Crash plan against industrial accidents launched
In May 1998, the UGT and CC.OO trade union confederations published a "crash plan on industrial accidents". This proposal will be debated by the National Commission on Health and Safety at Work, which will draw up a plan aimed at reducing the high industrial accident rate in Spain.
The National Commission on Health and Safety at Work (Comisión Nacional de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo) is a quatripartite body composed of trade unions, employers, the government and the (regional) autonomous communities. It has been commissioned by the Congress of Deputies to draw up a plan to reduce industrial accidents in Spain. Two years after the Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks (Ley de Prevención de Riesgos Laborales, LPRL) came into force (ES9708216F), the industrial accident rate is still very high: an average of three fatal accidents a day took place in 1997 (ES9803145N). Initial reactions to a "crash plan on industrial accidents" (Plan de choque contra los accidentes laborales) published by the UGT and CC.OO trade union confederations on 19 May 1998 have been favourable, and the National Commission will debate the plan as part of its work. In fact, the plan coincides almost completely with the resolution passed unanimously by all the parliamentary groups of the Congress of Deputies at its plenary session on 24 February 1998.
Poor compliance with the law
The main objective of the plan produced by the trade unions is to promote enforcement of the LPRL in companies. The trade unions have repeatedly denounced non-compliance with these regulations. A recent study by CC.OO's Trade Union Institute of Work, Environment and Health (Instituto Sindical de Trabajo, Ambiente y Salud) contributes new data that confirm this. The degree of application of the LPRL is still very low, especially in small and medium-sized companies, while the trade unions are making a great effort to develop the role that the law assigns to workers, especially with respect to selecting and training safety delegates.
The most significant points to emerge from the study are the following.
- Most employers consider that the LPRL is a useful instrument for effective risk prevention. However, the level of knowledge about these regulations is very poor, with 62% of employers stating that they have little or no knowledge. Also, 42% of employers consider that the degree of application of the LPRL in companies is low or very low.
- Only 9% of companies have decided the model of risk prevention that they will implement, one of the key factors of the LPRL. Most have chosen to contract an external risk-prevention service. The organisation of prevention services is still traditionally based, and the activities of safety and industrial medicine are predominant.
- Companies have mostly failed to fulfil their obligations as regards training. 79% of companies have carried out no training on occupational health. This situation is especially serious in companies with fewer than six workers, but improves as the size of the companies increases.
- The election of workers' representatives for risk prevention shows signs of improvement. Safety delegates have been chosen in 37% of the companies with the right to have them (those with over five workers), a health and safety committee has been set up in 66% of the companies with over 50 workers, and 45% of delegates have received training on prevention.
Main contents of the crash plan
The unions intend to start a wide-ranging campaign across all the media, giving priority to television, to increase awareness of fatal accidents and their most common causes. They also plan to organise activities in workplaces in conjunction with employers, to systematise the action taken by employers and workers' representatives aimed at securing compliance with the regulations.
The plan intends to establish a tripartite commission to produce a training plan aimed at safety delegates and to generalise training on occupational health in companies. It has also been suggested that risk prevention should be introduced in regulated vocational training courses in the next academic year.
Information and monitoring
The trade unions believe that the public administration at central and regional levels should reinforce their functions of monitoring, control and enforcement of the LPRL. To achieve this, they propose a significant increase in the staffing of the institutions in charge of these functions and better training for them. Moreover, they demand a greater degree of consultation and participation of the social partners in the development of these activities.
Better working conditions
The plan proposes that the public administration at central and regional levels should have greater involvement in risk prevention and act towards improving working conditions. From this viewpoint, several measures are proposed:
- promoting studies by the National Institute of Safety and Hygiene at Work (Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo) on working conditions in the sectors of activity with the highest accident rates in order to promote steps towards preventive action;
- establishing and develop sectoral prevention plans with the participation of the autonomous communities;
- immediate passing of a royal decree regulating the exclusion of temporary employment agencies from particularly dangerous work;
- prohibiting overtime in dangerous or arduous activities and limiting overtime in all sectors; and
- establishing criteria for "certified preventive requirements" for the award of contracts to private companies (works, services and others) by public administrations.
Sanctions and action taken in response to non-compliance
The unions demand far more energetic and effective action by the labour authorities in response to non-compliance with the law. They demand greater rigour in imposing sanctions and enforcing payment of fines. They also demand more information for the social partners on the sanctions and the actions of the labour authorities.
The plan produced by the trade unions stresses the responsibility of the central and regional public administration in the prevention of occupational risks. Two years after it came into force, many small and medium-sized companies have still not applied the LPRL. This is because of several diverse factors: the pressure to reduce costs in increasingly competitive markets; the high rate of labour turnover and temporary employment in small and medium-sized companies; the low trade union presence; and the lack of training in occupational health of a great proportion of the employers. To deal with this situation, the public administration must take more effective action: it is absurd to have one of the most advanced regulations on prevention of industrial accidents and not to implement the appropriate mechanisms to make it effective. Achieving a greater commitment to the prevention of occupational risks by the public administration is without doubt one of the key objectives in dealing with the high industrial accident rate in Spain. (María Caprile, Fundación CIREM)