The European Community/Union has for a long time been involved in the area of workers' safety. The ECSC and Euratom Treaties assigned more tasks to these Communities in this field than the EEC Treaty to the European Economic Community [see section 2.1]. Article 46 of the ECSC Treaty called upon the High Authority (Commission) to "obtain the information it requires to assess the possibilities for improving working conditions and living standards for workers in the industries within its province and the threats to those standards". Article 55 called upon it to "promote technical and economic research relating" inter alia "to occupational safety" in those industries. ECSC "social research" has developed from multiannual programmes decided upon by the Commission in the fields of hygiene and safety in mines, the effort to combat pollution at the workplace and ergonomics.
By virtue of the powers conferred on it by the Euratom Treaty, the Community has been able to implement an efficient policy for the protection of workers and the general public against the risks linked with radioactivity. A Directive establishes uniform basic safety standards for the protection of the health of individuals subject to occupational, medical and public exposures against the dangers arising from ionising radiation [Directive 2013/59, see section 19.2.3.].
Despite the limited competences that assigned the EEC Treaty to the European Community, Directives were adopted concerning the protection of workers, notably from the major accident hazards of certain industrial activities [Directive 96/82, replaced by directive 2012/18, see section 16.3.5] and exposure to asbestos [Directive 2009/148]. As we will see below, these first directives have been adapted to technical progress. After the 1987 Single Act [see section 2.1] had increased the Community's authority as regards the health and safety of the work force, the Commission set up a mutual information system for legislative and administrative acts of the Member States concerning health and security of workers at the place of work [Decision 88/383].
Following the treaty on the establishment of the European Community, the Treaty on the functioning of the EU sets among the objectives of the common social policy ''improved living and working conditions, so as to make possible their harmonisation while the improvement is being maintained'' (Article 151 TFEU, ex Article 136 TEC). With a view to achieving this objective, the Union supports and complements the activities of the Member States, inter alia, concerning the improvement of the working environment to protect workers' health and safety; and the improvement of working conditions (Article 153 TFEU, ex Article 137 TEC).
The European Agency for Health and Safety at Work, based in Bilbao, has as main tasks: the collection and dissemination of technical, scientific and economic information on health and safety at work; the promotion of and support for exchanges of information and experience between Member States; the provision of information necessary for the Commission in the preparation and evaluation of legislation; and the operation of a network linking Member States' national networks [Regulation 2062/94]. The Commission is assisted by an Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work [Council Decision].
At the instigation of the Commission, the Council adopted, in 1989, a Framework Directive on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at the workplace [Directive 89/391]. This Directive lays down three main principles: the employer's general obligation to guarantee the workers' health and safety in all work-related aspects, in particular by preventing professional risks, by keeping the work force informed and by training; the obligation of every worker to contribute to his own health and safety and that of others by using the work facilities correctly and respecting the safety instructions; the absence or limited liability for employers for things caused by abnormal unforeseen circumstances or exceptional events. By laying down the main principles concerning health and safety at work in the Union, the framework Directive is the foundation on which all other directives aiming at the improvement of the working environment to protect workers' health and safety [Article 137 TEC] are superimposed.
This is particularly the case as regards the specific Directives laying down minimum requirements on:
* workplaces [Directive 89/654];
* work equipment [Directive 2009/104];
* personal protective equipment [Directive 89/656];
* the manual handling of loads involving some kind of risk - notably of dorsal/lumbar damage for workers [Directive 90/269];
* work using display screens [Directive 90/270];
* exposure at work to carcinogens or mutagens [Directive 2004/37];
* exposure at work to biological agents [Directive 2000/54]
* minimum health and safety requirements on temporary and mobile sites [Directive 92/57];
* safety and/or health signs in the workplace [Directive 92/58];
* the protection of workers in the mineral-extracting industries by drilling [Directive 92/91];
* the protection of workers in surface and underground mineral-extracting industries [Directive 92/104];
* the protection of workers from the risks related to hazardous chemical agents at the workplace [Directive 98/24];
* the protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres (e.g. flammable and/or combustible gases, vapours, mists or dusts) [Directive 1999/92];
* exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (mechanical vibrations) [Directive 2002/44];
* exposure to the risks arising from physical agents (noise) [Directive 2003/10];
* exposure to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields) [Directive 2004/40]; and
* exposure to the risks arising from physical agents (artificial optical radiation) [Directive 2006/25].
These Directives guarantee the right to safety at work for the workers in all Member States, including those which previously had not high safety standards. Workers having an interim or specific duration work relation must enjoy the same health and safety conditions as the other workers of an undertaking [Directive 1991/383]. As seen above, a directive aims at improving the health and safety of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding [Directive 1992/85, see section 13.5.5]. The Council recommends that the Member States recognise, in the context of their policy on preventing occupational hazards and accidents, the right of self-employed workers to health and safety protection, and their duties in this area [Recommendation 2003/134].
The new European strategy on health and safety at work aims at a global approach to well-being at work, taking account of changes in the world of work and the emergence of new risks, especially of a psycho-social nature. According to the Commission, the strategy should be based on: consolidating a culture of risk prevention, including psychological and social risks such as stress, harassment, depression and alcoholism; combining a variety of political instruments, such as social dialogue and corporate social responsibility; and building partnerships between all players in the field of health and safety [COM/2002/118].