Workplace safety and health play a critical role in determining the general level of the market’s performance. Hence, poor working conditions impede the productivity of the workforce and, consequently, hurt the economic growth of a country. As a result, this problem should be timely addressed to ensure the consistent development of the market.
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Minimize work-related risks
The EU makes significant efforts to promote workplace safety and health throughout the Union. Thus, the European Commission has recently introduced a Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 that is mainly aimed at implementing the relevant safety rules and preventing potential risks. It is expected that the strategy will become a consistent guideline for the associated activity (European Commission, 2014).
In the meantime, it should be noted that this implementation is not the first step that the EU has made in terms of promoting the high quality of working conditions. Thus, for instance, the problem already received legal support with the appearance of Article 137 of the EU Treaty introduced in the middle of the twentieth century. The number of reports and official strategies devoted to the promotion of workplace safety and health shows that the EU society is highly concerned about the relevant problem.
As a result, the question arises regarding the motives that underpin the EU’s firmness in terms of resolving the problem of working conditions. To understand the true rationale and evaluate the current outcomes, it is essential to carry out a detailed analysis of the measures that the EU has been taking so far.
On the face of it, no rationale needs to be provided as the aim to promote workplace health and safety seems to be explicable. Thus, for instance, it might be assumed that the main motive underpinning this aim is the intention to reduce work-related risks. It is not a secret that some of the occupations acquire negative implications due to the associated risks that they imply. As a result, a negative image is created, and fewer employees show the willingness to apply for these positions.
Also, the EU is constantly emphasizing their concern about gender inequality in terms of working conditions. Meanwhile, women are physically incapable of operating within the unhealthy conditions that some works offer. Hence, for instance, some experts believe that women’s health needs to be specially considered while ensuring the safety of the working conditions. According to the experts, the problem is currently poorly addressed, and alternative solutions need to be found in case the EU is truly determined to incorporate women into the working environment without hazarding their health (Vogel 2003). Therefore, the elimination of work-related risks seems to be one of the key reasons to promote workplace health and safety.
Eliminate the discrepancy between the quality of full-time and part-time working conditions
Another motive to address the problem actively might reside in the crucial discrepancy between the quality of working conditions in part-time and full-time occupations. Part-time work is a sore subject in terms of the labor market. Child care, university studies, and other issues make it impossible for a large percentage of people to get fully-employed. As a result, they have to search for alternative solutions to earn for a living. In the meantime, practice shows that the attitude to these workers and the conditions within which they operate are not always appropriate.
Thence, for instance, Gold (2009) notes that even notwithstanding the working conditions, part-time workers refer to the risk group due to the shortage of legislation that protects them (p.111). Taking into account the poor health and safety facilities that employers tend to provide their part-time workers with, the gap between full-time and part-time employees becomes more crucial. As a consequence, the EU’s decisiveness to eliminate this gap and protect the most disadvantaged working segment seems to be rationale – the better workplace conditions are adjusted to the gender-related health and safety issues, the sooner the targeted equality will be promoted.
Workplace health and safety assist in promoting the lifecycle approach to work
Lastly, one of the pivots of the EU’s rhetoric in terms of the labor market is the insurance of a lifelong approach to work within the Union. The key principle of this approach resides in encouraging employees to perform lifelong training enhancing their professionalism and contributing to the market’s development in such a manner. In the meantime, according to the experts’ opinion, even though this issue is widely discussed at the global level, it is still poorly addressed in practice (Gold 2009).
Therefore, it turns out that what people need to adopt this approach is not a powerful public appeal but the appropriate working conditions that serve to be the best possible motivation. As a result, it is reasonable to assume that the EU’s activity in terms of promoting workplace health and safety is partially determined by the intention to engage employees in the process of lifelong training and professional development.
At this point, it needs to be admitted that the EU tries to address the problem of workplace safety and health complexly. Hence, diverse measures have already been taken to reach the targeted aim. First and utmost, the primary step on the road to better working conditions was legislation. Thus, for instance, Articles 136 and 137 have been specifically worked out to ensure the relevant social provisions. The first statement that Article 137 makes resides in the “improvement in particular of the working environment to protect workers’ health and safety” (Gold 2009, p.265).
Articles 136 and 137 provided a legal basis for the relevant activity
The Article, even though it is not yet an action, is still a considerable contribution to the change. Hence, it provides a consistent legal basis that ensures the protection of the workers’ rights. According to the European Commission, the legal basis targets three main aims: encouraging the improvements in the occupational working conditions, promoting employees’ rights, and protecting their health (European Commission 2014). Moreover, as long as the directives are established at the governmental level, there is a stronger possibility that the necessary implementations will naturally follow.
Article117 implies a general outline of the targeted outcomes
The Articles mentioned above are not the only legal support for workplace health and safety promotion. From this perspective, Article 117 should be essentially mentioned as it likewise addresses the same problem. The article is a general outline that speaks of such key targets as the improvement of working conditions, the standards of living, and the harmonization with the environment (Gold 2009, p.264). The harmonization aspect is rather peculiar as it appears almost in all the official documents and doctrines devoted to workplace health and safety promotion. Generally speaking, a harmonious human life seems to be the core value of the EU’s policy in any terms and work is not an exception.
Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH)
Nevertheless, these legal provisions are insufficient to bring in significant change. Therefore, several committees have been established to ensure the promotion of the announced strategy. First of all, it is the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) that plays a critical role in the EU’s activity aimed at promoting high-quality working conditions. The key target of this committee resides in providing the necessary consultations and directing the EU (Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work 2011). Speaking more precisely, they perform an advisory function in the legislative process, assist in shaping the pro-active policies and strategy, and encourage the EU and the society to exchange their views and opinions.
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EU’s Working Directives
From this standpoint, it is particularly important to mention the strategic objectives that this committee announces. Thus, apart from enlisting the aims discussed above, its report also provides a preferable timeline – it is expected that the common activity will bring the targeted outcomes by 2020. Putting it more exactly, the committee intends to ensure the “same level of protection as provided for by the EU Framework Directive on health and safety” equally accessible to all the employees throughout the Union (Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work 2011). At this point, a particular focus should necessarily be put on the most critical Directives as another supplementary measure employed to promote workforce health and safety.
Among the most recent Directives, it is worth mentioning the “Directive 2006/54” that emphasizes gender equality (Gold 2009, p.245). It supports the thesis about the EU’s drawing parallels between ensuring high-quality working conditions and gender equality. Another important Directive is the so-called “Working Time Directive” that is aimed at protecting employees’ health and safety through implementing the relevant standards of working hours.
On the whole, the Directive sets a reasonable 48-hour limit on a working week and ensures the relevant rest periods: 11 hours every day, a rest break after every six hours, and a day off every week.
In the meantime, despite all the benefits of the protection it implies, the Directive was still accepted with a certain skepticism. Hence, for example, young doctors from the UK reported that they were made to declare false working hours but, in fact, they still overworked as the hospitals lacked the workforce (Blake 2010). Therefore, it might be assumed that the legal basis might be non-functional unless it is accompanied by the relevant implementations.
Otherwise stated, there is an evident need for the committee that would perform the monitoring function to control the efficiency of the legal regulations. At this point, the Senior Labour Inspectors Committee (SLIC) should be essentially mentioned.
Senior Labour Inspectors Committee (SLIC)
On the face of it, SLIC is a reliable warrantor of the due implementation of the EU’s legislation. Though, in practice, the responsibilities of SLIC are much more extended. Thus, for instance, it also performs the function of a research center that examines the current market environment and points out the most critical problems associated with workplace health and safety. Also, it sees the fact that the interests of the employees and the “market” are reasonably balanced. Lastly, it assesses the work-related risks and encourages its collaborators to use the findings for implementing the change (Senior Labour Inspectors Committee 2007). On the whole, it might be concluded that the committee is one of the most productive tools the EU employs for promoting healthy and safe working conditions.
Despite all the difficulties and strategic challenges, it should be admitted that the EU’s activity in terms of ensuring workplace health and safety is rather productive. According to experts’ assessments, one of the main beneficial outcomes of their efforts resides in the fact that the relevant legal basis provides equal protection for all the workers notwithstanding the fact whether they belong to the so-called “organized labor movement” or not ((Walters 2009). Brief research shows that the EU’s initiative has been successfully incorporated into the society and has encouraged employees and employers to join their efforts in promoting a healthy working environment (Nominations now open for the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards 2016).
In conclusion, it should be noted that the EU has already taken a large scope of measures to ensure a legal basis that would protect the rights of employees and promote a healthy and safe workplace. At the current point, it is most critical to regulate and control the implementation of those derivatives that this legal basis comprises. The initiative has already been established at the governmental level, and it is now important that it is successfully incorporated into society. It is assumed that the targeted achievement is only possible, on condition that employers get encouraged by this initiative, and provide their workers with the working facilities relevant to those described in the EU legislation.
Blake, H 2010, ‘The EU Working Time Directive in detail’, The Telegraph. Web.
European Commission 2014, Health and safety at work: Strategic Framework sets out EU objectives for 2014-2020. Web.
Gold, M 2009, Employment Policy in the European Union: Origins, Themes and Prospects, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, New York.
Nominations now open for the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards. 2016. Web.
Senior Labour Inspectors Committee. 2007. Web.
The Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work. 2011. Web.
Vogel, L 2003, The Gender Workplace Health Gap in Europe, European Trade Union Technical Bureau for Health and Safety, Brussels.
Walters, D 2009, Workplace Health and Safety: International Perspectives on Worker Representation, Springer, London.