Final questionnaire: Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety in SMEs

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 21 Οκτώβριος 2010


Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Due to lack of information, resources or time, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro enterprises often struggle to comply with health and safety regulation in matters of worker information, consultation and participation. Authorities and the majority of bodies devoted to matters of health, safety and working conditions provide many helpful information and support tools. However, with services issuing from numerous national and regional players, the offer may lack in clarity. The answer for SMEs is to collectively develop inter-company or industry-wide processes with support from regional contributors able to conduct a pluridisciplinary approach.

Background information

The general issue

According to several studies (Walters, 2002, HSE, 2005), Health and Safety management shows significant differences between large companies and SMEs. In these latter, especially among micro-enterprises (less than 10 employees) and small ones (10-49 employees), H&S regulation is a lot of times perceived more as a burden to comply rather than a competitive opportunity because of stronger pressure over costs, company struggle for survival, lack of both financial and human resources. Further, in micro and small firms employers do not always own adequate OSH managerial skills and knowledge and they often see with suspicious the support offered by public agencies.

The extent of workers’ involvement is ambiguous: on the one hand could be easier because of direct relationship with ownership, while lower skills and shorter average tenure and the lack of OSH workplace representatives, due to legal threshold and/or non-unionization, make workers less involved in taking care of H&S on the other.

Regulatory Framework

The Health and Safety at work Framework Council Directive 89/391 introduces general prevention principles applicable to all occupational risks, aimed to ensure a higher degree of protection of workers at work through the implementation of preventive measures to guard against accidents at work and occupational diseases. The directive establishes the obligation on employers to adequately inform (art. 10) and to consult his/her employees and their representatives (art.11) by allowing them “to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work”, thus including their right to make proposals and to a balanced participation. Finally, the directive sets an obligation on the employer to adequately train at his expenses his/her employees (art. 12) and their representatives, with regular repeals in order to take into account of technological and organizational changes and to the insurgence or changes of new risks.

The H&S at work strategy 2007-2013 stresses the importance of SMEs, high-risk sectors and subcontracting in achieving the target of a 25% cut of work accidents within 2013: in particular, SMEs are seen as more vulnerable since they have “fewer resources to put complex systems of protection in place, while some of them tend to be more affected by the negative impact of health and safety problems”.

The strategy envisages a simplification and adaptation of the existing legislation to SMEs and various forms of support in its implementation, such as dissemination of good practices, training of employees, development of simple risk assessment tools and guidelines, access to affordable and good quality prevention services, and economic incentives. Labour inspectors should play a twofold role both “as intermediaries to promote better compliance with the legislation in SMEs, primarily through education, persuasion and encouragement” and “when necessary, through coercive means”,

Member States are invited to “take steps to facilitate access to good quality prevention services” particularly in favour of SMEs, to improve health surveillance of workers while avoiding inflating the formal requirements, to incorporate into their national strategies specific measures (financial assistance, training tailored to individual needs, etc.). Further, Member States and the social partners are encouraged to promote “the practical, rapid implementation of the results of basic research by making simple preventive instruments available to enterprises and in particular to SMEs”.

The second programme of Community action in the field of health (2008–2013) and the 2008 "European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being" , together with framework agreements on work-related stress (2004) and violence, bullying and harassment at workplace (2007) show both an important shift from the original notion of H&S, as stated by the 1989 directive, towards a more general “well-being” approach, and the prominent role played by social dialogue in its advance.

Figures and trends

Eurostat figures over work accidents (2002-2006) show the highest incidence rates in medium companies (50-249 employees), while micro-entreprises (1-9 employees) show the highest rates over fatal accidents. These trends seem to depend on the impact of manufacturing, construction and transports, while in the other services industries trends are not so clear-cut. However, Eurostat figures by industry and company size are not complete in order to provide an adequate assessment over time. Further, new risks emerge and work-related diseases (WRDs) evolve from the so-called “hygienic” risk factors towards “psychosocial” ones reflecting changes in working conditions.

Similarly Eurofound 4th EWCS does not show a clear-cut relationship between work accidents, risks for health and work-related diseases with company size. When asked “Do you think your health or safety is at risk because of your work?” (question 32) and “Does your work affect your health, or not?” (question 33), respondents working in small companies (10-49 employees) report the lowest scores. However, the share of respondents not well informed on H&S (question 12) declines from 15.3% in companies with 2 to 9 employees to 11.2% in companies over 250 employees: on average, such a share tend to increase since 1995 (see the full descriptive report). Similarly, both training and involvement over organizational issues are positively correlated with company size and could display indirectly a positive effect on H&S. Composition effects with respect to age (small companies show younger population), and industry (wider proportion of SMEs in services) should be taken into account.


1. National settings and regulatory framework

- How is the 1989 Framework directive on H / S and in particular information / consultation practically implemented in SMEs? Any data available? Do administrative reports exist in particular from the Labour Inspectorate?

- Does its implementation in micro and small companies follow similar patterns than in medium ones?

- Is H&S the current focus of legislation or did it evolve by incorporating “well-being at work” as the basic concept?

- The Community strategy health and safety at work for 2007-2012 calls upon the member states to work out and implement strategies to reduce the number of industrial accidents and occupational diseases; are the SMEs specially singled out in the national strategies and cooperation between social partners underlined / foreseen / called for?

The European Council Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work became French law on December 31st 1991 (and the Application Decree No. 2001-1016 of 5 November 2001, which makes the law actually applicable). The decree imposes on employers – enterprises or associations with more than one employee – to draw up a risk assessment document.

The risk assessment document lists in order of priority any danger that may harm employees and recommends actions to mitigate or eliminate those risks. The document must be updated on a regular basis – at least once a year – and after any significant change within the company.

In the case of an occupational accident or disease, the employer may face civil liability and, if guilty of inexcusable fault, would pay compensation for the damage suffered – this includes mental or physical suffering, as well as impairment to personal appearance.

The risk assessment document is held at the stakeholders’ disposal: workers, employee representatives (in SMEs with less than 50 employees) or members of the workplace health and safety committee (in SMEs with more than 50 employees), occupational doctors, labour inspectors and external health bodies such as social security organisations.

The French Ministry of Labour, Social Relations, Family Affairs, Solidarity and Urban Affairs (Ministère du Travail, des Relations Sociales, de la Famille, de la Solidarité et de la Ville) has issued a fact sheet providing practical information on the prevention of occupational hazards. Further information on health and safety at work, covering issues ranging from toxicological hazards to physical and psychological well-being, is made available by the Health and Safety Research Institute for the prevention of accidents at work and occupational diseases (Institut National de Recherche et de Sécurité pour la prévention des accidents du travail et des maladies professionnelles, INRS).

The Labour Code does not recognise the notion of quality of work and deals instead with working conditions. However, closely related to quality of work, the notion of ‘quality of working life’ is steadily gaining acceptance among occupational health professionals.

In 2009, a government-sponsored website on better work practices went live with easy-to-understand information and practical tools aimed particularly at SMEs and micro enterprises.

Companies may receive financial support from various bodies for the purpose of risk prevention and the improvement of working conditions.

On the one hand, the government provides support through the Fund for improving working conditions (Fonds pour l’Amélioration des Conditions de Travail, FACT FACT is tailored for SMEs and micro enterprises, namely companies with fewer than 250 employees. The fund finances actions initiated by enterprises (or groups of companies or branch) to tackle so-called ‘national priorities’ – that is, the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), of stress and psychosocial risk factors, of exposure to chemicals labelled as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction, of the effects of ageing in the workplace. The specificity of this Fund is to select projects built on an integrated analyse of the human, organisational and technical factors of the work situations. A specific attention is also given to the participation of the employees and their representatives in the building of the project.

National priorities were established at the end of 2007 during a tripartite conference on working conditions comprising trade unions, employers and the government. For instance, in 2008 the Minister of Labour and three employer organisations from the metallurgy and chemical industries signed an agreement on the prevention of CMR agents (in French) – substances labelled as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction.

On the other hand, the National Health Insurance Fund (Caisse nationale d’assurance maladie, CNAM) may give funding to companies under the form of simplified financial support (maximal amount of 2,000 euros).

The 2007 conference on working conditions reaffirmed the need to continue the reform of occupational health services in France. The issue is to better meet the occupational health needs of small enterprises and subcontractors, and to better handle the situation of temporary agency workers and homeworkers. The latter two groups of workers reap little benefit from the general prevention schemes. (See also the ministry’s press kit on the conference (in French, 165kb PDF).)

Over the period 2010–2014, authorities plan to implement these national priorities, contained in the second occupational health plan (Plan santé Travail no 2, PST2).

2. The micro-level settings: the role of H&S representatives

- From what level onwards / number of employees onwards, is it legally binding to establish an H&S Committee in the companies? What’s its role and function?

- From what level onwards / number of employees onwards are risk prevention representatives elected? Are they distinct representatives from H&S Committee and work councils?

- Does the H&S Committee deal with individual health related complaints? Does it have the right to initiate action?

- Do regional/territorial risk prevention representatives exist, covering several small SME’s?

- Is there special H&S training foreseen for OSH representatives/committees? Is it adequate in order to cope with both emerging risks and legislative and technological changes in SMEs?

- In order to carry out prevention policies, does a right exist for the H&S Committee to carry out surveys, call in outside independent experts? Who finances the costs of the operations / expertise? Does this right exist also in SMEs?

- Does the H&S Committee have the right to consult the Labour Inspectorate?

- Does regular reporting, annual reports exist which describe enterprises occupational diseases, assess the occupational risks at the workplace and present prevention policies? Are they submitted to the H&S Committee for discussion before publication?

- Is the H&S Committee, when providing a high standard of working conditions and of occupational health and safety seen as a positive competition factor? Can the image of the companies be regarded as important in the context for winning major contracts? Do companies refer to the activities of the H&S Committee in their Annual report of activities, to the existence of day-to-day bargaining and the management of working conditions by the H&S Committee? Do and how differ the approaches between micro/small, medium and large companies?

Workplace health and safety committees (Comités d'hygiène, de sécurité et des conditions de travail, CHSCT are required by law in companies with more than 50 employees. The director or permanent representative of a company chairs and runs the CHSCT. The number of employee representatives to the committee varies according to company size – but shall be no less than three representatives. The representatives are appointed by the elected representatives (at the comité d’entreprise, or work council, and staff representatives) and serve a two-year term. An occupational doctor, a labour inspector and a consultant for the regional health insurance institutions – Regional Health Insurance Fund (Caisse régionale d’assurance maladie, CRAM) or Agricultural Mutual Insurance (Mutualité Sociale Agricole, MSA) – are full CHSCT members. They may participate in CHSCT meetings depending on their schedule.

In small companies with less than 50 employees, staff representatives (délégués du personnel, DP) carry out CHSCT’s duties.But, the labour inspector (more information on labour inspection on has the ability to impose the setting up of a workplace health and safety committee due to the nature of the establishment and the layout or facilities on the premises.

The French Ministry of Labour has issued a dossier on CHSCT’s scope and aims (in French), while the government-sponsored website on better work practices also provides information on the setting up and functioning of CHSCT (in French) in companies, as well as on the training of CHSCT members. Further information can be obtained from the INRS.

The Labor Code defines the CHSCT’s remit (in French, 86Kb MS Word) in this manner:

‘The workplace health and safety committee has the following mandate:

  • contribute to protect the physical and mental health of all workers on premises, whether from the company or seconded by an outside company;

  • contribute to improve working conditions, particularly to facilitate equal opportunities and access to employment for women and to resolve maternity issues;

  • ensure that health and safety legislation and regulation are observed.’

Given the changes in production processes, work organisation and rapid technological advances, the CHSCT must deal with complex issues such as stress and psychosocial risk, MSDs and emerging risks such as CMR and nanotechnology. The CHSCT now gives an advisory opinion on environmental matters. It also gives advice before any major site development. CHSCT meetings are convened at least once a quarter.

The employer must provide the resources necessary to the committee’s mission: meeting place, time off for committee members, training for representatives – length of training will vary according to company size – any information appropriate for the preparation and organisation of meetings, and travel for the purpose of audits or inspections. Furthermore, the employer must publish an annual report on health and safety, and working conditions. The report is structured around introducing the company, the main indicators, the key events, resources committed and actions taken.

The CHSCT conducts on site inspections. In cases of serious risk or major development plans, the CHSCT may call in a certified expert at the company’s expense.

Workers may inform the CHSCT whenever they have reasonable grounds to believe that their work situation puts them at serious and imminent danger. In such cases, the CHSCT may decide to launch the alert procedure: it informs the employer that a serious and imminent danger compromises the safety of workers on the premises.

Once a year, during a CHSCT meeting, the company director presents :

  • a report on health and safety and working conditions in the company;

  • the annual health plan drafted by the occupational doctor;

  • the annual action plan that lists health and safety measures considered by the site manager, based on the risk assessment document.

The 2002 law on social modernisation instituted contributors in the field of prevention of occupational hazards (Intervenants en Prévention des Risques Professionnels, IPRP) implementing a pluridisciplinary approach (in French, 783Kb PDF) to chiefly support prevention measures in SMEs and micro-entreprises. These IPRPs may be an internal resource or outside contributors. Some contribute as experts on specific areas – for instance, in the field of ionising radiation risks.

The communication on health and safety at work as well as quality of work is growing issue for companies because of the pressure from trade unions, and the increasing risk of large debate on internal health and safety issues in the media. This concern is most specific to very large companies, well-known from the public at the national (or international) level. Small enterprises with limited communication budgets are less visible on the issue.

3. Social partners and the role of collective bargaining

Please summarize specific arrangements on H&S for SMEs and SME-dominated industries, and how territorial OSH representatives could intervene at workplace.

What is the role of Social partners in drawing guidelines and implementing H&S and work organization intervention aimed to prevent work accidents and WRDs? What is the role of labour inspectorates, social security institutions, OSH services and national agencies in promoting local-level experiences in SMEs? Please summarize, if there exist, the extent of the cooperation between these latter and social partners.

Occupational health and the prevention of occupational hazards is managed according to a two-tier system in France: a national level and a regional level.

National level

In April 2009, the Ministry of Labour, Social Relations, Family Affairs, Solidarity and Urban Affairs set up a Working Conditions Steering Committee (Conseil d’Orientation sur les Conditions de Travail, COCT) to replace the Higher Council for the Prevention of Occupational Risks (Conseil supérieur de la prévention des risques professionnels, CSPRP COCT is made up of 50 members, among them representatives from the social partners, the government and public bodies in charge of occupational health and safety. Within this new forum, national players will exchange and debate the implementation of national occupational policies.

Regional level

Active since 2008, Regional Committees for the Prevention of Occupational Hazards (Comités Régionaux de Prévention des Risques Professionnels, CRPRP) gather all regional contributors in the fields of occupational health and occupational risks. Social partners play a key role helping to decide on regional action plans aimed at improving health and safety at work.

Through an agreement in July 2000, the social partners created the Regional Occupational Health Observatories (Observatoires Régionaux de la Santé au Travail, ORST).The observatories carry out local studies or prevention projects on matters pertaining to occupational health, working conditions and risk prevention (for instance, in Lorraine, the ORST conducts works on MSD and cancers, Funding for the surveys comes from the local social security bodies.

Health promotion

Over the past three years, sectoral agreements on working conditions have focused on themes such as the running of CHSCTs, medical supervision in the workplace and ergonomic improvement of premises and workstations.

For several years authorities have encouraged enterprises to bring health and safety into mainstream company management (see the Ministry of Labour’s 2008 working conditions evaluation report (in French, 3.5Mb PDF)). The process is well under way for large companies. Information and awareness-raising campaigns targeting SMEs aim to disseminate these policy concerns to all employers.

4. Figures, quantitative and qualitative studies.

Are there specific surveys which prove that standards of working conditions, health and safety within small enterprises as compared to larger ones are significant lagging behind?

Do these surveys also investigate the impact of training, information and consultation over working conditions also in SMEs?

When surveys lack, are there qualitative studies investigating the impact of involvement and training on working conditions and health in SMEs?

Develop on the findings / results. Please mention / enumerate / give links.

Few studies have established a link between company size and the mainstreaming of health and safety, and quality of work into general management practice. The smaller enterprises’ poor record on prevention is mostly inferred from studies focusing on sectors where SMEs and micro enterprises predominate and report high levels of accidents at work and occupational illnesses.

Otherwise a few regional studies look at occupational accident rates according to company size. A study (in French, 413Kb PDF) by the Rhône-Alpes Regional Health Insurance Fund (Caisse régionale d’assurance maladie Rhône-Alpes, CRAM Rhône-Alpes) found that companies with 10–199 employees experienced 63% of all accidents at work 2006, while they represent only 15% of all companies and employ 50% of all workers.

The CNAM occupational accidents and illness committee has commissioned ad hoc studies in 2008 to showcase the work of its regional branches. A first survey on occupational accidents finds that the incidence rates of work-related accidents are low in micro enterprises and increase with staff numbers to reach a peak in small companies employing about 35 workers. Accident rates then decrease in companies with more than 35 workers. However, if statistics can identify phenomena, they cannot at present explain them.

The 2004–2005 Industrial relations and company bargaining (Relations professionnelles et négociations d’enterprise, REPONSE) survey, carried out by the Research, Analyses and Statistics Department (Direction de l’Animation de la Recherche, des Études et des Statistiques, Dares) of the Ministry of Labour, sheds some light on the link between availability of risk prevention measures and company size, even if the survey does not include enterprises employing fewer than 20 workers. The survey findings reveal that the economic sectors where CHSCTs are less prevalent are also those sectors where SMEs predominate (partly as subcontractors), namely sectors such as personal services, education, healthcare and social work (private sector), retail trade, construction and public works.

According to the Dares REPONSE survey, setting up a CHSCT reflects the company’s social culture: committees are clearly more common in companies where trade unions are also present and especially those experiencing industrial dispute. Thus, among the companies that did not go through any collective disputes in the three years before the survey only 29% had a CHSCT, against 44% for companies who had one occurence of industrial dispute and 72% of companies who had experienced several disputes.

The presence of a CHSCT slightly but significantly reduces the propensity of workers to complain about their working conditions. One could see a token of the effectiveness of this institution to improve working conditions, yet it could only be the result of a selection bias in the survey – CHSCTs might be more present in economic sectors or companies where working conditions are perceived as more difficult.

Risk prevention, by company size
Company size Companies with a risk assessment document (%) Companies with risk prevention strategy in place (%) Companies with workplace health and safety committee (%)
20–49 employees 73 77 17
50–99 employees 77 85 59
100–199 employees 83 88 84
200–499 employees 86 84 93
500 and more employees 83 83 96
Total 76 81 37

Source: Dares, REPONSE survey 2004–2005

According to the Dares REPONSE survey (in French, 115Kb PDF), 76% of managers in companies with more than 20 employees declare writing a risk assessment document in 2004. The risk assessment document procedure is less prevalent in smaller enterprises: 73% for companies employing 20–49 workers, 77% for companies with 50–99 staff and 84% for companies with over 100 employees. Even when a risk assessment document exists, employees and their representatives are not always well informed, especially in SMEs. Indeed, workplace health and safety committees are present only in 17% of enterprises with 20–49 workers and 59% of companies with 50–99 employees. In 18% of all enterprises – notably 75% of companies with fewer than 50 employees – the risk assessment document is not passed on to workers or their representatives.

Irrespective of the presence of a CHSCT, the risk assessment document has no impact on the way workers describe their working conditions: the procedure of establishing a risk assessment document may still be too recent in a large number of companies for the workers to perceive a noticeable impact. Workers in companies that have produced a risk assessment document do not report in greater numbers any negotiations on working conditions, including when management has indicated handing out the document. They may not actually have read the document or do not see any connection with a negotiation between social partners.

Another example is a sociological study conducted by a researcher at the URMIS laboratory (Unité de recherches Migrations et société, Université Paris-VIII) who immersed himself for a year in construction sites in Paris. In his report, entitled Construction sites closed to the public. A survey among construction workers (Chantier interdit au public. Enquête parmi les travailleurs du bâtiment, Éditions de la Découverte, 2009), Mr Jounin outlines the conditions of employment and work related to increasing use of subcontracting and temporary agency workers and shows that safety regulation is not always enforced.

5. Good practices for SMEs: company/territorial level (max 200 words)

Are there well known examples for specific collective agreements in a given sector covering working conditions, H&S in particular in SME’s which go far beyond legislation? Are they exceptions or the rule? Please report at least one example at national level and at least two at territorial/company level.

Sectoral collective agreements on occupational health and working conditions are few. And, even if such agreements exist at sectoral level, they are rarely implemented in SMEs and micro enterprises. There are some exceptions, for example in food manufacturing (poultry transformation) in 2007. In this agreement, specific attention was given to the information of employees (with a focus on temporary workers and those from external companies) and actions to prevent MSDs. In complement to the agreement, an action plan was set up (in cooperation with the institutions in charge of OSH listed in paragraph 1 above) to identify the best practice in the sector and conduct a large information campaign targeted on employers, HRM, H&S committee members, IPRP, and also external experts.

In 2007, following a trade union leaflet denouncing the deterioration of working conditions, the transport company Graveleau which is now part of the German-based Dachser group and employs 180 staff, decided to put in place measures reducing stress and preventing psychosocial risks at work. The workplace health and safety committee (CHSCT) played a key role in assessing the situation and making recommandations of how to reduce psychosocial risks. For this purpose, all situations comprising a risk were identified and categorised. The impact of any future changes in the work organisation on these risks were analysed in order to develop an action plan that the entire company staff could accept. The experience was then communicated to the group health and safety representative, who was in charge to transfer the initiative to other company sites.


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[1] Question 28a_1 “Have you undergone: Training paid for or provided by your employer, or by yourself if you are self-employed?”; Question 28a_2: “Training paid for or provided by your employer, or by yourself if you are self-employed - number of days”; question 28b_1. “Have you undergone: Training paid for by yourself?”; question 28b_2. “Training paid for by yourself - number of days”; question 28c: “Have you undergone: On-the-job training?”; question 28d. “Have you undergone: Other forms of on-site training and learning?”

[2] Question 30b: “Over the past 12 months have you been consulted about changes in the organisation of work and / or your working conditions?”; question 30d. “Over the past 12 months have you discussed work-related problems with your boss?”

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