EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Health and safety personnel

Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work (Framework Directive on health and safety) provides for a variety of personnel to be involved in health and safety at the workplace, in particular in the area of enforcement of health and safety standards at work. The personnel involved have different, sometimes overlapping, functions, but are entitled to appropriate facilities and assistance and, in the case of employees, are protected against employer sanctions.

A worker representative with specific responsibility for the safety and health of workers is defined under Article 3(c) of the framework directive as: ‘Any person elected, chosen, or designated … to represent workers where problems arise relating to the safety and health protection of workers at work’. The directive also refers to ‘designated workers’ (Article 7) and ‘workers with specific functions in protecting the safety and health of workers’ (for instance, in Article 10(3) and Article 11(2)).

The primary duty of worker representatives with responsibility for the safety and health of workers is to take part, in a balanced way, in any measure that may substantially affect safety and health. The framework directive states that: ‘Employers shall consult workers and/or their representatives and allow them to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work.’ Worker representatives must also ‘be given the opportunity to submit their observations during inspection visits by the competent authority’ (Article 11(6)). They also have the right to submit proposals to mitigate hazards for workers and/or to remove sources of danger and to ask the employer to take appropriate measures to do this (Article 11(3)).

The directive also makes it clear that workers and their representatives have a right to be informed about all matters relevant to their health and safety in the workplace (Article 10(1)). Workers who have specific roles in protecting the safety and health of workers and worker representatives with responsibility for the overall health and safety of workers should have access to premises and information needed to carry out their duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practices. Employers have to meet the expense of supplying such information to workers.

In the case of ‘designated workers’ being given functions with respect to protective and preventive services (such as first aid, fire-fighting, evacuation of workers, etc.), the directive specifies that these workers should be given adequate time and the ‘necessary capabilities and the necessary means’ to enable them to fulfil their obligations. The directive also imposes an obligation on employers to provide safety personnel with facilities and assistance.

Further, ‘general worker representatives', who are consulted regarding the planning and introduction of new technologies (Article 6(3)(c), or on ‘all questions relating to safety and health at work’ (Article 11(1)), are entitled to receive information (Article 10(1)), which should ‘in no circumstances involve the workers in financial cost’ (Article 6(5)).

The directive states that workers' representatives with a specific role in protecting the safety and health of workers are to receive appropriate training, which ‘may not be at (their) expense’ (Article 12(3) and (4)). Training must take place during working hours. However, there may be additional expenses associated with training, for example, if it takes place away from the establishment or undertaking. The implication of the directive is that that these costs are to be borne by the employer.

See also: Framework Directive on health and safety; health and safety


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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