On the International Workers Memorial Day, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) launched a manifesto urging the European Union, member state governments and employers to bring an end to deaths at work by 2030. ‘Zero death at work is not a utopian dream. The trend in fatal workplace accidents is down and eradication of fatal accidents is achievable’, says the manifesto.

While it is true that the general trend is downward, a closer look at the figures reveals that progress was slow and far from steady – with deaths rising again in 2019. An analysis conducted by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has found that fatal accidents at work would end by 2055 if change continues at the same pace as during the last decade, and in a linear fashion. In this scenario, an additional 27,041 workplace deaths should be expected by the end of the decade. The prediction is even grimmer when considering the Member States separately. If the 2010-2019 trends continue, workplace deaths are not expected to fall at all in Spain and are even set to increase in France. Even among the best performing countries, fatal accidents at work are not set to end anytime soon: 2027 in Poland, 2030 in Portugal and 2034 in the Netherlands. Although it is very unlikely that the trend follows a strictly linear pattern, this analysis underlines that the current pace of progress is simply not enough.

Long working hours and psychological pressure at work can cause heart disease and suicides, and the COVID pandemic has led to the death of many thousands of workers, showing that the workplace is a major source of contagion and that we must be better prepared for future pandemics. And some 100,000 workers die every year from occupational cancer due to exposure to hazardous substances. The European Commission recently published the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027, adopting the ‘Vision Zero’ approach to eliminate work-related deaths in the EU. According to the ETUC manifesto, ‘Europe needs much more to “walk the walk” than “talk the talk”’, as the actions promised in it will not achieve zero deaths. To achieve the target, the ETUC is calling for an increase in workplace health and safety training, inspections, and penalties to end workplace fatalities by 2030 in the EU.