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EU Commission Lays Out Workplace Safety Strategy 2021–2027 and Consults on Chemical OELs Revision

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August 2, 2021Plamena GospodinovaBlog

On 28 June 2021, the EU Commission announced a communication (COM(2021) 323 final) defining its strategic framework on health and safety at work for 2021–2027 and focusing on "improving workers’ health and safety over the coming years in the context of the post-pandemic world, marked with green and digital transitions, economic and demographic challenges and the changing notion of a traditional workplace environment."

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Key Actions

The new strategy sets out the following three key actions:

  • Anticipating and managing change in the new world of work during the digital, green, and demographic transitions
  • Improving prevention of work-related diseases and accidents in line with the "vision zero" approach
  • Increasing preparedness for possible future health crises

OEL-Related Initiatives

Some of the newly announced measures include revision or introduction of occupational exposure limits (OELs) for hazardous substances. Measures to combat cancer, reproductive, and respiratory diseases will be straightened out by these actions:

  • Consulting on reduced OELs for welding fumes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, isoprene, and 1,4-dioxane under the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive 2004/37/EC in 2023.
  • Identifying a priority list of reprotoxic substances by the end of 2021

In addition, the EU Commission plans to review OELs in relation to activities generated in the context of other EU strategies (such as the EU Green Deal and the Sustainable Batteries Strategy) as they promote activities that also may impact the safety of employees working with hazardous chemicals. In particular, the following modifications are suggested:

  • OELs for asbestos in the Asbestos at Work Directive 2009/148/EC in 2022
  • OELs for lead and diisocyanates in the Chemical Agents Directive 98/24/EC in 2022
  • OELs for cobalt in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive 2004/37/EC in 2024

“New Work Environment”-Related Actions

According to the EU Commission’s communication, "the concept of workplace is becoming more fluid but also more complex." Therefore, the newly announced strategy includes the following actions related mostly to new workplace challenges and COVID-19:

  • Review of the Workplaces Directive 89/654/EEC and the Display Screen Equipment Directive 90/270/EEC by 2023, in the context of the remote work tendency
  • Assessment of psychological, mental, and ergonomic risks at work
  • Protection of healthcare employees
  • Assessment of exposure to hazardous medicinal products
  • Elimination of work-related deaths, accidents, and diseases
  • Prevention and combating workplace harassment
  • Develop emergency procedures and guidance for the rapid deployment, implementation, and monitoring of measures in potential future health crises

Verisk Analysis

According to this new strategy, it aims at "mobilizing EU institutions, EU member states, social partners and other relevant stakeholders around common priorities on workers’ health and safety protection."

In this context, on the same day (28 June 2021), the EU Commission launched the second-stage consultation of social partners to collect views on a possible EU legislation regulating OELs for lead, diisocyanates, and asbestos. Representative organizations may submit comments at until 30 September 2021.

Employers are advised to review the strategy and accompanying documents to stay abreast of the EU’s regulatory plans related to workplace safety and chemical exposure.