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Health and Safety Representation

Elected health and safety representatives are the main way that the interests of employees are represented in the area of health and safety in Hungary. However, in larger employers there is also a joint health and safety committee, made up of representatives of both sides.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

The employer has a duty to ensure the existence of healthy and safe working conditions. However, employee health and safety representatives should cooperate with the employer in order to achieve this.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

The main structures representing employees in the area of health and safety are health and safety representatives (munkavédelmi képviselő), who can come together in their own employee-only health and safety committee (munkahelyi munkavédelmi bizottság), and, in larger employers, the joint health and safety committee (paritásos munkavédelmi testület) made up of representatives of both employees and the employer.

 

Numbers and structure

 

There is an obligation to have health and safety representatives in all organisations with 20 or more employees. (The threshold was reduced from 50 to 20 in July 2016 and had to be implemented in companies previously without health and safety representatives by April 2017. The change followed a sharp increase in the number of accidents at work.) In smaller organisations health and safety representatives must be elected if the local union organisation, the works council or a majority of employees want this. If there are no health and safety representatives, the employer should inform and consult the employees directly on health and safety issues.

 

Where there are three or more health and safety representatives, they can set up an employee-only health and safety committee, which the employer must attend if requested. This committee has the same rights as the health and safety representatives and is different from the joint health and safety committee – see below.

 

In organisations with 200 or more employees and where there are health and safety representatives, the employer should set up a joint health and safety committee with an equal number of representatives of the employer and the employees. The legislation states that the committee chair should alternate between a representative of the employees and the employers, but it leaves other matters, such as the number of the members, the rules of procedure and the precise activities of the committee, to be agreed between the employer and the employees’ representatives. Health and safety specialists employed by the company should also participate regularly in this joint committee.

 

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014, before the change in the law, found that 45% of workplaces in Hungary had health and safety representatives, somewhat below the EU-28 average of 58%. However, the proportion of workplaces in Hungary with a health and safety committee, at just 3%, is far below the EU-28 of 21%. This is not surprising given the relatively high threshold in Hungary before a health and safety committee must be established. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)[1] 

 

Tasks and rights

 

The health and safety representatives or members of the employee-only health and safety committee have the right to monitor compliance with the appropriate health and safety obligations, and in particular to monitor:

  • whether workplaces, work equipment and personal protective equipment are in safe condition;
  • whether measures to safeguard health and prevent accidents have been carried out;
  • whether employees have been trained and prepared to enable them to work safely.

 

In particular health and safety representatives or members of the employee-only health and safety committee may:

  • enter the workplaces they cover during working hours and obtain information from employees working there;
  • participate in the preparation of decisions by the employer that might have repercussions on employees' health and safety;
  • request information from the employer concerning any issues related to healthy and safe working conditions;
  • express opinions and make proposals to the employer;
  • participate in accident investigations of occupational accidents and, where appropriate, in the investigation of the causes of occupational diseases;
  • refer justified cases to the health and safety inspectorate.

 

They can also discuss health and safety issues with the labour inspectorate and, subject to the employer’s agreement, ask for experts for advice.

 

The employer must respond to any request for information or proposal for action within eight days. If the employer decides not to provide the information or agree to the proposal, this refusal must be explained in writing.

 

The health and safety representatives can also propose that the employer draws up a health and safety programme. If the employer refuses to do this and is of a certain size (this varies according to the nature of the hazards in the company), the health and safety representatives can initiate a collective labour dispute, which involves the intervention of a mediator.

 

Internal health and safety rules can only be issued with the agreement of the health and safety representatives or the employee-only health and safety committee.

 

The joint health and safety committee should:

  • assess the health and safety situation in the company and measures that could be taken to improve it at least once a year;
  • discuss the company’s health and safety programme and monitor its implementation; and
  • comment on any internal health and safety regulations.

 

The joint health and safety committee should not affect the operation of the health and safety representatives.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

The legislation does not lay down rules on the frequency of meetings other than stating that the joint health and safety committee should review the health and safety situation at least annually.

 

Election and term of office

 

Where there are 20 or more employees an election by secret ballot must be organised to choose one or more health and safety representatives. In organisations with fewer than 20 employees an election to choose a safety representative must be organised if this is requested by the local union or by the works council or by the majority of the employees. The employer is responsible for organising the election, as well as providing the appropriate conditions for it to take place.Candidates must have at least six months’ service, although this does not apply in newly established companies.

 

The term of office is five years.

 

Members of the joint heath and safety committee (both full members and substitutes) are chosen by secret ballot of the health and safety representatives from among themselves. They also serve for five years.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

Health and safety representatives and committee members are entitled to sufficient paid time off to undertake their duties. Members of the joint health and safety committee are entitled to paid time off equivalent to a least 10% of their monthly working hours.

 

Health and safety representatives are also entitled to 16 hours of training in the first year following their election and eight hours annually in subsequent years. This training is paid for by the employer and should be conducted during normal working time.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Health and safety representatives should not be disadvantaged because of  the exercise of their duties and have the same protection against dismissal as local union representatives or members of the works council. This means that they can only be dismissed if the health and safety committee agrees or, if there is no committee, with the agreement of the employees who elected them.

 

Other elements of workplace health and safety

 

All employers must have access to the services of a health and safety expert, either by employing someone directly or by making use of an external health and safety organisation. However, in all organisations employing fewer than 10 people and in organisations employing 10 or more but fewer than 50 and operating in industries with a lower level of risk, the employer can take on this role, provided that he or she has the appropriate knowledge, skill and experience. In larger organisations, the level of qualifications of the health and safety expert, the number of such experts and the time they should spend on health and safety issues all depend on the number of employees and the level of hazards that can been expected.

 

The employer must also provide employees with access to an occupational health service, which can only be provided by qualified medical staff. As with the health and safety expert, this can be provided either internally or externally, and the skill and number of staff required vary in line with the number employed and the nature of the risk.

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry for National Economy (Nemzetgazdasági Minisztérium - NGM). Monitoring compliance with health and safety laws and regulations is the responsibility of the Department of the Labour Inspection in the same ministry (Munkafelügyeleti Főosztály - NGM-MFF)

 

Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy through their membership of the Labour Health and Safety Committee (Munkavédelmi Bizottság).[2]

 

Hungary has made changes to its main health and safety legislation to take greater account of psychosocial risks. In January 2008 to the Act on Occupational Safety and Health was altered to impose a new duty on the employer to take account of psychosocial risks (§ 54(1d))as well as defining them (§ 87(1h)).

 

Key legislation

 

Act No. 93 of 1993 on Occupational Safety and Health, as amended

 

1993. évi XCIII. Törvény a munkavédelemről a végrehajtásáról szóló 5/1993. (XII. 26.) MüM rendelettel egységes szerkezetben

[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 – Hungary by Péter Nesztinger, and Gyula Szabó , OSH Wiki  https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Hungary

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.