Slovenia: EWCO comparative analytical report on Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 21 Οκτώβριος 2010



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The issue of health and safety at work is given considerable attention in Slovenia. The legislative basis for all matters concerning health and safety is the Health and Safety Act. The monitoring of the implementation of the legislative framework is performed by the Labour Inspectorate. Social partners find the issue of H&S at work very important. SMEs are rarely singled out as a special target of H&S at work policies.

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.

Questionnaire

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?

According to the Health and Safety at Work Act (Zakon o varnosti in zdravju pri delu, Official gazette of the Republic of Slovenia, no. 56/1999, no. 64/2001), the employer must take the measures necessary for the safety and health of employees, including the prevention of occupational risks, provision of information and training, as well as the provision of appropriate organisation and necessary material resources, which is in line with the 1989 Framework Council Directive 89/391.

The employer must adjust his measures for managing safety and health at work to changing conditions and permanently improve the existing situation or the level of safety and health at work and is thus compelled to take into account technological and organisational changes and the insurgence or changes of new risks. A worker has the right and duty to make proposals, observations and give information on safety and health issues.

In 2004 the Slovenian Labour Inspectorate introduced some important changes to the field of safety and health at work inspection. Its monitoring activities relating to the checking of the fulfilment of employer obligations that are prescribed in Chapter III of the Health and Safety at Work Act were expanded with the introduction of a special procedure to monitor a situation on the basis of a representative sample of all legal and natural persons registered as employers in Slovenia. The Inspectorate collects and presents the collected data in line with the ESAW methodology (European Statistics on Accidents at Work), as prescribed by EUROSTAT. The Inspectorate submits a report of its work to the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs (Ministrstvo za delo, družino in socialne zadeve, MDDSZ) for the past calendar year. In 2008, a total of 7,736 inspections were carried out in the field of safety and health at work.

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

Every employer must draw up and adopt a written safety statement specifying the manner and measures to ensure health and safety at work. The Act does not explicitly discriminate between the micro and small companies and medium ones. The work council must be consulted on any measure which might affect H&S. A work council can be set up in companies with more than 20 employees. In a company in which no work council is organised, a workers’ representative with specific responsibility for the health and safety at work must be ensured the same rights which apply to a work council. Supervision over the implementation of the Act is to be carried out by the Labour Inspectorate. In the annual report for 2008 (Poročilo o delu za leto 2008), the Labour Inspectorate points out that the area of H&S is not problematic in larger companies, while it is completely different it the case of smaller companies, which are more numerous. Their number makes supervision more difficult. It is noted that the employers in smaller companies understand their legislative obligations as purely administrative tasks. Instead of showing genuine care for the health and safety of their employees, they concentrate on the necessary paperwork and certificates. On the other hand, the statistics show that there was a general improvement in the area of H&S in comparison with the previous year.

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

H&S is not the current focus of legislation. The Health and Safety at Work Act was passed in 1999. The concept of “well-being at work” has been given increased attention in the previous years and more and more employers recognize that improvements in this area have a very positive impact on the overall performance of their companies.

-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 national programme of Health and Safety at Work emphasises that legislative measures are of key importance for setting minimum standards of conduct in the area H&S but also mentions the increasing focus on prevention activities, rather than on repressive ones and the need to strengthen the consultancy role of labour inspection.

The National programme of H&S at work singles out small employers as a group for which “soft laws” which would comprise a system of non-obligatory instructions and recommendations would be particularly welcome. Social dialogue in the field of H&S is encouraged.

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?

The H&S at work Act does not mention H&S Committees. It does though stipulate in Article 18 that an employer must designate one or more safety officers for the execution of expert tasks pertaining to safety at work. The size of the company is not explicitly mentioned in the Act. The employer determines the number of safety officers and their type, as well as the level and field of the professional education they require by taking into consideration the number of employees involved in the work process, the number of work shifts and the number of separated work units. The employer must ensure the full autonomy of a safety officer in the execution of his/her tasks and must allow them adequate time and access to all required information as well as advance training. The primary obligations of the safety officer are defined in article 19 of the Act and they include, among other things, periodic inspections of the chemical, physical or biological risks in the working environment, periodic inspections and examinations of work equipment, internal supervision of the implementation of the measures for safe working practice. The safety officer is also responsible for monitoring situations regarding work-related injuries, occupational diseases and work-related diseases as well as for identifying the causes and preparing reports for the employer together with any proposed preventive measures. Another responsibility of the safety officer is to prepare programmes and carry out employee training in safe working practice.

 

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

Since the 1999 H&S Act, which is the legislative foundation of all the H&S related issues does not determine any company size as a level from where it would be legally binding to elect risk prevention representatives, it is really a decision of the employer how the area of H&S representatives will be organized within the company. The Act is very specific as to the obligations of the employer and the duties and responsibilities of the employees, but a lot of practical questions seem to be open to interpretation. Whether the risk prevention representatives are distinct representatives from H&S Committee, in cases where these are set up, thus necessarily vary from one case to another.

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

The workers’ H&S at work representatives do deal with individual health related complaints. It is through the H&S representatives that employees inform their employers of any deficiency, health risk, defect or other situations that may jeopardise their health and safety at work or those of other employees. The workers’ representatives have the right to initiate action.

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

The regional risk prevention representatives, covering several small SME’s do not exist in Slovenia. In the Social Agreement 2007-2009, the government bound itself to examine the possibilities to establish the institute of regional workers’ representative for health and safety at work for small employers.The government has now examined those possibilities and established that introducing regional/territorial risk prevention representatives would require considerable legislative changes.

- 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?

Special training is foreseen for OSH representatives. The employer must ensure that works council members and workers’ representative receive adequate health and safety training.

- 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?

The Act on H&S at work does not grant workers’ representatives for H&S at work the right to call in outside independent experts.

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

According to Article 31 of the H&S at Work Act, a works council or workers’ representative with specific responsibility for H&S at work may request an inspection by the Labour Inspectorate if it is believed that an employer has failed to provide adequate safety measures. They also have the right to be present at any inspection by the Labour Inspectorate or by any other body when inspecting the safe-guarding of H&S at work. It is the employer’s obligation to inform the works council or the workers’ representative with specific responsibility for H&S at work, and the trade unions about the findings, suggestions and measures effected by an inspection body. In Article 33 of the Act, the right to demand the intervention of the Labour Inspectorate is granted to all employees in cases when the employer fails to control the risk or fails to act in accordance with the opinion of the authorised medical practitioner.

- 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?

Record keeping is one of the requirements of the H&S Act. The employer is obliged to keep records of, among others, periodic inspections, training and practical examinations in safe working practice, preventive health examinations of employees and also of any workplace injury, collective accident, dangerous situation, established occupational disease or work-related disease and its cause. The employer is obligated to prepare reports on H&S at work and executed safety measures at the request of the Labour Inspectorate. According to Article 41 of the H&S Act, the minister competent for labour should prescribe the contents of the records, the method of keeping and storing of documentation as well as the deadlines for preparation of the records and reports, but this has not been done yet.

- 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?

The H&S issue might be said to receive a lot of attention in some companies. The example of Radenci d.o.o. a spa that won a European award for good practice in the area of health and safety at work, shows that. Radenci d.o.o. prides itself on that award and a lengthy text on that topic can be found on the company’s web page. In the section dedicated to business activities, the company refers specifically to its H&S measures. Among the listed measures we can also find cooperation with the trade union as well as cooperation between all the interested sides with the aim of ensuring health and safety improvement measures. In the statement published on the web site the company also pledges to provide the resources necessary for ensuring H&S at work. Their aim is to enhance health and safety as a work culture. We could say that the company regards the H&S issue as a positive competition factor, perhaps in particular because healthcare and well-being are also one of the company’s core business activities.

In Revoz d.d., which is a large car plant with 2600 employees, the issue of H&S at work seems to be very important as well. The company also won the European good practice award. At Revoz, risk assessment has become a vital part of the constant effort to eliminate and control risks at work. The company has taken a comprehensive approach to assess and manage workplace risks. Since 2000, when risk assessment was first introduced, the number of accidents causing shutdowns has fallen by 60% and the number of days of sick leave brought about by accidents at work has decreased, as well. In addition, an external assessment of the safety and health at work system is performed once every three years. Training of workers aims to improve their knowledge and behaviour. Workers attend a series of workshops and if they make satisfactory progress, they are entitled to practical rewards (there is a catalogue from which the workers get to choose small practical items like backpacks, umbrellas, t-shirts, gloves, tools, etc.).

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.

There are no specific arrangements on H&S for SME’s and SME-dominated industries neither are there territorial OSH representatives.

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.

In the Social Agreement 2007-2009, the three parties agreed that H&S of employees at work are among the principal values and that the competitiveness of Slovenia’s economy can be built solely upon the workplaces where H&S of employees are respected and not threatened. The Government obliged itself to organise the identification, evidencing and registration of occupational diseases and, as mentioned above, to examine the possibilities to establish an institute of regional workers’ representative for safety and health at work for small employers. The government also agreed to actively support the implementation of legislation and in raising the employers’ and employees’ awareness by preparing and publishing non-binding guidelines for safe and healthy work and by organising an annual competition for the best example of good practice regarding H&S at work. The Employer associations’ tasks set out in the Agreement are to continuously raise the awareness and knowledge on the importance of observing prescribed requirements on H&S at work, to make endeavours to reduce injuries, health problems at work and occupational and work-related diseases. The Trade Unions tasks include nominating the candidates to be elected as workers’ representatives for H&S at work, organising training for the elected workers’ representatives and to conduct public campaigns for safe and healthy work. All three parties bound themselves to support the implementation of the Resolution on National Programme for Safety at Work.

The H&S Section at the MDDSZ, which also carries out tasks of the National Focal Point concerning the co-operation with the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, promotes H&S at work in Slovenia by organising debates and publishing different materials and publications, like H&S posters, which can be ordered for free. The Section’s web projects on H&S at work include Safety and Health in hairdresser saloons, Ergonomics in health care, Safety and health in construction sector, Safety and health in restaurants and catering, Safety and health at work with display screen equipment, SAFE START – advice provided to young workers on safe and health hazard free workplace and Glossary in the field of Safety and Health at Work.

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?

We could not find evidence of any specific survey which would compare working conditions/ health and safety within small enterprises and larger ones.

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

NA

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

There are no 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.

In the case study of Zdravilišče Radenci d.o.o. (the spa mentioned above) we can read that the company management decided to deal with H&S in a proactive way by using the OHSAS 18001 standard. Occupational H&S was included in all business processes. Comprehensive risk assessment and management is carried out on a regular basis with the participation of the workers. Special attention is paid to older, young, pregnant and disabled workers through individualised risk assessment and management. H&S issues are also taken into account when planning work spaces, processes, equipment, installations and work organisation. The results of these assessments and analysis are used to set H&S goals for the company. In addition to prevention measures, the company also focuses on workplace health promotion, including healthy nutrition, physical activities and cessation of addictions. In 2008, the company held 16 H&S related programmes, including an awareness and information campaign on safety culture. The results showed a reduced number and seriousness of injuries at work. Sick leave due to injury represents 3.9% of all sick leaves in the company, which is far below the average in Slovenia (9%). Exposure to risk factors was also reduced.

5. Good practices for SMEs: company/territorial level

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.

Our source at the MDDSZ, Section for H&S at work did not know of cases in which sectoral collective agreements would go beyond the H&S Act.

References

  • HSE (2005), Obstacles preventing worker involvement in health and safety. Research Report 296. http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr296.pdf

  • Walters D. (2002), Regulating health and safety in small enterprises. PIE, Peter Lang, Brussels

Commentary

SMEs are not identified as a special target of H&S at work policies in Slovenia. On the whole the issue of H&S at work appears to be given a lot of attention by the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs, The Labour Inspectorate as well as by the employers. The latter have recognized the importance of the health and safety issues for a better performance of companies. Apart from taking steps to prevent accidents at work and improving risk assessment, the employers increasingly pay more attention to general well-being of their employees, which results not only in more satisfied workers but in increased productivity and a lower level of absenteeism.

Mirko Mrcela, OHRC, University of Ljubljana

[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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