EuroHealthNet calls for new EC occupational health and safety plans to include mental wellbeing improvements

17 January 2017
Work image

The European Commission has announced proposals for an action plan to improve EU rules concerning health and safety for people at work. It aims to better protect workers against work-related cancer, to help businesses to comply with the existing legislative framework, and to put a bigger focus on results and less on paperwork. At EuroHealthNet, we also see this initiative as an opportunity to highlight how modern occupational health and safety measures should include both the physical and mental wellbeing of workers.

The EC states that 'since 2008, the number of workers who died in an accident at work dropped by almost one fourth, and the percentage of EU workers reporting at least one health problem caused or made worse by work decreased by nearly 10%. However, challenges remain: it is estimated that about 160,000 Europeans die from illnesses related to their work every year.' 

These work related illnesses, injuries or other long-term health impairments do not stem from physical conditions alone. They are also caused by occupational impacts on mental health and wellbeing. Further, actual figures may be higher if the full impacts of stress and mental harm are taken into account.

Jobs defined by stressful working conditions such as high demand and low control, job strain or noise, and an imbalance between efforts and rewards have an increased risk of ill health, such as ischemic heart disease, a form of cardiovascular disease[1]. The 6th European Working Conditions Survey demonstrates that both good physical and social environments are associated with less general absence from work. Moreover, less presentism (working when sick) is associated with better job quality[2].

Promoting mental health among employees, identifying and providing help to those affected, and supporting those who need time off before returning to work have been proved to be cost-effective and beneficial for business. The cost of neglecting mental distress at work is too high to be ignored[3].

Health promotion at work, and in particular protecting mental health, has become a key issue in the labour market today. The challenge remains for the European Commission to address these factors, to consider how the changing nature of work is influencing health and well-being, and what impact this has on productivity and economic growth.


In 2012, the Commission started a comprehensive evaluation of the EU OSH legislation (the  Framework Directive  and 23 related Directives). A specific priority of the Commission in the field of OSH is the fight against cancer, as the first cause of work-related deaths in the EU. The Commission is addressing this as a priority challenge: on 13 May 2016 it proposed  measures to reduce exposure of European workers to 13 cancer-causing chemicals , by proposing changes to the  Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (2004/37/EC). Now the Commission follows up with a second proposal to address exposure to seven more priority chemicals. These proposals will be considered by the EU Institutions during 2017. The review of the EU OSH legislation and the changes to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive fit within the Commission's ongoing work on establishing a  European Pillar of Social Rights , which aims to adapt EU legislation to changing work patterns and society. The consultations and debates on the Pillar have confirmed the importance of occupational health and safety at work as a cornerstone of the EU acquis and put an emphasis on prevention and enforcement. The Communication adopted also follows up on broad evaluation of the existing "acquis", as part of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Program (REFIT) exercise which aims at making EU legislation simpler, more relevant and effective.

For more information

European Commission  - Press release   Commission launches new initiative to improve health and safety of workers

Frequently asked questions on workers' protection from cancer-causing chemicals

Frequently asked questions on new policy on health and safety at work

Commission Staff Working Document - Ex-post evaluation of OHS Directive

Commission Staff Working Document - A practical guidance for employers

EuroHealthNet contact

Alexandra Latham- Communication coordinator

Claudia Marinetti -Programme Manager


[1] Theorell, T., Jood, K., Järvholm, L. S., Vingård, E., Perk, J., Östergren, P. O. et al (2016), ‘A systematic review of studies in the contributions of the work environment to ischaemic heart disease development’, The European Journal of Public Health, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 470–477

[2] Eurofound (2016), Sixth European Working Conditions Survey – Overview report, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[3] Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (2007), Mental health at work: Developing the business case, Policy Paper 8, Sainsbury Institute for Mental Health, London