6th Dec 2022

Brussels mulls rewards for companies improving work safety

  • The construction sector remains one of the top areas where workers face safety risks (Photo: Wikipedia)

The European Commission is set to promote a new EU target of a 25 percent reduction in the number of work-related accidents across the union, suggesting that member states could provide cash or a cut in social contributions for companies that opt to introduce increased health and safety measures.

Social policy commissioner Vladimir Spidla will unveil the bloc's new strategy for health and safety at work on Wednesday (21 February) with the main goal being for the EU to cut by a quarter "the incidence of accidents at work and occupational illnesses" by 2012.

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According to the draft document - seen by EUobserver - "the overall economic cost of problems associated with health and safety at work for the EU amounts to 2-3 percent of its GDP," and this "huge cost" harms the bloc's economic growth and competitiveness.

The paper argues that activities carried out by member states and coordinated by Brussels over the past five years have led to a 17 percent drop in accidents at work and a 23 percent decrease in longer-term absences due to workplace illness.

But according to the commission's statistics, more than a third of European workers still say their jobs are harmful for their health, with some types of occupational illnesses becoming more common - such as infections and psychological stress-related problems.

Each year, over 350,000 workers are forced to change jobs after an accident, 300,000 suffer permanent disability and 15,000 cannot re-enter the labour market.

As part of the new strategy to tackle these negative trends, the EU executive aims to come up with an evaluation of how the existing health and safety directives are implemented at the national level as well as drawing up concrete practical guides for some areas.

Brussels is also considering new rules for dealing with sub-contracting as it is increasingly common that where several companies coexist at the same workplace "each employer tends to limit preventive measures to its own workers" whereas the commission suggests they should work together.

Finally, in a bid to boost awareness among European entrepreneurs - especially from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - the commission suggests they could be offered "direct or indirect economic incentives for prevention measures."

"Such incentives could include a possible reduction in social contributions or insurance premiums depending on the investment made in improving the working environment and/or reducing accidents" or "economic aid for the introduction of health and safety management schemes," according to Mr Spidla's paper.

For their part, SMEs have not shown any enthusiasm for new laws in the area saying that current health and safety legislation is sufficient and should be implemented properly rather than extended.

"Too many legislative obligations combined with ill conceived texts for small businesses do not facilitate their full and correct implementation at the workplace," the Brussels-based small business lobby, UEAPME, said in its position paper on the topic.

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