Workplace safety not in Commission’s top 40 priorities despite coronavirus

Trade unions are shocked and concerned that the European Commission still has no official plans to make workplaces safer in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

An updated work programme published by the Commission today includes 43 new initiatives, including proposals ranging from airport charges to crypto assets and ‘better regulation’.
But the Commission has again omitted improvements to health and safety from the document, having already overlooked the issue in its political guidelines and original work programme. 

That is an astonishing decision after thousands of deaths caused by exposure to Covid-19 at work, while millions more remain at home because their workplaces are considered unsafe.

Even without Covid-19, there are still an annual 4,000 fatal accidents at work while more than 100,000 people die every year from work-related cancer.

There is a need for a new and ambitious EU strategy on occupational health and safely, including additional binding occupational exposure limits on cancer-causing substances and a directive on combating stress.

The omission is one of a series of recent health and safety oversights by the Commission:

  • The Commission’s roadmap towards lifting confinement did not consider health and safety.
  • After the welcome inclusion of Covid-19 in the Biological Agents Directive, the Commission’s expert committee failed to give workers the highest level of protection from the virus.
  • The Commission has still not recognised Covid-19 as an occupational disease.

ETUC Deputy General Secretary Per Hilmersson said:

“The omission of health and safety from the Commission’s work programme was wrong before this crisis when there are still 4,000 fatal accidents at work every year and 100,000 work-related cancer deaths.

“But it is astonishing that improving health and safety at work is not among the Commission’s top 40 priorities following a pandemic during which workplace exposure caused thousands of deaths.

“The Commission has taken some action, but it’s clear that an urgent upgrade of European health and safety standards should be a priority so that people can return to work with confidence and a second wave of the virus is prevented.” 


The ETUC has welcomed the inclusion of action on minimum wages,  equal pay and other initiatives in the work programme, as well as the Commission’s plans for an economic recovery from the crisis

Photo credit: UN/Creative Commons