On 18th May, Member States, workers and employers in the EU Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) reached an agreement on the need to recognise COVID-19 as an occupational disease in health and social care and in domiciliary assistance and, in a pandemic context, in sectors where there is an outbreak in activities with proven risk of infection, and supported an update of the EU list of occupational diseases.
This agreement is an important step to implement the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027, adopted by the Commission in June 2021, where the Commission announced it will update the Commission Recommendation on occupational diseases to include COVID-19 by the end of this year. The framework sets out key actions at EU level to improve workers’ health and safety over the coming years. One of its key cross-cutting objectives is increasing preparedness for any potential future health crises. This also implies stepping up support to workers during possible future waves of COVID-19.
Following the opinion of the ACSH, the Commission will update the Recommendation listing occupational diseases, and agents that can cause them, which the Commission recommends Member States to recognise. The aim is that Member States adapt their national laws according to the updated Recommendation. If recognised as an occupational disease in a Member State, workers in relevant sectors, who have contracted COVID-19 at the workplace, may acquire specific rights according to national rules, like the right to compensation.
While the sanitary crisis in Europe linked to the COVID-19 pandemic has been improving and Member States are progressively lifting restrictive measures, the epidemiological situation remains serious. As of 12 May 2022, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has classified certain Omicron sub-lineages as ‘variants of concern’. This therefore warrants a strengthening of workers’ protection in view of possible future waves of COVID-19.
Some workers, especially those exposed to infected persons, e.g. in the health and social care sectors, are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. In addition, during a pandemic, there may be other sectors where workers may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of their activities.
The recognition and compensation of occupational diseases is a national competence. Most Member States have reported to the Commission that they already recognise COVID-19 as an occupational disease or accident at work, in line with their national rules. The update of the Commission Recommendation on occupational diseases is important to promote the recognition COVID-19 as an occupational disease by all Member States.