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Health and Safety Representation

 

Employee representation on health and safety issues is primarily provided through the employees elected as members of the joint employee/management health and safety bodies, known as working conditions committees and groups, which should be set up in Bulgarian companies. As well as participating in these bodies, employee representatives have specific rights and can appeal to the national inspectorate in cases where the employer is not ensuring safe working conditions.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

The employer is responsible for healthy and safe working conditions, but joint bodies, made up of management and employee representatives meet once every three months to discuss health and safety issues. In addition, employers should provide an occupational health service whose prime responsibility is the prevention of accidents at work and occupational diseases.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

The interests of employees in the area of health and safety are represented through elected employee representatives in the joint working conditions committees, which should be set up in companies or establishments with more than 50 employees. In smaller companies with between five and 50 employees, a working conditions group should be set up.

 

In addition, employers consult with employees or their representatives or unions to enable them to discuss a range of health and safety issues. Trade unions should also be invited to take part in investigations into accidents at work and occupational diseases.

 

Numbers and structure

 

The 1997 law on health and safety at work requires that the working conditions committee should be set up in companies with more than 50 employees. They should consists of equal numbers of employer and employee representatives, although the law does not lay down detailed rules on the committee’s size, simply stating that it should have between four and 10 members.

 

Where the company has health and safety experts or an occupational physician (works doctor), they may also be members of the working conditions committee. The employer chairs the committee and the vice-chair is a representative of the employees. In large and complex companies, it is possible to set up working conditions committees both at the level of the whole company and for particular parts of it.

 

The working conditions groups, which should be set up in companies between five and 50 employees, have only two members. They are the employer or the department manager and an elected employee representative. Separate working conditions groups can also be set up for different parts of an organisation, if it is has a complex structure or is geographically dispersed.

 

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in 2014 found that there are working conditions committees and groups in 45% of workplaces in Bulgaria. This is above the EU-28 average of 21% for similar committees. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)[1]   

 

A separate study published by EU-OSHA in 2016 found that although national-level discussions on health and safety worked well, at industry (branch) and company level “there are some shortcomings”[2]. The study went on to say that, “not all branch and regional working conditions councils and working conditions committees/groups function adequately and some of them are not functioning at all.”

 

Tasks and rights

 

The tasks of both working conditions committees and groups are the same. They include:

  • discussing every three months all issues related to employees’ health and safety and taking measures to improve the position;
  • examining the results of occupational risk assessments, studies on the health of employees, reports from specialist occupational health services and other health and safety topics;
  • discussing planned changes in technology, work organisation and job content and proposing solutions that protect the health and safety of employees;
  • monitoring the extent to which health and safety measures are implemented;
  • monitoring accidents at work and levels of occupational disease in the company or enterprise; and
  • participating in the development of health and safety information and training programmes.

 

Working conditions committees and groups should work closely with the employer’s occupational health services.

 

In addition, employee representatives on working conditions committees and groups have a number of specific rights. They have access to information on working conditions, reports on accidents at work and occupational sickness, as well as the results of any investigations undertaken by the national inspectorate and any obligations they may have imposed on the employer. They should also be invited – along with the unions – to take part in the investigation of accidents at work and occupational diseases.  Employee members of the committees and groups can require the employer to take appropriate measures to eliminate and mitigate hazards and make proposals to the employer as to how this might be done. They can also appeal to the national inspectorate if they consider that the measures taken by the employer are insufficient to ensure health and safety. Finally they have a right to participate in visits made by the national inspectorate.

 

More generally employers are obliged to consult with employees, their representatives or unions to allow them to participate in:

  • the “discussion and adoption” of all measures related to employees’ health and safety;
  • the designation of employees engaged in measures relating to health and safety, first aid, fire fighting and the evacuation of employees; and
  • the planning and organisation of health and safety training for employees.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

Both working conditions committees and working conditions groups should meet once every three months.

 

Election and term of office

 

Employee representatives for health and safety in both working conditions committees and working conditions groups are elected at a general meeting of all employees, which takes place at the request of the employer, the union or 10% of all employees. At least half of the employees must be present for its decisions to be valid. This general meeting also elects the vice-chair of the working conditions committee, where there is one.

 

The term of office for these employee representatives, including the vice-chair, is four years.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

The employer should provide employee representatives in working conditions committees and groups with the resources and conditions (including sufficient time off during working hours) they need to carry out their duties.

 

Employers are also required to provide and pay for the training of employee representatives on working conditions committees and groups. This training must take place during working hours and the representatives must be paid. There is a closely specified national curriculum for this training, which in the first year must last for at least 30 hours and in subsequent years at least six hours annually.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Employee representatives in working conditions committees and groups should not be disadvantaged as a result of their health and safety work.     In addition, under the Bulgarian labour code, an employer must obtain permission from the labour inspectorate in advance before an employee representative on the working conditions committee or the working conditions group can be dismissed.

 

Other elements of workplace health and safety

 

Employers are required to provide an occupational health service, although, depending on the number employed, the nature of the work being performed and the health and safety risks, employers themselves can take this responsibility. It is also possible to cooperate with other companies to provide a health and safety service or to use external health and safety service providers. The role of the occupation health service is to consult with and support the employer and the working conditions committee and/or group, with the aim of preventing accidents and occupational diseases and protecting employees.

 

Those providing this service, either internally or externally must have the appropriate education and training and where the service is being provided internally by an employee who has other duties, the time required for the occupational health tasks must be defined at the outset.

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. The body responsible for monitoring compliance with health and safety laws and regulations is the General Labour Inspectorate-Executive Agency.

 

Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy through their participation in the National Working Conditions Council, which also includes government representatives.[3]

Key legislation

 

Law on health and safety at work 1997

Labour Code (1986) as amended

 

ЗАКОН ЗА ЗДРАВОСЛОВНИ И БЕЗОПАСНИ УСЛОВИЯ НА ТРУД 1997

Кодекс на труда

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

[2] Safer and healthier work at any age – Country Inventory: Bulgaria, EU-OSAHA, 2016

[3] For more information on the national context see  OSH system at national level – Bulgaria by Lothar Lißner, Reka Zayzon, Carsten Brück and Raluca Stepa https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Bulgaria

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.