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25/06/2014

EU Strategy Framework on Health and Safety at Work

The strategy does not recognise key risk factors such as alcohol

On the 6th of June 2014 the European Commission launched its communication on an EU Strategy Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020. The Strategy is mainly about risk prevention and the promotion of safer and healthier conditions in the workplace, to improve job quality and working conditions and to promote competitiveness. The communication stipulates three key challenges that are common across the European Union and require further policy action. The first challenge is about improving the implementation record of Member States. The second challenge says that there is a need to improve the prevention of work-related diseases by tackling existing, new and emerging risks. The third challenge in the Communication of the Commission mentions the need to tackle the demographic change in the EU, in other words, the ageing of the workforce[i].

The second challenge arises because occupational ill-health, including diseases caused or aggravated by adverse working conditions, puts a heavy burden on workers, companies and social security systems[ii]. Although major efforts were made to prevent occupational diseases by putting EU legislation and non-legislative action in to place to regulate chemicals, to address exposure to electromagnetic fields and to provide information and to exchange good practices[iii]; there was no mention of the effects of alcohol in the workplace, alcohol related harm nor certain occupations that increase the risk of alcohol-related harm caused by stressful working environments in the new EU Strategy. Research however, suggests that the work place itself impacts on alcohol related harm[iv]. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, mentioned in the EU Strategy Framework on Health and Safety at Work, workers consider stress to be one of the main occupational risks (53%). Stress is the second most frequently reported work-related health problem in Europe. Managing stress is not just a moral obligation and a good investment for employers, it is a legal imperative set out in Framework Directive 89/391/EEC, supported by the social partners’ framework agreements on work-related stress and harassment and violence at work.[v]

Research requested by the European Alcohol and Health Forum in the spring of 2010 and conducted by the Science Group, answers ten questions to summarize the impact of alcohol on the workplace and productivity. According to these answers, ‘the workplace, itself, can lead to alcohol-related harm through structural factors, stress, high effort/low reward work, the ease of obtaining and using alcohol, the extent to which members of an individual’s workplace social network use alcohol or work while impaired by alcohol at work, and, the extent to which members of an individual’s workplace social network approve of using or working under the influence of alcohol at work’. [vi]

From an examination of studies concerning the link between alcohol and/or drug abuse and the prevalence of occupational accidents, it would appear to be important to integrate these two factors into health promotion strategies, because they might have an important impact[vii].

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance advocates including alcohol-related harm in all policies, including the EU Strategy Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020. A healthy and productive workplace is critical for economic success and population health. Ill-health at the workplace can result in lost productivity[viii]. Stress is only one part of the story. Alcohol use during or before work, along with excessive consumption of alcohol generally, makes accidents more likely and can affect workers’ performance, absenteeism, presenteeism and lead to loss of production, and in addition poses a burden on social security systems. Often forgotten is the impact of drinkers on the productivity of people other than the drinker. Moreover, about 20 to 25% of all accidents at work involve intoxicated people injuring themselves and other victims, including co-workers[ix]. It is therefore important to include alcohol in the new EU Strategy.

Eurocare was associated partner in the European Alcohol and Workplace (EWA) project. A toolkit and policy recommendations, together with all information about the project, can be found at www.ewaproject.eu

[i] COM(2014)332 final, 06/06/2014, p5-7

[ii] COM(2014)332 final, 06/06/2014, p5

[iii] COM(2014)332 final, 06/06/2014, p6

[iv] Scientific Opinion of the Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum, September 2011

[v] https://osha.europa.eu/en/topics/stress

[vi] Scientific Opinion of the Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum, September 2011, p9

[vii] https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/literature_reviews/motivation-for-employers-to-carry-out-workplace-health-promotion

[viii] Scientific Opinion of the Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum, September 2011, p9

[ix] http://eurocare.org/resources/policy_issues/alcohol_and_the_workplace