The European Commission has announced its intentions to review and update EU rules on workplace safety in light of the covid-19 pandemic. The aim behind the review is to better reflect the fact that millions of people are now remote working.
The commission said it will look at a range of requirements from the use of workstations and screens, to Covid ventilation. In addition to this, the commission will aim to produce recommendations for employers concerning mental health at work, with a target of releasing these suggestions by the end of 2022.
Mental health problems have affected 84 million people in the EU, even before the pandemic. The commission stated that of all workdays lost due to illness, work-related stress was the cause of almost half. Over the last 18 months, 40% of workers began to work remotely full time, which has led to a reduction in social contact, an increase in online meetings and a rise in the use of IT equipment.
Valdis Dombrovski, The commissions Vice President, said “For many, the concept of a traditional workplace is disappearing fast. While that brings opportunities, it also brings challenges and risks, health, psychological and social.”
IOSH’s head of advice and practice, Duncan spencer agreed that traditional workplaces do have certain advantages when it comes to employee health and wellbeing. He said, “one of the benefits of working in an office is accessibility to advice and the opportunity for managers to observe. These are severely limited when working from home”
Spencer continued, “It is, therefore, necessary for managers to have a more in-depth and regular dialogue with home workers. This will enable them to identify frustrations and issues that can be addressed, as well as employees, mental states”
Spencer also discussed how Covid-19 has helped raise awareness of occupational health. He said “Dealing with Covid-19 has helped raise awareness of occupational health disease and the importance of wellbeing. Many OSH professionals and organisations they work for are realizing they can and should do more to control these hazards.”
Work-related accidents and illnesses have a huge impact on the EU economy, costing over 3.3% of GDP per year. The commission has stated that it estimates that for every euro invested into occupational health and safety, the return for employers will be doubled, due to their employees requiring less sick leave.
Although the commission updates will not apply to the United Kingdom, it is believed that in the near future, the UK will begin to look outside of the borders to new regulations on handling the challenge of more extensive remote work.
Regulatory lawyer, Rhian Greaves said “In my view, the H&S at work act is sufficiently wide in scope and application to meet this compliance challenge. The question now will be how the HSE views the shift towards home working and how its guidance will be updated to reflect the new reality.”
Greaves continued, “It will be fascinating to see how employers adapt to the very real and practical implications of large remote workforces. Organisations will need to update their risk assessments to identify new risks created by the increase in home working and to establish and implement the appropriate control measures. This will be challenging given the variety of domestic situations in which employers now work.”
Homeworkers wellbeing isn’t the only health and safety subject under review by the commission. Considering the anticipated digital and green recovery, the European Commission will also specify updated limits on exposure to insulator asbestos as well as lead & cobalt used in renewable energy techy and battery production.
The commission said it wanted trade unions and employer’s organisations to negotiate an agreement on asbestos & chemical agents that can cause cancer and respiratory problems. If they do not signal a wish to do so, the EU executive will put forward a proposal in 2022.
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