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Health and Safety Policies in the EU

Submitted by on 09 Mar 2012 – 12:57

By Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)

Tough economic times mean we must get the very best from our regulatory systems. The European Commission (EC) communiqué ‘An agenda for new skills and jobs: A European contribution to full employment’1 outlined four priority areas for raising employment rates. These are:

  • Better functioning labour markets
  • A more skilled workforce
  • Better job quality and working conditions
  • Stronger policies to promote job creation and demand for labour

It recognised that a skilled workforce is essential for a competitive, sustainable and innovative economy for Europe’s 2020 goals. And the priority for ‘better job quality and working conditions’ covers some of the health and safety challenges that need to be met to improve lives and secure growth and prosperity.

The EC is concerned that the economic crisis means more jobs are exposed to competitive pressures and deteriorating working conditions, negatively impacting psychosocial health. This is a concern that the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the UK Chartered body for health and safety professionals, both shares and is keen to help address.

The EC are looking to improve job quality by strengthening legislation with supporting ‘soft instruments’ (such as guides, sharing good practice and codes of conduct). Though welcoming new ways to help people to manage health and safety better – the UK experience suggests that codes of practice should be tailored to needs and can also benefit from semi-legal status.

A 2009 study2 on the role of codes and guidance materials in occupational safety and health regulation concluded that quasi-legal (approved) codes could be effective – depending on design, nature, accessibility and internal support – but not to over-rely on voluntary codes and self-regulation. Legal status was found to be important, with some respondents believing quasi-legal codes were authoritative and persuasive when there were disputes.

Code use and status is something that Europe may wish to consider during the proposed 2013 review of EU health and safety law and the development of the new EU Strategy for 2013-2020 on Health and Safety at Work.

The communiqué highlights the problems of misclassification by employers of employees as ‘independent contractors’ and also of ‘undeclared work’ in Europe, which can leave workers vulnerable.

The problem of ‘bogus’ self-employment in UK construction was highlighted in a 2009 report into the underlying causes of fatal accidents.3 We are concerned at recent UK Government proposals4 to exempt certain self-employed people from health and safety law, which we believe is unnecessary and would be a backward step that potentially puts people at risk. We think it would be an unhelpful message in the UK, which has a substantial self-employed population of over 4 million people and could also cause a growth in the bogus self-employed.

Those in self-employment have significant potential to affect not only their own health and safety, but that of other people and they need to manage their risks sensibly.

Across Europe, there are initiatives to facilitate the movement of labour and recognise professional standards. IOSH is a founder-member of the European Network of Occupational Safety and Health Professional Organisations5 and has worked on several pan-European projects, including the introduction of the European Occupational Safety and Health Manager (EurOSHM®)6 voluntary certification standard and the EUSAFE Project.7

EUSAFE seeks to develop a new professional qualification and training framework based on existing certification standards. It will generate country-specific reports on OSH training; a new profile for OSH professionals with qualifications in ‘units of learning outcomes’; and educational objectives, teaching plans and example teaching materials, standardised at EU-level.

The project will enable OSH professionals to achieve recognition of their competences and qualifications and increase their mobility. It will also produce flexible instruments to validate and recognise learning results, which will enable transferability in other EU countries.

As well as championing leadership, worker involvement and competent advice, IOSH has been working to help embed health and safety and risk concepts in the training and education system, to help develop a ‘risk intelligent society’. This would mean that people could readily differentiate big and small risks and make well-informed decisions and choices.

We are supporting education in schools, colleges and universities. And, as part of our awareness-raising, we have also been promoting the strong economic case that complements the compelling legal and moral ones for good health and safety. The IOSH ‘Li£e Savings’ campaign8 provides information, case studies and tools for making the business case and calls on Government to give tax breaks to employers supporting rehabilitation and therapy for their employees, as a way of improving public health.

The message is that good health and safety not only saves lives; it also supports business and sustains jobs and the economy.

Given the importance of Europe in driving UK health and safety regulation, we are keen to strengthen UK input to the EU legislative process. With the forthcoming comprehensive review of EU health and safety legislation; evaluation of the current Health and Safety at Work Strategy; and development of a new strategy taking us to 2020, there is much to discuss and share.

IOSH is hosting a workshop in the European Parliament later in the year to further explore policy and decision-making on health and safety regulation within Europe, to help equip us all for sustainable, well-managed work, both in this decade and beyond.


1.      EC communication. An agenda for new skills and jobs: A European contribution to full employment (COM(2010) 682 final). 2010.


2.      Gunningham N and Bluff L. What determines efficacy? The roles of codes and guidance materials in occupational safety and health regulation. Policy and Practice in Health and Safety 2009; 7(2): 3–29

3.      Donaghy R. One death is too many: Inquiry into the underlying causes of construction fatal accidents (Cm 7657). 2009. Norwich: TSO. www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm76/7657/7657.pdf

4.      DWP. The Government response to the Löfstedt Report. 2011.


5.      ENSHPO website www.enshpo.eu

6.      EurOSHM website www.euroshm.org/

7.      EUSAFE website www.eusafe.org/index.php/en/

8.      IOSH campaign website www.iosh.co.uk/lifesavings