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Health and Safety Representation

Employee representation on health and safety matters is provided by the employee members of the joint health and safety committee. They are elected by all employees on the basis of nominations from the unions, and the powers of the health and safety committees are extensive and defined in detail in Belgian legislation.

Basic approach at workplace level

The employer is responsible for health and safety at work and all employers must set up an internal occupational health service with one or more health and safety experts Medium and large-sized companies also have a joint employer/employee health and safety committee whose responsibility it is to look after the well-being of the workforce. This committee should work closely with the occupational health service provided by the company.

The health and safety committee also has wider economic and social responsibilities in workplaces without a works council.

Employee health and safety bodies

The main form of employee representation in health and safety matters at the workplace is through the employee members of the joint health and safety committee (Comité pour la prévention et la protection au travail or CPPT in French / Comité Preventie en Bescherming or Comité PB in Flemish). They are elected by the whole workforce, although only the unions can nominate them.

 

Where there is no health and safety committee, its rights and duties are transferred to the trade union delegation (DS / SD in Flemish), whose powers and structures are set out in a series of collective agreements. Where there is no health and safety committee and no union delegation, the employer should consult the employees directly on health and safety issues, although this happens only rarely.

Numbers and structure

A health and safety committee should be set up in all workplaces with at least 50 employees. If there are several workplaces within a single company that are clearly separate units with a proper health and safety policy, they should each have a separate health and safety committee, provided they each employ 50 people. However, the fact that an individual workplace does not have 50 employees should not exclude them from coverage if the business as a whole has more than 50 employees. The workers at this smaller workplace should be included in another health and safety committee.

 

The health and safety committee is made up of the head of the business, or one or more of his or her representatives, plus representatives of the employees, made up of an equal number of full members and replacements.

 

In addition, the health and safety adviser (obligatory in most organisations – see Other elements of workplace health and safety below), or the head of the occupational health department, if one exists should be present in a consultative capacity. However, this individual cannot be part of either the employer’s or employees’ delegation. Other health and safety experts, either directly employed or external, should take part in the meetings on a consultative basis, if the agenda requires it.

 

The number of employees to be elected as full members of the committee varies in line with the number employed by the company (see table). An equal number of replacement employee members are also part of the committee.

 

Number of employees

 

 

Number of full employee members

 

 

Less than 50 (mines and quarries)

 

 

2

 

 

50 to 100

 

 

4

 

 

101 to 500

 

 

6

 

 

501 to 1,000

 

 

8

 

 

1,001 to 2,000

 

 

10

 

 

2,001 to 3,000

 

 

12

 

 

3,001 to 4,000

 

 

14

 

 

4,001 to 5,000

 

 

16

 

 

5,001 to 6,000

 

 

18

 

 

6,001 to 8,000

 

 

20

 

 

More than 8,000

 

 

22

 

The number of management representatives may not exceed the number of those representing the employees.

The committee is chaired by the senior management representative and the secretariat is provided by the company’s occupational health department.

The health and safety committee should establish a smaller group of its members who can respond at once, if there is an imminent and serious risk, if there has been an accident, or if at least one third of the employee members of the committee request it. Smaller groups of committee members should also be given the task of accompanying labour inspectors, if they visit the company, and carrying out a workplace inspection to assess risks; this should happen at least once a year.

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014 found that 34% of workplaces in Belgium had a health and safety committee. This is above the EU-28 average of 21%. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)[1]  

Tasks and rights

The employer is required to provide the committee with a wide range of information relating to health and safety. He or she should prepare documentation setting out;

 

  • the laws and regulations relating to well-being at work that apply to the company’s operations;
  • details of the obligations imposed on the employer by the regulatory authorities;
  • all other documents and reports relating to the employees’ safety and well-being;
  • an inventory of the machines and equipment used by the company;
  • details of the location of dangerous substances and products used by the company;
  • details of measurements relating to air and water pollution.

 

In addition the employer should inform the committee of:

 

  • changes to production processes or working methods which might have an impact on health and safety – this could include, for example, the introduction of new computers;
  • the introduction of new products;
  • health and safety hazards;
  • first-aid measures, fire prevention and evacuation arrangements; risk assessments;
  • the company’s environmental policy – the company should produce an annual report on this; and
  • regular reports on complaints raised by employees relating to violence and harassment.

 

The employer should also allow the employee members of the committee to contact employees, members of management and internal occupational health advisers in a way which allows them to carry out their functions.

As well as providing information, the employer must obtain the opinion of the health and safety committee in advance in a wide range of areas. In terms of policies, these include:

 

  • all projects and measures which could have an impact on the well-being of employees, either directly or indirectly and in the short or long term;
  • plans for the introduction of new technologies, which could have a health and safety impact;
  • the company’s health and safety policies, including its overall five-year policy on hazard prevention and the annual action plan to achieve the aims set out in the policy, which each company is obliged to have.

 

More specifically the health and safety committee must give its view in advance on:

 

  • all measures intended to adapt working methods and conditions to the needs of the worker and aiming to prevent occupational fatigue;
  • adjustment measures for employees with disabilities; and
  • the choice, purchase and maintenance of equipment used at work and collective and personal protective equipment.

 

In addition the health and safety committee must also be consulted in advance on the choice of external occupational health advisers and the composition of the internal occupational health service, and the financial and technical resources provided to it.

On all these issues the employer should respond to the views of the health and safety committee and give the reasons if he or she decides not to accept the opinion of the committee. In addition, where the health and safety committee is unanimous with regard to serious and imminent risks to the well-being of the employees, the employer must act in line with the committee’s views.

In some areas, the agreement of the health and safety committee must be obtained before the employer can act. These include the appointment of the internal occupational health advisers, and the amount of time they should spend on health and safety. If the employee members of the committee have lost confidence in the external occupational health and safety experts or the occupational physician, they must be replaced. In addition, the agreement of the health and safety committee must be obtained in other specific areas, such as operating at higher or lower temperatures than those laid down in regulations, having fewer than the prescribed number of toilets or changing rooms and so on.

 

The health and safety committee has the right to contact the national labour inspectorate at any time, and, at least once a year, a detailed inspection of the workplace to identify potential risks should be made by a delegation of the health and safety committee plus line management and the internal occupational health adviser.

 

The health and safety committee does not have the right to instruct that work should be stopped, but where there is an imminent and serious risk or where there has been an accident a smaller group of members meets immediately to decide on the action to take.

 

The health and safety committee also has a number of more organisational tasks. These include:

  • working with the internal medical health service, where one exists, to ensure that it is working well and that at least  twice a year there is report on its operation ;
  • monitoring the work of external occupational health experts;
  • developing appropriate means of communicating information about hazards at work to employees, as well as looking at their initial induction and training; and
  • examining employees’ complaints about health and safety and ensuring that they are properly dealt with.

 

In addition, there are other areas, such as working with screens, risks to pregnant women, biological agents and first aid-arrangements, where the health and safety committee has been given particular responsibilities.

 

In addition to these health and safety responsibilities, in workplaces with 100 employees or fewer, where there is no works council, the health and safety committee also takes on the tasks related to economic and social issues which are the responsibility of the works council in larger workplaces.

Frequency of meetings

The employer is responsible for ensuring that the health and safety committee meets at least once a month, as well as when as at least one third of the employee members of the committee request it. The obligation to hold monthly meetings only applies to the private sector but it is strongly recommended for the public sector.

Election and term of office

 

The employee members of the health and safety committee, together with their deputies, are elected by the whole workforce covered by the committee. As with works councils, they can only be nominated by “representative trade unions”, and they are therefore all trade unionists. This also means that the elections for the health and safety committees are seen as a key test for the representativeness of Belgian unions. 

 

They are elected for a period of four years.

 

Resources time off and training

 

The health and safety committee should meet during working time and its members should be paid.

 

The employer should give the health and safety committee adequate means of indicating their concerns about hazards to members of line management, and they should also have a notice board for communicating with employees.

 

The employee members of the health and safety committee can be assisted by an expert of their choice, provided this has been agreed with the employer. They can also be supported by a full-time union official in preparing for the meetings, with the tacit approval of the employer.

 

The employee members of the health and safety have the right to “appropriate training” during working time, for which they may not be charged. In some cases the amount of training will be specified in collective agreement, but not always. Some unions offer a week’s basic training.

Protection against dismissal

Employee members, and replacement members of the health and safety committee, as well as those who are candidates for the positions, have significant protection against dismissal and other forms of discrimination. They may not be transferred between workplaces, except where they have given their written permission, or their transfer has been accepted as being justified for economic or technical reasons by the appropriate joint union/employer body. They can only be dismissed for serious misconduct, which must be proved in front of a labour court, or for economic or technical reasons, which must be accepted as being justified by the appropriated joint union/employer body. Where there is an accusation of serious misconduct, the employer must inform the trade union in advance of the intention to dismiss the individual, to provide an opportunity for conciliation before the issue goes to the labour court.

Other elements of workplace health and safety

 

Belgian legislation provides for both internal and external health and safety services to assist employers in meeting their health and safety responsibilities.

 

All employers must set up an internal occupational health department with one or more health and safety advisers (conseiller en prévention in French or a preventieadviseur in Flemish), although under certain conditions it is also possible for several employers to cooperate in setting up a joint internal occupational health service. Where the internal occupational health department is unable to undertake a particular task, it should be given to an external occupational health service.

 

The extent of the internal service that employers are required to provide depends on the number employees as well as the inherent hazards of the industry concerned. The legislation sets out, in detail the tasks the health and safety tasks, which must be undertaken, and these vary according to the size of the organisation and the hazards present, with businesses divided into four categories. In larger organisations and those with greater hazards most of these tasks must be done internally. In smaller organisations they can be undertaken by experts from the external services. Health monitoring must be undertaken by occupational physicians and if there are none in the internal health and safety service, this must be done by the external service.

 

All business with more than 1,000 employees are in the highest category, as well as smaller businesses, if the risks are greater; for example, for water purification operations the threshold for the highest category is 500 employees, for car makers it is 200 and for oil refineries it is 50. In companies with fewer than 20 employees – the employer can be the health and safety adviser if adequately qualified.

 

All health and safety advisers must be adequately trained, with the amount of training depending on the risk category and the size of the business. In organisations with highest risks the starting requirement is graduate level education, plus 50 days of specialised training.

 

Employers are also encouraged to appoint a so-called person of confidence (Personne de confiance bien-être psychosocial / Vertrouwenspersoon), whose role is to give support to fellow employees who have suffered violence, bullying or sexual harassment. It is not obligatory to appoint a person of confidence, but it is seen as particularly useful if the bulk of health and safety services are provided externally and, as a result, individuals facing these problems have little support.

National context

 

The main ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Employment , the Economy and Consumers (Ministre de Emploi, de l'Economie et des Consommateurs / Werk Economie en Consumenten ). The official health and safety inspection and monitoring body is the Directorate General for the Control of the well-being at work (Direction générale Contrôle du bien-être au travail / Algemene Directie Toezicht op het Welzijn op het Werk).

 

Trade unions and employers are able to participate in health and safety issues at national level through their membership of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work (Conseil supérieur pour la prévention et la protection au travail / Hoge Raad voor preventie en bescherming op het werk).[2]

 

Legal changes which took effect from September 2014 placed psychosocial risks at the core of the risks to health at the workplace. The section of the legislation which previously referred only to violence, harassment and sexual harassment, was extended to cover psychosocial risks at work including stress, violence, harassment and sexual harassment. The legislation defines psychosocial risks as “the likelihood that one or more employee(s) may suffer mental harm, which may also be accompanied by physical harm, due to exposure to the elements of the work organisation, job content, working conditions, the conditions of working life and interpersonal relationships at work, on which the employer has an impact and which objectively pose a danger”.

 

Key legislation

Code on well-being at work

Royal Decree on the assignments and operation of the Committees for prevention and protection at work (3 May 1999)

Royal Decree on the assignments and operation of the Committees for prevention and protection at work (15 May 1999)

 

Code du bien-être au travail

L'arrêté royal relatif aux missions et au fonctionnement des comités pour la prévention et la protection au travail (3 Mai 1999)

L'arrêté royal 1999 relatif aux missions et au fonctionnement des comités pour la prévention et la protection au travail (15 Mai 2003)

 

Codex over het welzijn op het werk

Koninklijk besluit betreffende de opdrachten en de werking van de comités voor preventie en bescherming op het werk (3 mei 1999)

Koninklijk besluit betreffende de opdrachten en de werking van de comités voor preventie en bescherming op het werk (15 mei 2003)

[1] Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2016

[2] For more information on the national context see  OSH system at national level – Belgium by Veronique De Broeck , OSH Wiki https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Belgium

L. Fulton (2018) Health and safety representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Produced with the assistance of the Workers' Interest Group of the Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work (of the EU Commission). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.