjelik-Lischa, chair of the employees' group, Management Board of EU-OSHA on OSH challenges in EU member-states. Firstly, Wim van Veelen discussed the labour inspector shortage in the Netherlands. Secondly, Julia Nedjelik-Lischa talked about the “Hitze App” (heat app) created to notify construction workers if the temperature is too high to continue working in Austria. Finally, Kris Van Eyck recounted a past successful campaign to improve the OSH conditions in and around a stainless steel factory in Belgium.

A presentation was given by Alexander Roeske, ETUC/IndustriAll representative at the Management Board of ECHA, on the changes to the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation. The new REACH Regulation will speed up the identification of CMRs, include polymers, improve communication, change the authorisation and restriction process, prohibit exports, etc.

Afterwards, a joint presentation by Owen Tudor, Deputy General Secretary, ITUC; Andreas Stoimenidis, Secretary of OSH, General Confederation of Greek Workers and Chairman, 'Vision Zero' working party; Susanna Costa, OSH officer, Italian Labour Union; and Romain Lasserre, full-time official, FO International and European, on the ratification of ILO convention 155 in EU member-states. Firstly, Owen Tudor talked about the importance of ILO convention 155 and 187. Secondly, Andreas Stoimenidis discussed the problem of under-registration of occupational death in Greece. Thirdly, Susanna Costa discussed the problems with the implementation of ILO convention 155 in Italy. Finally, Romain Lasserre talked about the ratification process of the ILO convention 187 in France.

Nayla Glaise, President, Eurocadres, presented the campaign for a directive on psychosocial risks. She stated that 88% of EU workers suffer from stress and 60% of all lost working days are due to occupational stress and psychosocial risks. A future directive on psychosocial risks would need to fulfil five criteria. Firstly, consultation of workers and their representatives. Secondly, it must clearly explain the responsibility of employers to evaluate and alleviate psychosocial risks. Thirdly, it must define the indicators of psychosocial risks. Fourthly, it must emphasise the importance of training on psychosocial risks for employers and employees. Finally, it must stress the importance of labour inspectors. EPSU, ETUCE, AKAVA (Finland), among others, expressed support for the campaign.

The last presentation was given by Esther Lynch, the ETUC Deputy General Secretary, on the upcoming cross sector negotiations on telework (revision of the 2002 agreement) and the Right to Disconnect. She said that the negotiations should be over early next year. Initial talks were also underway with the Commission on the legislative implementation of the agreement. In terms of content, the negotiations will cover the employer’s responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace for teleworkers, due compensation for additional work-related expenses, preventing abusive use of surveillance technologies, the right to disconnect after work, equal pay for teleworkers and financial liability of the employer in case of work related accidents at home. The agreement should also secure the trade union right to collective bargaining. There is no question of introducing a new teleworker status and legal provisions should not go below the 1993 working time directive. During the discussion, it was asked whether the right to disconnect should be limited to telework and whether domestic violence in a context of telework will be dealt with. Lynch said that the latter had not been included in the ETUC mandate, and that  the right to disconnect - which indeed goes beyond telework - was added after some discussions with the employers.