Wednesday 16 December 2009

European Union: Occupational safety and health

It is very well to rave about the cost of EU regulation for the business sector of country X, but one may ask forgiveness for wishing for more nuanced views at times.

First of all, if all enterprises in the European Union and the rest of the European Economic Area are subject to the same rules, their playing-field is level in an internal market with 500 million consumers.

Secondly, common standards may have valuable aims, such as the protection of the environment, the savings of investors, the lives and health of workers and consumers, to name just a few public goods.

Thirdly, hazards ignored where they are caused, may ruin the lives of individuals and socialise the consequences, burdening public health systems and budgets.


Asbestos was a material in extensive use at the time, with harmful consequences for the health of workers and the public generally. A codified Directive has now been published, which illustrates what “business regulation” may be about, besides causing costs for businesses:

DIRECTIVE 2009/148/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 30 November 2009 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work (codified version) (Text with EEA relevance), published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 16.12.2009 L 330/28.

Codified version?

Without going into the substance of Directive 2009/148, we take a brief look at the meaning of “codification”. The first recital of the Directive says:

Council Directive 83/477/EEC of 19 September 1983 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work (second individual Directive within the meaning of Article 8 of Directive 80/1107/EEC) has been substantially amended several times. In the interests of clarity and rationality the said Directive should be codified.

The web pages of the Commission’s Legal Service offer one on Codification, with more full explanations. I am going to quote just the first sentence:

Codification is the process of bringing together a legislative act and all its amendments in a single new act. The new act passes through the full legislative process and replaces the acts being codified.

In other words, the idea is to produce updated, simpler and clearer legislation, which is easier to use.

Social policy – Occupational health and safety

The codified Directive 2009/148 was issued on the last day of the Treaty of Nice and of the European Community, but from 1 December 2009 the Lisbon Treaty is in force. Occupational health and safety issues (workers’ health and safety) belong to the EU policy area of social policy, Articles 151 to 161 in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/114-161).

To conclude

“Minimal regulation” sounds terrific and “costs of EU regulation” horrific, until you think about the human cost of non-regulation.

There is much evidence of shrill propaganda, less of informed public debate with regard to the pros and cons of common EU rules.

Ralf Grahn

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  1. Having been involved with Occupational Health & Safety in various industries, Ralf, I agree wholeheartedly with your final comment.

    On a different, but related, topic: why do the people who write these "Codifications" use language everyone can understand? Your "translation" was much more straight-forward and (I believe) unambiguous. Do they speak like this to each other?

  2. French Derek,

    Yes, I feel a bit sorry that so much of the real debate goes on with input from governments and lobbyists, but hidden fro public view, whereas (British) public opinion is heavily influenced by "think tanks" with an ax to grind and susceptible media lapping it up.

    Insider language seems to be a problem common to most professions and institutional settings. Press releases from the Commission (institutions) do come some way towards being comprehensible, although they still tend to resemble "a horse drawn by a committee".

    Some improvements are possible with good will, but some may require that citizens get a real say in EU affairs.


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