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Health and Safety Representation

 

Employers should consult with employee representatives, chosen by the union if there is one, on health and safety. In companies with more than 250 employees a joint health and safety committee should be set up, and where a union is present, so-called social labour inspectors can be elected who have extensive powers.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

The employer is responsible for health and safety at the workplace but should consult with employees or their representatives over all actions connected with health and safety.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

Employers with more than 250 employees should set up a joint health and safety committee (komisja bezpieczeństwa i higieny pracy – komisja bhp) to provide advice and views on health and safety issues.

 

In addition, where there is a union organisation at the workplace, employees have the right to elect an employee with particular responsibilities for health and safety, who is known as a social labour inspector (społeczny inspektor pracy – sip). Where there are no unions present this position does not exist.

 

Numbers and structure

 

Legislation does not specify the number of members of the health and safety committee. However, it should contain an equal number of representatives of the employer and the employees. The employer’s representatives should include those in the employer’s occupational health service and, where there is one, the doctor providing preventative health services to the employees. The employees’ representatives should include the social labour inspector (sip). Guidance from the National Labour Inspectorate suggests that an effectively functioning health and safety committee should contain 10 to 15 people.[1]

 

There can be social labour inspectors at the level of the whole company (company social inspectors), at departmental level and within smaller organisational units. There are no set employment thresholds, although the number of employees does affect how they are elected (see below).

 

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014 found that 26% of workplaces in Poland had health and safety representatives and 17% had a health and safety committee. These figures are both below the EU-28 averages, which are 58% for health and safety representatives and 21% for health and safety committees. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)[2]

 

Tasks and rights

 

In addition to the general obligation on employers to consult employees or their representatives about health and safety, there is a particular requirement to consult them on a number of issues. These are:

  • changes in work organisation;
  • the introduction of new technological processes and chemical substances, which could be dangerous to health;
  • the evaluation of risks;
  • the setting up of the occupational health service or its provision by external bodies;
  • first aid arrangements, fire precautions, and evacuation procedures;
  • the provision of protective equipment, including clothes and shoes; and
  • health and safety training for employees.

 

Employees or their representatives have the right to present proposals to the employer to eliminate or limit workplace hazards. Based on a justified proposal from employees or their representatives related to threats to health and safety, the state labour inspectorate can inspect and impose the appropriate penalties.

 

Where there is a health and safety committee the rights described above can be transferred to the employee members of this committee. In addition, tasks of the health and safety committee include inspecting working conditions, periodically assessing the state of health and safety, expressing a view on the measures taken by the employer to avoid accidents at work and occupational diseases, formulating proposals to improve working conditions and cooperating with the employer in the carrying out of his or her duties in the area of health and safety.

 

The tasks and rights of social labour inspectors are more precisely defined and potentially more extensive. They have a right to:

  • monitor the state of the buildings, machinery, technical equipment and sanitary facilities from a health and safety perspective;
  • monitor compliance with labour laws and collective agreements, in particular in the area of health and safety;
  • participate in the monitoring of the compliance in the workplace with laws on the protection of the natural environment;
  • participate in determining the causes of accidents at work;
  • participate in the analysis of the causes of accidents and occupational diseases and their control through the appropriate preventative measures;
  • participate in surveys of working conditions;
  • express a view on plans to improve health and safety conditions and monitor the carrying out of those plans; and
  • arrange for the active participation of the workforce in creating the appropriate conditions for health and safety.

 

In carrying out these duties, social labour inspectors have the right to enter the premises at any time and to be given documents relating to the issues they deal with. They should inform the employer where health and safety requirements are not being met and they can ask for employees who do not have the appropriate training to work in a safe manner to be withdrawn from that work. They also have powers to recommend to the employers that specific hazards be removed, and, in the case of a direct threat to workers’ safety and where the employer fails to act, they can require that a particular process or piece of equipment be halted. The ability to request employer to halt a particular process or stop machinery is limited to the company social labour inspector (the most senior), who must communicate the decision to the local trade union organisation. The employer can appeal against the decision to the National Labour Inspectorate.

 

Social labour inspectors, provided the workplace union organisation agrees, can call on the National Labour Inspectorate to carry out an inspection of the employer and they have the right to participate in that inspection.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

Where there is a health and safety committee it should meet at least once every three months.

 

Election and term of office

 

Employee representatives on health and safety issues, including those on the health and safety committee, where this exists, are elected by the local union body. Where there is no local union organisation, they are elected by all employees according to workplace procedures.

 

The rules for the election of social labour inspectors are more detailed. They can be either union members or, if the union chooses this, non-union members, but they may not have a managerial position and they should be experienced – normally at least five years in the industry and two years in the company for the company social labour inspector. In companies or departments with up to 300 employees, both the company social labour inspector and the departmental social labour inspectors are elected by the whole workforce. In large companies and departments, they are elected by the lower level social labour inspectors. In smaller organisational units they are elected directly by the workforce in that unit.

 

The rules for the elections of social labour inspectors in companies or departments with more than 300 employees are set by the workplace union organisation, although national unions can determine generally applicable rules.

 

The term of office is four years.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

Consultation with employee representatives on health and safety issues should take place in “appropriate conditions” and during working time; employees should be paid. The meetings of the health and safety committee should also take place during working time and employees’ representatives should be paid.

 

The health and safety committee has the right to make use of an external expert in carrying out its duties, provided this has been agreed with the employer. The cost of the expert is borne by the employer.

 

The costs of the activity of the social labour inspectors are borne by the employer but in principle their work should take place outside working hours. However, where the activity does take place during working time, they should be paid. In addition, where the duties of social labour inspectors are particularly onerous, they can be for paid for 30 or in some cases 60 hours. In addition in very rare cases where there is a constant and ongoing threat to workers’ health and safety, for example in a steel works, they can be on permanent paid release.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Employee representatives on health and safety issues, including employee members of the health and safety committee, should not be disadvantaged as a result of their health and safety activities.

 

Social labour inspectors may not be dismissed during their period of office or in the following year without the agreement of the workplace union organisation.

 

Other elements of workplace health and safety

 

An employer with more than 100 employees must create an occupational health service (służbą bhp), which has an advisory and monitoring tasks. Small employers (with up to 10 employees or 20 if the health and safety risks are low) can carry these tasks out themselves, provided they have the appropriate training. (Legislation being considered in 2018 is likely to increase this threshold from 20 to 50 in lower risk workplaces.) Employers with fewer than 100 employees can entrust these tasks to an employee, who also has other responsibilities. Those with between 100 and 600 employees must set up an occupational health service with at least one post, although this can be part-time. Those with more than 600 employees must have an occupational health service with at least one full-time post, with an extra full-time post for each additional 600 employees. If an employer does not have any employees with appropriate qualifications to undertake this role, he or she can contract an external body to provide this service.

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the  Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej). The National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy – PIP) is the body responsible for ensuring compliance with Poland’s health and safety and general labour laws.

 

Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy through their membership of the tripartite Social Dialogue Council (Rada Dialogu Społecznego – RDS), although this is the principal forum for social dialogue, and it deals with a wide range of issues, as well as health and safety.[3]

 

The Polish Labour Code, the key piece of legislation on health and safety, does not specifically refer to psychosocial risks. However, following an amendment in 2003 it does contain a requirement for an employer to act against bullying at work (Article 94.3).

 

Key legislation

 

Labour Code: Section X Work safety and hygiene

Law on Social Labour Inspection 24 June 1983

 

Kodeks pracy: Dział dziesiaty Bezpieczeństwo i higiena pracy

Ustawa z dnia 24 czerwca 1983 r. o społecznej inspekcji pracy

 

 

[1] Poradnik społecznego inspektora pracy, by Tomasz Rutkowski, Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, 2006

[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 – Poland  by Małgorzata Pęciłło , OSH Wiki https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Poland

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.