Green light for occupational safety

Many Hungarian employers are not adhering to occupational safety regulations, not because they do not want to do so or even due to financial reasons, but simply because they do not know the rules. This is the finding of occupational safety inspectors. The Labour Safety Act states that enterprises must employ an occupational safety specialist but many employers are unaware of this. The occupational safety information service provides details of the relevant regulations.

Legislation in Hungary stipulates the need for an occupational safety information service, operated by the state. The Labour Safety Act (Act XCIII of 1993) (in Hungarian) sets out that the state must: ‘e) provide an annual report of the national economy’s occupational safety, make the statements public, and develop and organise an occupational safety information service’ (14. §(1))

Although the principle is thus enshrined in law, its practical realisation - by means of more concrete legislation and financial funding - was not operational for some years. The Employment and Labour Minister’s order of May 2002 (XI. 12.) (in Hungarian) aimed at tackling this problem. It suggested that 50% of the money collected from occupational safety penalties could be used to run the state occupational safety information service (Munkavédelmi Információs Rendszer/MIR). The rest of the income could be used as a form of competition in order to encourage greater activity in the area of occupational safety.

As mentioned, the information service (MIR) is run by the state as a public service. It offers help to small and medium-sized enterprises particularly, and is expected to react quickly and to provide relevant and correct information. The service is free and available at all times. Its focus is broadly based and does not generally encompass specialised occupational activities.

Services available

The occupational safety information service operates as three individual units:

  • Hungarian Labour Inspectorate (HLI) - safety at work;
  • National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (NPHMOS) - health at work;
  • Mining Bureau of Hungary (MBH) - focusing on the interests of the mining sector.

So far, the MIR is available as a telephone service. It is thus possible to ensure the anonymity of callers making enquiries. The MIR records the personal data of the telephone caller only with their consent. The information that the service provides cannot contain any advertising or promotional material that could threaten fair competition or raise the suspicion of partisanship.

This information service has been operating since 7 June 2003 within the remit of the HLI. They keep a record of the date of calls, reference number, subject, summary of the information provided, the occupational safety rules in question, name of caller (if known), the workplace and occupation of the caller, and the operator’s name.

Experiences so far

Initially, news of the information service was spread on an informal basis. This was followed by an official advertising campaign, which resulted in a considerable increase in the number of callers.

Table 1: Number of enquiries in 2003
Number of enquiries in 2003
Month Number of enquiries
April 25
May 31
June 160
July 642
August 410
September 266
October 282
November 311
December 296
April-December total 2,423
Total in 2003 2,642

Source: HLI report on the activity of MIR, 2004

Between 5 February 2003 and 31 December 2003, the HLI received 2,642 calls. The NPHMOS received 891 calls, and the MBH received 25 calls.

The majority of callers chose to remain anonymous, with 43% opting to have the call recorded. Those making enquiries comprised: employers and other managerial staff (51.3%), employees (37.2%), persons from public bodies (0.8%), and others (10.7%).

Many of the questions related to labour law; in this case, the operators direct the caller to the call centre of the Employment and Labour Ministry. In the case of reporting labour offences or other complaints, they refer to the HLI’s regional inspectors. Questions about occupational health and hygiene come under the responsibility of NPHMOS. Enquiries about mining usually are put through to the MBH.

Only 62% of callers to the information service of the HLI were interested in occupational safety questions; 22.4% of them had questions about labour, 5% about health and 10.6% about other problems.

The most frequent enquiries concerned:

  • business owners operating or starting up an enterprise;
  • occupational safety managers seeking information, or enterprises providing an occupational safety service;
  • callers seeking clarification on changes in work safety legislation, particularly in the period before joining the European Union;
  • employees asking about their workplace’s occupational safety rules, benefits, or investigations into accidents.
Table 2: Type and number of questions about work safety
Type and number of questions about work safety
Questions about work safety Number
Regulation of risk assessment 256
Requirements of recording and reporting workplace accidents 242
Working and protective clothing 105
Information about starting a business 82
Employing an occupational safety specialist 67
Rules concerning particular cases 65
Working with screens (VDUs) 59
Norms for workplace temperature 42
Total in 2003 918

Source: HLI report on the activity of MIR, 2004

Many callers asked about specialised literature and were referred for more information to the relevant websites (www.ommf.gov.hu; http://omkt.bme.hu; www.mkk.org.hu; www.mszt.hu) and the free publications available.

Table 3: Enquiries between 1 January 2004 and 18 June 2004
Enquiries between 1 January 2004 and 18 June 2004
Nature of enquiries Number
Changes in the Labour Safety Act 203
Investigating work accidents 190
Standards and regulations 187
Occupational safety responsibilities of employers 186
Skills and training needs for certain jobs 159
New work accident protocol 154
Protective equipment and clothing 132
Asking for names and addresses 130
Other 1,321
Total 2,662

Source: HLI report on the activity of MIR, 2004

Among the callers in the first six months of 2004 were 1,517 employers, 587 employees and 20 persons from public bodies.

It is clear - from the rapid growth and wide scope of enquiries - that the information service addresses a real need in the field of occupational safety and health.

Source

Gádor, J., Zöld szám a munkavédelemhez (Green light for occupational safety), Munkaügyi Szemle, 8-11 September 2004.

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