Introduction to EU OSH legislation

EU legislature has established a system of basic principles of safety and health management, which must be transposed into national law by the Member States. Thus the principles are applicable in all Member States of the European Union.

The European Union sets legislation in the form of directives. The most important legal act is the European Framework Directive (1989/391/EEC), which establishes general principles for managing
safety and health, such as responsibility of the employer, rights and duties of the workers, using risk assessments to continuously improve company processes, and workplace health and safety representation. All subsequent directives follow these common principles. These subsequent
directives include individual directives or ‘daughter directives’, based on Article 16 of the Framework Directive. There are also other specific EU Directives, which are not based on the Framework directive, but have direct and indirect impact on OSH.

The European Directives on OSH set minimum standards for protecting workers and are transposed into national law by the legislatures in each Member State. Member States may exceed those standards when transposing the directives, but they may not lower existing ones. In this way, EU Legislation has established a homogenous system of basic OSH management principles where previously, each EU Member State had its own system to regulate OSH.

EU OSH legislation is built around the terms ‘working environment’ and ‘health’. Both terms are not defined in the EU legislation itself but important for the context and understanding.
The term ‘Working environment’ goes beyond the prevention of work related accidents and sickness and includes the humane design of work processes and work organisation and aspects of health promotion. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) acknowledged this broad interpretation in the judgement C-84/94 of 12 Nov.1996.

‘Health’ is also acknowledged by the ECJ in the same decision in the definition of the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Article 3, the Framework Directive defines various terms which are essential for understanding of the European legislation on OSH

  • The worker: A worker is any person employed, including trainees and apprentices, but excluding domestic workers and self-employed persons
  • The employer: The Employer is any natural or legal person who has an employment relationship with a worker and has responsibility for the undertaking and/or establishment
  • Workers’ representative with specific responsibility for the safety and health: A workers’ representative with specific responsibility for the safety and health of workers is any person elected or designated in accordance with national laws / and / or practices to represent workers where OSH problems arise
  • Prevention: Prevention means all steps or measures taken or planned at all stages of work in the undertaking to prevent or reduce occupational risks.

Let us go forward in this battle fortified by conviction that those who labour in the service of a great and good cause will never fail.

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