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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. Figures from the national statistics office show that just 7.6% of all companies and organisations have a working environment council, although the figure is higher for state and local government agencies, at 17.4%, than for private companies, at 6.4% (figures for 2009, Statistics Estonia).


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 and time off


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.


Key legislation


Occupational Health and Safety Act, passed on 16 June 1999, as amended 2012


Töötervishoiu ja tööohutuse seadus, vastu võetud 16.06.1999


L. Fulton (2013) Health and Safety Representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication prepared for worker-participation.eu)