Europe already has a OSH strategy… really?

Last year around this date, the European Commission released the new and long-awaited OSH strategy. However, both the document itself and some surrounding circumstances raise some questions on the so-called “EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020”. Is the OSH discipline in Europe facing a transition period towards a new approach?

Two weeks after the last elections to the European Parliament, the European Commission released the current EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020. Keep in mind this figure.

EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor introduced the document as one of the coordination tools at EU level “in order to ensure that all EU workers enjoy high levels of protection, irrespective of where they work, and to ensure that EU companies enjoy a level playing field throughout the Single Market and avoid 28 totally different sets of rules”[1]

This Strategic Framework aims to contribute to improving job quality and job satisfaction, while improving the competitiveness and productivity of European companies, especially small businesses, reducing costs for companies and improving the sustainability of social security systems [1]

The Framework Strategy document [2], identifies three major health and safety at work challenges:

  • to improve the implementation record of Member States, in particular by enhancing the capacity of micro and small enterprises to put in place effective and efficient risk prevention measures;
  • to improve the prevention of work-related diseases by tackling existing, new and emerging risks;
  • To tackle demographic change.

And proposes to address these challenges with a range of actions under seven key strategic objectives:

  • Further consolidate national strategies;
  • Facilitate compliance with OSH legislation, particularly by micro and small enterprises;
  • Better enforcement of OSH legislation by Member States;
  • Simplify existing legislation;
  • Address the ageing of the workforce, emerging new risks, prevention of work-related and occupational diseases;
  • Improve statistical data collection and develop the information base;
  • Better coordinate EU and international efforts to address OSH and engage with international organisations.

Was this what we were waiting?

The document is based on sound reports, analysis, consultations, studies, researches, advices, discussions, statements and lots of sources from the most reliable organizations in the world like ISSA, BAuA, HSE, ESENER, OiRA, ILO, OECD or EU-OSHA, among others.

From the point of view of an OSH professional, it is fantastic and very appreciated to have the overall EU OSH strategic framework in a single 15 pages document collecting, summarizing and/or referring to such amount of sound information.

But going beyond this obvious functional aspect, this EU Strategic Framework raises four key surrounding facts that puts into question the overall situation of OSH in the European Union:

  1. the own name of the final document: Strategic Framework. “Strategic Framework” is not the same than a “Strategy”. Strategy is the art of planning the best way to achieve something. A framework is a set of rules, ideas or beliefs used in order to decide how to behave (Cobuild). Thus, a strategic framework may refer to planned rules, ideas, beliefs and behaviours; and despite that they are considered in a holistic long-term point of view, this doesn´t reaches the rank of strategy;
  2. and not only that: almost any statement from any EU body refers to it as “an Strategic Framework”, “a new Strategic Framework” or similar ways different to “the Strategic Framework”. The EU Strategic Framework releases a sound set of challenges and objectives, based on reliable sources, but doesn´t takes the leadership and guidance role at EU level expected from a real strategy. In fact, several countries throughout the EU approved their respective national OSH strategies -supposed to be in accordance with the EU strategy- even before than the final EU Strategic Framework. The hierarchical scale EU-State Members is broken in this case;
  3. the previous fact -approval of national strategies before than the EU Strategic Framework- may be a consequence of the late release of the EU document. There was a two years gap between this EU Strategic Framework 2014-2020 and the previous 2007-2012 EU Occupational Health and Safety Strategy. I don´t like conspiracy theories, but I also think that nothing uses to come by chance, and as stated at the beginning of this article, the current EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 was released just two weeks after the last elections to the European Parliament, after a delay of two years. To make this sort of key aspects -as is the case of a strategy, strategic framework or whatever the name- conditional to political issues is not good for the development, in this case, of the worker´s safety and health;
  4. but I want to put a positive end to this article, because I honestly think that the apparent lack of coordination and political will in Europe regarding the proper development of OSH, is just a consequence of the evolution of the matter towards a better scenario. There are sound sights that OSH is going beyond its traditional conceptualisation and it is finally converging with key approaches for the sustainable development of the organizations and businesses, and this may be very positive for the performance of the OSH duties. And while this transversal approach of OSH becomes established, the EU bodies must in turn adapt to this new situation… hopefully.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION. 2014. EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020.
[1] ANDOR, Andor . 6 June 2014. Adoption of Strategic Framework on Health and Safety. European Commission. Consulted 3 Jul 2015;
[2] EUROPEAN COMMISSION. 6 Jun 2014. COM(2014) 332 final. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on an EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020. Consulte 3 Jul 2015.