BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission plans to update its rules on worker safety to reflect the shift millions employees made to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and to reflect the anticipated digital and green recovery.
During the pandemic, nearly 40% of workers began to work remotely full time, reducing social contact and increasing their use of IT equipment as meetings and gatherings went online.
"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," Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference on Monday.
The Commission said it will review EU rules on workplace safety, from emergency exits to ventilation and use of workstations and screens, and will update limits on exposure to insulator asbestos and for lead and cobalt used in renewable energy technology and battery production.
In guidelines to protect almost 170 million EU workers over the 2021-2027 period, it will also seek to produce recommendations on mental health at work before the end of 2022.
Even before COVID-19 struck, mental health problems affected about 84 million people in the EU, with stress contributing to around half of all lost working days, the Commission said.
Work-related accidents and illnesses cost the EU economy over 3.3% of gross domestic product per year, the Commission said. It said estimates showed that for every euro invested in occupational health and safety, the return for the employer is around twice as much as employees take less sick leave.
The Commission said it also wanted trade unions and employers' organisations to negotiate an agreement on asbestos and chemical agents that can cause cancer and respiratory problems. If they did not signal a wish to do so, the EU executive would put forward a proposal in 2022.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Barbara Lewis)