Health at work
Employers oppose directive on musculoskeletal disorders
By Sophie Petitjean | Wednesday 04 April 2012
European employers do not support the idea of a Community initiative to protect workers against musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which they say is “neither necessary nor desirable”. The day before a meeting of the Impact Assessment Committee, on 28 March, nine employers’ organisations
(1) sent a joint letter to the European Commission expressing their firm opposition to any proposal for a directive on MSDs.
“We are alarmed that the European Commission is pursuing a new binding horizontal ergonomics directive, including extending the scope of the EU level regulatory framework, notably by removing existing exemptions. This would clearly impose new administrative and financial burdens for all employers and in no case constitute a simplification,” the letter reads.
MSDs are the most common work-related injury in Europe. In the EU, 25% of workers complain of back problems and 23% of muscular pain. Currently, legislation on protecting workers against MSDs is fragmented between several directives, including Directive 90/269/ECC on manual handling of loads and Directive 90/270/ECC on work with display screen equipment. Therefore, the Commission wants to combine these two directives into a single legislative instrument. After several years of consultation with the social partners (the first consultation took place in 2004 and the second in 2007), it now hopes to publish a proposal “during the second half of 2012”. However, according to a source close to the dossier, the Impact Assessment Committee rejected the most recent text prepared by the Commission, and therefore a revised version is expected over the course of the next few weeks.
SOCIAL PARTNERS DIVIDED
European employers are afraid that a directive on MSDs would create an increase in adminsitrative and financial responsibilities for employers, and would have a disproportionate effect on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises. Binding legislation is without doubt the most expensive option, they say, a claim which is backed up by an impact study carried out by a consultants’ office on behalf of the Commission, which shows that a directive would cost €3.7 billion, with 90% of costs borne by SMEs.
“We therefore urge the Commission to carefully scrutinise the costs and benefits of the draft legislative initiative on enterprises, in particular SMEs, and to undertake a robust SME test before proceeding any further with this work,” the nine organisations state in the letter. Instead of a directive, they advocate activities to raise awareness, and the provision of information and training.
However, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) supports a joint directive for the prevention of MSDs, a position which it highlighted during its Executive Committee meeting, in December 2011.
“This initiative is indispensable to provide a common legal basis for prevention efforts, which should be intensified. It should address all factors contributing to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, particulary the organisation of work and its intensity,” said the organisation. n
Work stress increasing
Work stress is a problem for the vast majority of the European population, according to a pan-European opinion poll on health and safety in the workplace, published on 27 March by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Eight out of ten people within Europe’s active population think that the number of people suffering from work stress has risen in the last five years, and as much as 52% expect a “significant rise” in stress.(1) BusinessEurope (private employers), CEEP (public employers), EBC (construction), EFCI (industrial cleaning), Eurochambres (chambers of commerce and industry), Eurocommerce, FIEC (industry and construction), PEARLE (employers in the arts) and UEAPME (crafts and SMEs)