EU's New Strategy for Health and Safety at Work Impacts U.S. Businesses

U.S. employers with overseas operations are beginning to realize that the Commission of the European Unions (EU) five-year plan for health and safety at work, touted as a fresh approach to occupational safety that emphasizes the emergence of new psycho-social risks and the changing world of work, could impact the way they do business.

Despite the fact it was first published nearly a year ago in March, U.S. employers are just now waking up to the fact that the strategy could not only impact their overseas operations, but could cause ripple effects in the United States.

The future EU strategy on safety and health at work calls for fostering "a global approach to well-being" that includes:

  • Bullying and violence;
  • Workplace stress;
  • Repetitive motion injuries; and
  • Developing a preventive culture of risk prevention.

By now many European institutions, organizations and interest groups have weighed in on the commission's communication, "Adapting to Change in Work and Society."

In its final report on the document, the European Parliament welcomed the initiative and called for a "detailed action plan with financial and timing commitments against each major proposal."

While American companies have long heard of the importance of being pro-active with respect to workplace safety, this message has not generally been applied to health and well-being.

The Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME) called on management to realize that occupational health is more than "abstenteeism control." It called on all organizations to meet "a completely new challenge… Organizational health is not merely about the absence of illness, but about the presence of health."

Britain's Trade Union Congress focused on workplace stress and musculoskeletal disorders, but asked for real money to implement the program.

The Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) welcomed some aspects of the Commission's five-year plan, but not the emphasis on "well-being."

"Employers… think that the objective to foster well-being goes well beyond the sphere of the workplace and what a strategy for safety and health at work can reasonably be expected to deliver."

UNICE argued that well-being, along with psycho-social risks, tend to be subjective conditions that are often influenced by factors at home over which employers have no control.

For more information on the Commission's strategy and European reaction to it go to Europe.osha.eu.int/systems/strategies/future/#270

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