- Observatory: EurWORK
- Health and well-being at work,
- Published on: 21 Ottobre 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.
This report provides a snapshot on issues related to health and safety in Malta. The findings show that the management and the maintenance of occupational health and safety requirements especially in small and micro enterprises are still perceived to constitute a financial and administrative burden. Furthermore, awareness of OHS in the workplace is not yet fully appreciated by employees, employers and the social partners. References are mainly drawn from official publications of the Malta Occupational Health & Safety Authority (OHSA) and by interviews to a number of people with direct interest in the subject.
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.
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-enterprises (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?
In Malta, the H/S directive has been transposed through Act XXVII of 2000, which amongst other things established the Occupational Health & Safety Authority (OHSA, 2000). The Authority is a tripartite body which includes Government, Employers and Employees representatives. The Act itself, aims at achieving a strong degree of self-regulation requiring employers to provide such information, instruction, training and supervision, as is suitable and sufficient to safeguard minimum Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) levels. Employers are also required to ensure that wherein a sufficient number of workers are employed, there shall be elected, chosen or otherwise designated a person/s to act as the Workers’ Health and Safety Representatives (WHSR). There is no official threshold, however the OSHA uses ten or more workers as a benchmark to challenge the non-appointment of the WHSR. The Act also charges the Authority to promote the dissemination of information, education and training and vests its officers with the powers of intervention and where required prosecution in court, on behalf of the police.
No administrative reports were identified dealing specifically with information and consultation and very little exists within this section of the labour inspectorate. However, annual OHSA activity reports, refer to ongoing media campaigns, as well as a programme of awareness-raising courses.
Does its implementation in micro and small companies follow similar patterns than in medium ones?
The Act and its subsidiary legislation are applicable to all workplaces, but exclude with certain reservations, the activities of the armed forces, the police and civil protection services. It is standard practice for OHSA officers to ask for the WHSR in each and every organisation they inspect, however implementation is subjective. A spokesperson for the OHS inspectorate stated that the law does not specify what is ‘sufficient’ in terms of the number of workers required in order to comply with the law regarding the appointment of the WHSR. For this reason, the OHSA uses ten or more workers as a benchmark to challenge the non-appointment of the WHSR. A more rigorous view is adopted with regard to the non-availability of a written Risk Assessment Policy since legislation stipulates five or more workers as a benchmark.
Is H&S the current focus of legislation or did it evolve by incorporating “well-being at work” as the basic concept?
The “workers’ well-being” is entrenched in the Act’s Declaration of Principles (OHSA, 2000), thereby charging the OHSA with the responsibility of ensuring that these concepts are promoted and safeguarded. This may be considered as an improvement and refinement over the Factories (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1986 and the other pre-2000 legislation which focused mainly on the physical safeguards and hygiene.
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?
SMEs are specifically singled out in the OHSA’s Strategic Plan. The regulator considers that SMEs generally have fewer resources to implement necessary preventive and protective measures. Thus it acknowledges its challenge of seeking a balance between obtaining compliance in this sector without imposing any additional bureaucratic or administrative burdens.
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 legal frame work does not mention ‘committee’ per se, nor a numeric level above which employers are obliged to have workers’ representation. It somewhat, leaves both issues at the discretion of the employer. In fact article 6 (4) of the Act outlines employer’s duty to ensure that: “…at work places wherein a sufficient number of workers are employed, there shall be elected, chosen or otherwise designated a person or persons to act as the Workers’ Health and Safety Representative or Representatives, and who shall be consulted in advance and in good time by the employer on matters which may affect occupational health and safety” (OHSA, 2000).
From what level onwards / number of employees onwards are risk prevention representatives elected? Are they distinct representatives from H&S Committee and work councils?
Risk prevention representatives are not contemplated in the legislation.
Does the H&S Committee deal with individual health related complaints? Does it have the right to initiate action?
It is within the parameters established by law for the WHSR to point out to the employer any complaint coming to their attention. The OHSA act stipulates that workers are duty bound to inform the employer of “any work situation he has reasonable grounds for considering that it represents a serious and immediate danger…” Furthermore the act states that an employer “shall take no action, disciplinary or otherwise…against a workers’ representative who informs any worker of such work situation presenting an imminent and serious danger to life or health”. Thus it may be argued that the right to initiate action is within the spirit of this regulation.
Do regional/territorial risk prevention representatives exist, covering several small SME’s?
There is no such known grouping in Malta although there is an association for OHS practitioners.
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?
Legislation requires employers to provide adequate training to the WHSR. The OHSA, although not unique as a training provider, markets and delivers awareness training including courses entitled “Well being at the workplace” and “Manual Handling”. It prides itself of regularly updating its training content and strives within its capabilities to adequately address emerging risks (such as manual handling, posture, stress, vibration) and technological changes in particular. Annual activity reports claim that the 16 hour course on the role of the WHSR has attracted a high number of participants. By the end of this course, amongst other things, the participants are expected to be aware of OHS Legislation, in particular, the role of the WHSR, and Duties of Employees and Employers. Course participants should be able to assist the risk assessor to identify hazards and risks present within the work environment.
Awareness training is also delivered by a number of commercial institutions. These occasionally have been found to be questionable. In this regard, a media release (OHSA, 2007) warns against inadequacy of provision of training, questions the competence of certain trainers and reminds employers of their obligations to involve and consult the WHSR on matters related to 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?
Legislation refers to the right of the WHSR to be present and to participate in a risk assessment but does not empower the WHSR to be the enforcer. Regulations require employers to consult with the WHSR in the choice of contracted OHS services. Employers are to foot the bills regarding the maintenance of OHS levels. The Act applies to all workplaces.
Does the H&S Committee have the right to consult the Labour Inspectorate?
Following representations to the employer, if the action is not deemed to be adequate, the regulations also permit the WHSR to put forward their concerns to the Authority. Furthermore, Art. 13 (10) also requires that the representative/s “must be given the opportunity to submit their observations during visits by Officers” (OHSA, 2003).
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?
Such data emerging from within the company itself is not normally available to the public and is scarce because of the fragmented reporting structures. However, employers are duty bound to continually assess occupational risks and proactively address emergent issues, as well as to maintain records on such occurrences. Health surveillance is automatically regulated by the resulting requirement of the risk assessment and monitoring carried out against established levels (examples: asbestos, carcinogens). The duty of submission to the H&S committee is not regulated per se, but it is argued that this obligation arises out of the employer’s duty to inform workers of risks. However, the reality varies according to the practice in each organisation.
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?
Annual reports of small and medium sized companies pay tribute to contributions by the OHS committee and recognise that the real costs of non-compliance in OHS outweigh the benefits the organisation may derive by doing away with, or short-circuiting preventative policies.
Citing the cost to the state, of workplace related injuries, the Social Policy Minister has been on record to state that a company’s OHS record will be a factor to be considered when awarding work contracts, OHS Good Practice Award winning companies, pride themselves in visibly inserting or making reference to the award logo in their marketing effort.
It may be asserted that the bigger the size of the enterprise, the more status the H&S committee is given.
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.
The size of the enterprise has been taken into account by the legislator when transposing the H&S Directive, although concessionary benchmarking in no way excludes employers from the obligation of abiding by the spirit of the law. Art. 5,of the First Aid Regulations makes it mandatory to have first aid available and obliges the employer, irrelevant of the number of employees, to appoint a person, to take charge of a first aid situation (OHSA, 2002). However the same regulation benchmarks a ratio starting from 100 employees for low risk situations and 50 for higher risk workplaces, for an enterprise to have a First Aider.
In Malta, there are no ‘territorial’ OHS representatives and hence no intervention at such level is possible.
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.
The social partners, particularly, the trade unions and government, continuously advocate more awareness and adherence to OHS requirements. The regulator is tasked at law to draw up guidelines in this respect. Theoretically the composition of the board should account for a considerable effort of cooperation between SME’s and the social partners. A report issued in 2009, entitled ‘Initial Summary of Findings’, drawn up by an evaluation group tasked by the EU Commission, commented that the “relationships with the social partners are based on a concrete and positive consensual approach” (DOI, 2009: 1217). Furthermore, Objective 3 of the OHSA’s Strategic Plan commits the entity to seek collaborative approaches to these and other government entities whose remit in some way overlaps with OHS issues, with a view of “either delineating roles and responsibilities so as to avoid duplication of action and to decrease unnecessary bureaucratic procedures, or to solicit their cooperation” (OHSA, 2009e: 8).
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?
No specific surveys dealing with comparisons between SME’s have been identified and data gathered is scarce and where available is likely to be past its validity date.
The only significant and current indicator is the 2009 quarterly statistics on occupational injuries. Figures issued by the National Statistics Office for the 2nd Quarter of 2009 show a 29.1 per cent decrease when compared to the corresponding quarter in the preceding year (NSO, 2009c). Many of these accidents at work occurred in the economic sectors of manufacturing (24.6 per cent); construction (18.3 per cent); wholesale and retail trade (11.1 per cent). They may also be categorised to 10.1 per cent in the micro class, 20.9 for the small enterprise, whilst 23.4 per cent occurred in the medium SME’s.
With regards to occupational diseases reporting, this is fragmented over a number of entities such as the Department of Social Security and the Health Division. Data collation on a national scale in this regard leaves much to be desired and therefore makes it highly improbable to achieve a valid comparable assessment vis-à-vis occupational health.
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?
There are no known official surveys covering such area. However, there are dissertations, submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for a Diploma in Social Studies (OHS), within the Centre for Labour Studies (CLS, 2009) which may shed valid light on the issues.
Develop on the findings / results. Please mention / enumerate / give links.
The real picture, although improving, is far from ideal. Much of the funding destined for H&S was used to establish the Authority, build its capacity and to start addressing the more traditional high accident sore points in the construction and manufacturing sector.
According to the two year old strategy written by the OHSA “The awareness of OHS in the workplace, as well as the role of the OHSA in promoting OHS is yet to be fully appreciated by employers, employees and other social partners” (http://www.ohsa.org.mt/showpage.asp?pageid=235). There is a general consensus among the social partners that the problem is the prevailing culture which may be changed by achieving synergy with other stakeholders and further mainstreaming OHS in other influencing policy areas such as education, public health, public procurement and employment issues.
The labour inspectorate function, which truly spreads beyond the meagre OHSA’s technical and administrative 26 staff complement, needs to adopt a more holistic and concerted approach. This may be achieved by the projected amalgamation of labour inspectorate services – still on the drawing board in Malta but a concept which is practised in some EU countries. More should be done to attract a better number and a more gender balanced composition of career seekers to the academic area of OHS. Cooperation here should involve the University of Malta, the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality as well as the OHSA. Since culture takes its time and usually a long time to change, the OHSA’s awareness programme directed at Grade 6 Primary school leavers should pay its dividends in the long-term. Company doctors, would profit the workforce better if they delve into the root causes of work place absenteeism instead of policing. Through exposure to more and continuous awareness campaigns, SME’s like other sectors in the country, will realise that to cut corners in OHS is costlier in the long run. The government on its part should find a way to implement its commitment to beef up the OHSA to the required capacity levels.
On the positive side, the OHSA is at the final stages of launching an ESF (European Social Fund) sponsored project to carry out specialised OHS research and the development of an OHS accreditation system (http://www.ohsa.org.mt/showpage.asp?pageid=276). This should throw ample light on the prevalent situation in Malta.
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.
Clauses dedicated to OHS are a standard insertion in Maltese collective agreements which are normally negotiated at company level in the case of private companies. On a national scale, Maltacom, the state telecom company, now privatized and operating within the Go Group, had been lauded for its high level of OHS and staff wellbeing (Go, 2009). Furthermore, a local large scale multi national manufacturing company (Brand International) which employs around 800 persons is currently seeking ISO certification in H&S. This process is still in its early stages and is expected to take up to 3 years to be fully implemented. The WHSRs are being involved in the management core group responsible for this certification. Because of this process an employee of the company has been sponsored to attend a University Diploma Course in OHS.
Giovanni Barbaro Sant and Anna Borg, Centre for Labour Studies
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 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?”
 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?”