Spain: EWCO comparative analytical report on 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.

The main Spanish law regulating workers’ Health and Safety (H&S from now onwards) in the workplace is the Law 31/1995 on Labour Risks Prevention. Amongst other issues, it regulates workers’ and employers’ rights and obligations, as well as workers’ representative bodies in the workplace (H&S Committees and Prevention Delegates). H&S is a very recurrent topic on collective bargaining in Spain, and the Spanish Strategy of Safety and Health in the workplace 2007-2012 stresses the need to reinforce social agents’ role. Finally, statistical sources of information show that the existing H&S conditions among Spanish enterprises have significantly improved, although there is still room for improvement, particularly among SMEs and companies in the construction sector.


1. National settings and regulatory framework (max 400 words)

Broadly speaking, the general law regulating workers’ H&S against risks derived from working conditions in Spain is the Law 31/1995. As it is widely known, Spain’s membership in the European Union has led to the harmonisation of the Spanish regulation with European law. Thus, the Health and Safety at work Framework Council Directive 89/391 was transferred to the Spanish Law through the Law 31/1995, in order to regulate the application of H&S measures in the workplace.

As well as this, the Law 31/1995 includes other European Directives, such as 92/85/CEE, 94/33/CEE and 91/383/CEE, which refer to maternity and youth protection, fixed term contracts and temporary work agencies.

More precisely, the Law 31/1995 establishes the general rules related to H&S and risk prevention policies, as well as the functions developed by different stakeholders. Therefore, it regulates employers’ and workers’ rights and obligations, prevention services, Prevention Delegates’ and H&S Committees’ functions, as well as responsibilities and sanctions to ensure the fulfilment of the regulation.

On the other hand, the main organisations related to H&S regulation included in the Law 31/1995 are the following: Public Administration, National Commission of H&S in the Workplace, National Institute of Safety and Health in the Workplace, and finally the Labour and Social Security Inspectorate.

Specifically, the National Institute of Safety and Health in the Workplace (“Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo” in Spanish) is a scientific and technical body of the Spanish Public Administration, whose main objective is to analyse and study H&S conditions in the workplace, as well as to promote and support the improvement of these conditions. This Institute carries out several activities, such as promotion, training and research. Furthermore, it publishes different reports and guides specially aimed at SMEs.

On the other hand, the Labour and Social Security Inspectorate is in charge of controlling the performance of the H&S Regulation. Its functions include, among others, to validate and promote the implementation of the H&S regulation, assess companies on how to apply the H&S regulation, elaborate the reports concerning work accidents and professional diseases, suggest penalties in case of non-fulfilment to the Labour Administration and order the stoppage of the working activity in case of danger.

The Law 31/1995 was modified by the Law 54/2003, whose main basic objectives were to diminish worker fatality, integrate risk prevention in company management and improve the surveillance of the H&S regulation fulfilment. Two conditions of the law were intended to ensure that accident prevention becomes an integral part of the entire business operation:

  • Companies are required to draw up a prevention plan for workplace accidents, to be included in the general business management system. This plan must include a risk assessment analysis and a collection of preventive activities, and it must also establish a periodical control for them. Thus, in order to develop this plan, each company must identify and analyze all possible risks that could happen as a consequence of its working activity, as well as the prevention activities that the company decides to implement in order to avoid all those risks. The workers’ representatives in charge of risk prevention must approve and monitor the plan..

  • Exclusively in the case of companies engaged in dangerous activities, it is compulsory to appoint a person in charge of safety and workplace accidents, who must be present at the workplace when high risk activities are taking place.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning that the European H&S at work strategy 2007-2012 has also been developed at national level by means of the Spanish Strategy of Safety and Health in the workplace 2007-2012 (“Estrategia Española de Seguridad y Salud en el Trabajo 2007-2012” in Spanish), aimed at establishing a general framework for risk prevention policies.

The background of this Strategy lies on the fact that all companies, but specially SMEs, should get the support of Public Institutions, whereas the H&S system should become more accessible to companies. As it is explained in this Strategy, agreed by the employers’ organizations (CEOE and CEPYME), trade unions (UGT and CCOO) and the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce, H&S policies have not been accurately coordinated. The Spanish Law has incorporated the European H&S regulation in a very short period of time and nowadays, there exists a complex set of rules which are difficult to fulfil, especially for SMEs. Furthermore, according to the diagnosis elaborated in the introduction of this strategy, Spanish regulation is too generalist, so it does not take into account each sector’s peculiarities. Consequently, prevention principles are often seen as bureaucratic requirements, rather than effective methods to avoid work-related risks.

Therefore, several measures aimed at facilitating the accomplishment of H&S regulation amongst SMEs have been applied. The most interesting measures include simplified prevention plans, public assessment services or specific sections for SMEs in guides and regulations. Therefore, SMEs receive the support of public institutions in order to implement H&S Regulation and bureaucracy is simplified, without reducing the level of the minimum conditions requested.

2. The micro-level settings: the role of H&S representatives (max 700 words)

The main law regulating the participation of workers in H&S issues is the Law 31/1995, which states that workers’ representativeness corresponds to Prevention Delegates and H&S Committees. The competences and faculties of Prevention Delegates and H&S Committees are also regulated by this Law. However, these competences could be assigned to other specific bodies if a different agreement is reached through collective bargaining.

In most cases, Prevention Delegates are designated by and among personnel representatives. The number of Prevention Delegates in a company depends on the number of employees, according to the following scale:

  • From 6 to 49 employees: 1 Prevention Delegate. In companies ranging from 6 to 30 employees, the Prevention Delegate can be the same person as the Personnel Delegate.

  • From 50 to 100 employees: 2 Prevention Delegates.

  • From 101 to 500 employees: 3 Prevention Delegates.

  • From 501 to 1000 employees: 4 Prevention Delegates.

  • From 1001 to 2000 employees: 5 Prevention Delegates.

  • From 2001 to 3000 employees: 6 Prevention Delegates.

  • From 3001 to 4000 employees: 7 Prevention Delegates.

  • From 4001 onwards: 8 Prevention Delegates.

According to the Law 31/1995, the competences that Prevention Delegates enjoy are the following:

  • Collaborate with the Management Board to improve risk prevention systems in the company.

  • Promote cooperation amongst workers to apply H&S regulation.

  • Be asked by the Management Board, in keeping with the right to consultation of the workers.

  • Accomplish control and surveillance duties concerning the fulfilment of H&S Regulation.

As well as this, the faculties corresponding to Prevention Delegates are the following:

  • Accompany Prevention Experts and Labour and Social Security Inspectors on their visits to the work centres to verify the fulfilment of H&S requirements.

  • Access to information and documentation concerning working conditions, depending on their needs to develop their functions.

  • Be informed by the Management Board about any risk or injury on workers’ health.

  • Receive from the Management Board all the information collected by the H&S bodies.

  • Visit the workplace in order to supervise and control working conditions.

  • Encourage the Management Board to implement preventive measures and improve the H&S system.

  • Suggest the stoppage of the working activity to the workers’ representatives, in case of specific dangers.

Concerning H&S training, it can be pinpointed that the employer is responsible for the information and training of the Prevention Delegates. Training activities can be offered by the employer himself or through specialized external entities, and the time devoted to information and training is always considered as working time. Additionally, these training activities must be updated according to newly arisen risks, and must be organized periodically if necessary.

With regard to the H&S Committee, the Law states that this body must be constituted in all companies or work centres with 50 or more employees. However, it is also possible to draw on collective bargaining in order to establish other designation systems, provided that it is guaranteed that the faculty of designation corresponds to personnel representatives or to the workers themselves.

This H&S Committee is a joint body composed equally by workers’ H&S representatives (Prevention Delegates) and employers. The H&S Committee establishes its own rules, and it is aimed at consulting the activities of the company concerning H&S. It holds a regular meeting on a quarterly basis, but it also meets whenever any of the members asks for it.

The constitution of an H&S Committee is compulsory for those companies or work centres with 50 workers or more. In those cases where companies have less than 50 workers, the functions and competencies attributed to the H&S Committee will be transferred to the Prevention Delegate.

More precisely, the competencies of the H&S Committee are the following:

  • Participate in the elaboration, implementation and evaluation of prevention plans.

  • Promote initiatives regarding measures for effective risk prevention and suggest the improvement of existing deficiencies.

As well as this, the faculties of the H&S Committee are:

  • Know the real situation of the company concerning risk protection, by visiting the workplace.

  • Know all reports on working conditions needed for the development of its tasks.

  • Know and analyse all incidences on workers’ health.

  • Know and inform about Annual Reports and Planning regarding protection systems.

3. Social partners and the role of collective bargaining (max 300 words)

The Law 31/1995 establishes that the participation of both workers and employers is a basic principle for the implementation of prevention policies.

H&S issues are a very recurrent topic on collective bargaining in Spain, and the development of risk prevention systems and policies has always been present in the discussions among social partners. In spite of the continuous decrease in incidence rates over the last years, social agents consider that it is still indispensable to promote a stronger protection and H&S awareness among Spanish companies, in order to diminish the number of work-related accidents and diseases. This growing interest has led to the inclusion of many clauses concerning Occupational Health and Safety in collective agreements.

The Spanish Strategy of Safety and Health in the workplace 2007-2012 was submitted in 2007. This strategy is based on social dialogue among representatives of the Spanish Government, business organisations and trade unions. More precisely, the Third Objective of this Strategy refers to the reinforcement of social partners’ role and the larger implication of employers and workers, so that collective bargaining becomes a core player on H&S issues.

In this sense, and thanks to collective bargaining, a very interesting measure has been agreed, which consists of establishing specific sectoral bodies in charge of promoting H&S in the workplace. In particular, these entities are equally composed by workers’ and employers’ representatives, and they are intended to support companies which have from 6 to 50 workers and lack workers’ representatives. More precisely, these joint committees are formed at national level, after the signature of an agreement between employers’ organizations and trade unions. Their main objective is to disseminate information on work-related risks for one specific sector, as well as on workers’ and employers’ rights and obligations. Thus, the basic idea of this project is to promote prevention measures and inform employers and workers about H&S, especially among SMEs. For example, in 2009 specific sectoral bodies have been created for the farming sector and for the food and beverage sector, covering the whole of Spain.

4. Figures, quantitative and qualitative studies. (max 800 words)

The most important Spanish surveys related to working conditions are the Survey on Quality of Life in the Workplace (“Encuesta de Calidad de Vida en el Trabajo” in Spanish) and the National Survey on Working Conditions (“Encuesta Nacional de Condiciones de Trabajo” in Spanish).

The 2007 Survey on Quality of Life in the Workplace is aimed at assessing the situation of workers in the workplace, providing data on the activities they carry out and their relations at work, along with workers’ own perceptions. This survey has been carried out on a yearly basis by the Spanish Ministry of Labour and Immigration since 1999, and it is divided into eight different sections: general satisfaction at work, satisfaction with the organisation, working contract, H&S, working conditions, education and training, labour and geographic mobility and work-life balance.

Considering the data referred to H&S that has been obtained from the 2007 Survey on Quality of Life, it is possible to remark a few ideas concerning company size. Interestingly enough, the workers in companies with less than 11 workers have the highest average degree of satisfaction concerning the variables “satisfaction with the physical environment of the workplace” and “satisfaction with H&S in the workplace”. More precisely, and in a scale from 0 to 10, workers in companies with less than 11 workers reach an average degree of satisfaction of 7.5, whereas the global average level is 7.3.

On the other hand, the National Survey on Working Conditions is published by the Spanish National Institute of Safety and Hygiene in the Workplace (“Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo” in Spanish), a subsidiary body of the Spanish Ministry of Labour and Immigration. The main goal of the study is to assess working conditions and provide an overview of H&S conditions in Spanish workplaces, as well as evaluating risks and preventive activity. The last issue of this survey was published in 2007, and its periodicity has been changeable since it was first published in 1983.

In general terms, the results show a progressive improvement of protection systems among Spanish companies, although there are still many aspects to be enhanced. Data confirm that risk analysis and training on protection have improved, as well as companies’ adaptation to H&S regulation and the diminution of risk exposition. Nevertheless, there are still some collectives remaining, such as SMEs, and, within this group, the construction sector, where it is still necessary to make greater efforts to apply H&S policies.

If the results are analysed in a more precise way, it can be observed that prevention measures are more extended as company size (number of employees) increases (see Table 1). Just to give an example, and concerning the existence of Prevention Delegate in the workplace, the data show that only 30.7% of the employees working in companies with 6 to 9 workers confirm that there is a Prevention Delegate in their company, whereas the percentage goes up to 84.9% for those employees working in companies with 500 workers or more.

Concerning prevention resources, the percentage of workers who indicate that there is no prevention resource in their company decreases as the company size grows. As well as this, the most common resource for both micro-enterprises and small enterprises is an external risk prevention system, while own prevention systems are much more common among larger companies.

Concerning the External Risk Prevention System, it can be defined as a collection of human and material means of prevention aimed at guaranteeing the health and safety of the workers. A specialized enterprise provides this service externally, so that the company develops the preventive activities which are legally demanded. The enterprise providing the External Risk Prevention Service must be accredited by the Labour Administration, and it can not have any kind of commercial or financial link with the company that is receiving the service. There exists a legal obligation for a company to contract an External Risk Prevention Service when the internal designation of one or two prevention delegates is not enough to carry out the prevention activity needed, or when the preventive activity of the company is only partially developed.

The External Risk Prevention System may include several prevention services (such as the development of prevention plans, risk evaluations, adoption of preventive measures and control of their efficiency, information and training of workers, emergency plans, etc.) depending on the agreement signed by both companies. In any case, even if the company contracts this External Risk Prevention System, it is still is responsible for the prevention activity developed and for its implementation in all company areas.

Regarding risk analysis in the working post, survey results show again the same trends: the larger the company, the higher the probability of conducting risk analyses. Finally, concerning information and training on work-related risks over the last two years, trends stick again to previous parameters, since the lowest percentage corresponds to workers in micro-enterprises.

TABLE 1. Risk Prevention Activities
  Number of workers in the company
1-9 10-49 50-249 250-499 500 or more Average
Existence of Prevention Delegate in the workplace* 30.7 49.3 69.6 83.7 84.9 54.7
Existence of Prevention Resources 75.0 88.8 93.7 94.9 95.1 86.9
Risk analysis in the working post 16.4 26.0 34.1 37.7 41.8 25.5
Information and training on work-related risks 39.2 52.7 60.3 62.0 65.0 49.8

* Data regarding the existence of prevention delegate in the micro-enterprises corresponds to the range 6-9 workers, instead of 1-9 workers.

Source: Sixth National Survey on Working Conditions (“VI Encuesta Nacional de Condiciones de Trabajo” in Spanish), 2007.

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

Two significant examples of good practices have been considered relevant to comment on:

  • On a regional level, the Regional Government of Andalusia (“Junta de Andalucía” in Spanish) boasts a very detailed and comprehensive website. In particular, the website includes an H&S section with lots of information on strategies and programmes, administrative procedures, regulations, information and training activities, etc. Additionally, it includes a very interesting section with Publications and Practical Guides, both in general and regarding specific sectors. In some cases, these Guides are published in several languages, such as English, French and even Rumanian (just for a few particular sectors).

  • On the other hand, Confebask, the Basque Business Confederation, has implemented the project “Good practices in work-related risk prevention in SMEs” ("Buenas Prácticas en prevención de riesgos laborales en la PYME" in Spanish). The objective of this project is to detect existing good practices and disseminate them, so that they can be used as an example to follow by other SMEs. One of the cases analysed is the company Construcciones Lauki S.A., due to its effort concerning workers’ training on H&S. In particular, this company has implemented the so-called Training Specific Plans for all of the workers in the company (no matter their category or status), which take place on a yearly basis.

Jessica Duran and Iñigo Isusi, IKEI

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