Close to the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we review some of the challenges posed by occupational risk prevention and its regulation, such as, for example, achieving its true integration into company management, the framework of corporate responsibilities, considering different types of companies or the preventive legal status of self-employed workers.

 Since 2003, the International Labor Organization has been celebrating World Day for Safety and Health at Work every April 28. The aim is to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases throughout the world. In Spain, Law 31/1995, of November 8, 1995, on the Prevention of Occupational Risks (LPRL) will be 30 years old at the end of 2025 and is currently being updated and revised by the Ministry of Labor and Social Economy and the social agents. This law meant important advances in occupational health and safety, but there is room for improvement.

The year 1995 marked a turning point in the protection of occupational safety and health in Spain. The LPRL transposed Directive 89/391/EEC, of June 12, 1989, on the application of measures to promote improvements in the safety and health of employees at work, which sought to achieve the necessary harmonization in this area in Europe, and to contribute to the improvement of safety and health conditions at work.

In the time that has elapsed since its enactment in 1995, significant progress has been made in terms of the reduction of occupational accident rates, social awareness, education and training in occupational safety, health and welfare, and the involvement of public authorities and social agents, among others.

However, the LPRL has not achieved one of its main objectives: the true integration of occupational risk prevention into the company’s general management system. Indeed, many companies continue to reduce this activity to mere compliance with a series of formal or documentary obligations. There is still a widespread belief among companies that occupational risk prevention must be managed externally by an external prevention service or by the company’s own prevention service, with the main objective of complying with the legal framework and avoiding sanctions.

Among other aspects of the regulation that have been criticized, the following should be highlighted: the complex system of corporate responsibilities it establishes; the problems arisen from the application to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) of a regulation that was conceived in a unique way for all types of companies and sectors, without taking into account the difficulties that smaller companies may have in complying with it; the deficiencies in the configuration of the preventive legal status of self-employed workers;  or the lack of adaptation to the new realities of an economic and productive context in deep and constant transformation, which entails the appearance of emerging risks at work, derived from factors such as globalization, technical innovation and new technologies, demographic changes in the population, or new forms of employment.

Following the commitment made by the Ministry of Employment and Social Economy to update occupational risk prevention legislation when the Spanish Occupational Health and Safety Strategy (EESST) was approved on February 23, 2023, the social dialogue round table has established a work schedule to move forward with a regulatory amendment. In line with the objectives set by the EESST, it will address, among other issues, the integration of occupational risk prevention in SMEs, the protection of employees against psychosocial risks and the integration of the gender perspective and generational diversity in the preventive management of companies.

The adaptation of occupational risk prevention regulations to the current labor market scenario is therefore awaited with interest, both because of the undeniable importance of the subject matter to be addressed and because of the need to continue making progress in promoting a preventive culture in companies and fostering safe and healthy working environments.

Luisa Montesinos Arencibia