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Health and Safety Representation

 

The health and safety representation of employees in Portugal is provided by specially elected health and safety representatives. They should meet the employer at least once a month and have the right to be consulted in writing and in advance and in good time on a range of issues at least once a year. Joint employer/employee health and safety committees can be set up where there is a collective agreement to that effect.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

Employers should ensure that employees work in conditions that protect their health and safety and any obligations imposed on employees do not remove the overall responsibility of the employer.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

Employees in Portugal have a legal right to elect employee representatives for safety and health at work (representantes dos trabalhadores para a segurança e a saúde no trabalho). It is also possible to set up joint employer/employee safety and health committees (comissões de segurança e saúde no trabalho), where a collective agreement provides for this.

 

Numbers and structure

 

There is no minimum threshold for the election of health and safety representatives. In other words, they can be elected at all companies. As the number of employees increases, the legislation provides for a larger number of health and safety representatives up to a maximum of seven (see table). However, it is important to note that these thresholds relate to companies not to workplaces. There are examples where a single company has a large number of separate workplaces but still only has the number of health and safety representatives set out in the table.

 

Number of employees

Number of health and safety representatives

Up to 60

1

61 to 150

2

151 to 300

3

301 to 500

4

501 to 1,000

5

1,001 to 1,500

6

More than 1,500

7

 

Collective agreements can, however, provide for a larger number of health and safety representatives.

 

The legislation also allows for the creation of joint health and safety committees, with an equal number of employee and employer representatives, but a collective agreement is needed to set them up. The employee members are the elected health and safety representatives

 

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014 found that 24% of workplaces in Portugal had health and safety representatives and 11% had a health and safety committee. These figures are both well below the EU-28 averages, which are 58% for health and safety representatives and 21% for health and safety committees. (The results relate to workplaces with five or more employees.)[1]

Tasks and rights

 

At least once a year, health and safety representatives should be consulted in writing and in advance or in good time on the following issues:

  • risk assessments, including for those facing special risks;
  • the implementation of health and safety measures – if possible before implementation;
  • technological changes which have a health and safety impact;
  • health and safety training;
  • the appointment of employees with particular health and safety functions;
  • the appointment of those responsible for first aid, fire fight and evacuation;
  • the use of external health and safety services; protective equipment; and
  • a list of fatal and serious accidents (causing at least three days’ absence), together with any reports on them.

 

In providing this information, the employer should give the health and safety representatives access to the appropriate technical and medical reports (which should not identify individuals) as well as any external reports. The health and safety representatives should respond to the material within a period of 15 days, which may be extended if the material is complex. The initial consultation material and the responses to it should be recorded in a register held by the company.

 

Health and safety representatives also have the right to make their own proposals to reduce occupational risks.

 

Health and safety representative should also be specifically informed about temporary workers and consulted about the health effects of night working.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

Health and safety representatives have the right to meet management at least once a month to discuss issues related to health and safety.

 

Election and term of office

 

Safety representatives are elected by all employees with nominations coming from unions or at least 20 % of the workforce. The legislation contains very detailed provisions covering the election procedure.

 

The term of office is three years.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

Health and safety representatives have a right to five hours’ time off a month, which does not include the time spent in meetings.

 

Health and safety representatives should have the material and technical resources necessary to carry out their duties, as well as the right to distribute information about health and safety issues and to display material in an appropriate room.

 

They also have a right to training in order to carry out their functions. In some cases this training may be supported by the public authorities.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Health and safety representatives should not be dismissed or suffer other disadvantages as a result of their duties and the Labour Code provides for specific protection against dismissal or transfer.

Other elements of workplace health and safety

All but the smallest employers are required to set up a health and safety service, which in most cases can be internal, external or a common service shared by a number of employers. However, larger organisations – those with 400 or more employees – and organisations, where at least 30 employees are exposed to higher levels of risk, must set up an internal health and safety service, using their own employees. (Activities considered to involve higher levels of risk include construction, mining and quarrying, steelmaking and working with dangerous chemicals.) Employers are able to ask the authorities for exemption from the requirement to have an internal health and safety service if the operations do not involve high risks and they can demonstrate accident rates and rates of occupational illness that are below the average for the sector in which they work.

External health and safety services must be authorised by the Authority for Working Conditions (see below), and where an employer uses an external or a communal health and safety service, he or she must designate an employee with appropriate training, to help with the monitoring and implementation of the organisation’s health and safety work.

In organisations which do not employ more than nine employees and are not high risk, the employer can ask for authorisation to undertake health and safety work in the company, provided he or she has the appropriate training. Alternatively the employer can designate an employee to do this work.

 

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security (Ministro do Trabalho, Solidariedade e Segurança Social – MTSSS). The body responsible for ensuring compliance with health and safety law in Portugal is the Authority for Working Conditions (Autoridade para as Condições do Trabalho – ACT) which also monitors compliance with labour law more generally and has a role in resolving industrial disputes.

 

Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy at national level through their membership of Consultative Council for the Promotion of Health and Safety at Work (Conselho Consultivo para a Promoção da Segurança e Saúde no Trabalho). This is the consultative body for the Authority for Working Conditions. Unions and employers are also member of two tripartite bodies with a wider remit, the Economic and Social Council (Conselho Económico e Social – CES) and the Permanent Commission for Social Dialogue (Comissão Permanente de Concertação Social – CPCS).[2]

The main Portuguese health and safety legislation of 2009 refers specifically to psychosocial risks, including the obligation “to reduce psychosocial risks” to the list of ways that the employer should adapt the work to the individual (Article 15 (2)). This was further emphasised in later legislation passed in January 2014 (Lei n.º 3/2014), which requires the employer to ensure that exposure to “chemical, physical and biological agents and psychosocial risk factors do not constitute a risk to workers’ health and safety” (Article 14 (2)).

Key legislation

 

Law No. 102/2009 the legal arrangements for the promotion of occupational safety and health 10 September 2009 (and subsequent amendments)

Labour code 2009 (and subsequent amendments)

 

Lei n.º 102/2009 de 10 de Setembro: Regime jurídico da promoção da segurança e saúde no trabalho

Código do trabalho 2009

[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 – Portugal, by José Miquel Cabeças, OSH Wiki  https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Portugal

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.