The EU agrees to recognize COVID-19 as an occupational disease. Member States and representatives of workers and employers have reached, in the Consultative Committee for Safety and Health at Work (CCSST), an agreement on the need to recognize COVID-19 as an occupational disease in healthcare, social and home and, in a pandemic context, in sectors where activities with proven risk of contagion are increasing. They also supported updating the EU list of occupational diseases.
The recognition and compensation of occupational diseases are national competence. Most Member States have informed the European Commission that they already recognize COVID-19 as an occupational disease or accident at work, in accordance with their national regulations. The update of the European Commission’s recommendation on occupational diseases is important to promote the recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease by all Member States.
The agreement, closed this Wednesday, represents an advance to apply the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027adopted by the European Commission in June 2021, in which Brussels announced that it would update the recommendation on occupational diseases to include COVID-19 later this year.
“The framework sets out key actions at EU level to improve the health and safety of workers in the years to come. One of its key cross-cutting objectives is to improve preparedness for possible health crises in the future. This also implies providing more support to workers during possible future waves of COVID-19”, says the Community Executive.
Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said: “This agreement is a strong political signal to recognize the impact of COVID-19 on workers as well as the essential contribution of people working in health and social care. , and other workers who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Based on this agreement, the Commission will update its Recommendation on occupational diseases, to promote the recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease by all Member States.”
Following the opinion of the CCSST, the Commission has to update the recommendation which includes the list of occupational diseases, and the agents that can cause them, that Brussels recommends that Member States recognize.
The aim is for Member States to align their national laws in accordance with the updated recommendation. If it is recognized as an occupational disease in a Member State, workers in the affected sectors who contract COVID-19 in the workplace will be able to acquire specific rights under national law, such as the right to compensation.
“Despite the fact that the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe has improved, and the Member States are progressively lifting the restrictive measures, the epidemiological situation remains serious”, says Brussels: “On May 12, 2022 , the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) classified certain subvariants of omicron as “troubling variants”. Therefore, a reinforcement of the protection of workers against possible future waves of COVID-19 is justified.
The European Commission recalls that “some workers, especially those who are exposed to infected people (such as in the health and social care sectors) are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Also, 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.”