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Health and Safety Representation

Employee representation on health and safety is provided through separately elected representatives, who in smaller companies act individually and in larger companies are part of a joint employer/employee committee. These representatives have the power to halt work if there is a direct threat to employees’ safety.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

The employer is responsible for compliance with all health and safety requirements at the workplace, although employers should consult with workers or their representatives in advance on all issues relating to the working environment.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

At least one working environment representative (Töökeskkonnavolinik) should be elected by the employees in smaller workplaces, provided they have at least 10 employees. In larger workplaces (50 or more employees) there is also a working environment council (Töökeskkonnanõukogu), made up of representatives of the employees and management.

 

Trade union representatives in the workplace have a duty to cooperate with the working environment representatives and the working environment council in the area of health and safety, as do “employee representatives” where they exist.

 

Numbers and structure

 

There should be a working environment representative in all companies with at least 10 employees and, where the company is spread over several sites or work is done in shifts, each site or shift should have its own working environment representative, provided that each site or shift has at least 10 employees. In companies with fewer than 10 employees, the employer should inform and consult the employees directly on health and safety issues.

 

In companies with 50 or more employees or where the labour inspectorate thinks the workplace is particularly hazardous, a working environment council should be set up. This is a joint employee/management body with equal numbers from both sides and it must have at least four members (in other words, two employee representatives).  The working environment council chooses its own chair and deputy chair from its own members and the legislation states that it should reach decisions through consensus.

In practice, figures from the national statistics office show that, in 2015, just 10.4% of all companies and organisations had a working environment council, although this apparently low figure is not surprising, as the statistics included all companies with five or more employees, and a working environment council is normally only obligatory in companies with 50 or more. In any case, the figure of 10.4% was an increase on the 7.5% recorded in 2009. There was a considerable difference between private companies, where only 9.1% had a working environment council, and state and local government agencies, where 21.3% had one. Large organisations – those with 250 or more employees – were also much more likely to have a working environment council, 89.2% of operations of this size had one.[1]

 

It is also noticeable that these national figures are much lower than those resulting from research carried out by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU OSHA) in 2014. This found that 19% of workplaces in Estonia had a working environment council and 17% had working environment representatives. These are both below the EU-28 averages, which are 21% for health and safety committees and 58% for health and safety representatives. (The EU OSHA figures, like the national figures, are for workplaces with five or more employees.)[2]    

 

Tasks and rights

 

The keys tasks of the working environment representative are to:

  • monitor whether health and safety measures are being properly implemented and that employees are provided with working personal protective equipment;
  • participate in the investigation of accidents or the occurrence of occupational illnesses;
  • notify both employees and management promptly of hazards or health and safety failings at the workplace and call for these to be remedied;
  • be aware of health and safety instructions and legislation; and
  • monitor whether employees are receiving the necessary health and safety instructions and training.

 

The main rights of the working environment representative, which include the right to halt work if there is a direct threat to employees’ life or health, are to:

  • demand that the employer implements the appropriate health and safety measures and provides the required personal protective equipment;
  • make proposals for the removal of hazards and the improvement of the working environment;
  • be given access to all areas in the company necessary for the performance of his or her duties;
  • receive from the employer details of the risk assessment and the written plan of action to cope with these risks, as well as material on the health of employees and any instructions to the employer from the labour inspectorate;
  • contact the labour inspectorate if necessary and make comments to the labour inspector during any inspection visits; and
  • suspend work temporarily or prohibit the use of specific work equipment if there is a direct risk of harm to the life or health of an employee and if it is not possible to eliminate the risk in any other way. Work should not be resumed until the hazard has been eliminated. (Where this occurs the working environment representative must inform management of the hazard promptly.)

 

The main tasks of the working environment council, as set out in the legislation, are to:

  • analyse regularly the working conditions in the company, document developing problems, make proposals to the employer for their resolution and monitor how these proposals are being implemented;
  • participate in the preparation of the company’s health and safety development plan and in the preparation of other plans, such as those involving technological innovations;
  • examine any results arising from the monitoring of the working environment, making remedial proposals where necessary;
  • analyse accidents, occupational diseases and other work-related illnesses, and monitor the implementation of preventative measures; and
  • help with the creation of suitable working conditions and work organisation for female employees, minors and disabled employees.

 

The council should make its proposals to the employer in writing and, if the employer is not able to take account of these proposals, the reasons for not doing so should be set out in writing within three weeks.

 

The employer must notify the labour inspectorate of the formation of a working environment council, including the names of the members, and the council should provide a written report of its activities to the labour inspectorate every year.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

The frequency of meetings of the working environment council is not specified in the legislation.

 

Election and term of office

 

Both working environment representatives and employee representatives on the working environment council are elected by a general meeting of all employees. At least 50% of employees must participate in this election for it to be valid.

 

The period of office in both cases is up to four years.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

Paid time-off rights for working environment representatives are as specified in collective agreements or any other agreement with the employer. They should take account of the size and working conditions in the company, but should be at least two hours per week. Members of the working environment council have time-off rights of at least one hour per week. These time-off rights are added together if the same individual does both jobs.

 

Both working environment representatives and members of the working environment council have the right to the training needed for the performance of their duties. This is at the employers’ expense and the employee should continue to be paid as normal during the training. The precise amount of paid training provided is not specified in the legislation.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Working environment representatives should not be disadvantaged because of the performance of their duties.

 

Other elements of workplace health and safety

All companies should either employ a working environment specialist – someone knowledgeable in the area of health and safety – or use an external body to provide this specialist service. However, the appointment of such a specialist does not remove the ultimate responsibility from the employer. Where an employer has completed training on the working environment, he or she take on the duties of a working environment specialist

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Social Affairs (Sotsiaalministeerium). The body responsible for monitoring compliance with health and safety laws and regulations is the Labour Inspectorate (Tööinspektsioon). There is also a Health Board (Terviseamet), which is the main executive body for health and safety issues.

 

Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy through their participation in the 15-member National Working Environment Council (Töökeskkonnanõukogu), which also includes government representatives.[3]

 

Estonian legislation has for some time taken account of psychosocial risks. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (1999) states that, “physical, chemical, biological, physiological and psychological factors present in the working environment shall not endanger the life or health of employees or that of other  persons in the working environment”, and it defines psychological factors as “monotonous work or work not suitable to the abilities of an employee, poor work organisation, working alone for an extended period of time, or other similar factors that may gradually cause changes in the mental state of an employee”.

Key legislation

 

Occupational Health and Safety Act, passed on 16 June 1999, as amended

 

Töötervishoiu ja tööohutuse seadus, vastu võetud 16.06.1999

[1] Statistics Estonia, Table WQU55

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

[3] For more information on the national context see  OSH system at national level – Estonia by Kirsi Koskela, Riitta Sauniand Kristel Plangi, OSH Wiki  https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_%E2%80%93_Estonia

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.