Government launches programme for health and safety at work

The Latvian Ministry of Welfare has announced measures to improve occupational health and safety, which are to be implemented within three years. Adoption of these measures is the first step in the implementation of the Health and Safety Development Programme for 2008–2013; the overall programme is in a process of adaptation. The first step includes five main strands of activity and several support mechanisms that may help companies to improve health and safety.

Guidelines for health and safety adopted

On 17 April 2008, the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers (Latvijas Republikas Ministru kabinets, MK) approved the Health and Safety Guidelines for 2008–2013, drafted by the Ministry of Welfare (Labklājības ministrija, LM). The latter is responsible for implementing the guidelines, and MK’s order sets out four steps in their realisation. A programme for implementation of the guidelines must be presented to MK in two steps: by 1 June 2008 for the period 2008–2010, and by 1 April 2011 for the period 2011–2013. Reports on the progress of implementation are to be presented to MK in a further two steps: by 1 July 2011 for the first period, and by 1 July 2014 for the second period. To support the reports, two studies of working conditions and risks at work in Latvia will be carried out in 2010 and 2013.

Guidelines reveal problems in health and safety

The main problems with regard to health and safety, as identified in the guidelines, are as follows:

  • lack of information, data, scientific support and capacity in the planning, development and monitoring of health and safety policies;
  • failure to observe health and safety standards in real life, resulting from shortcomings in the state supervision and control system, and from lack of economic motivation and support for employers;
  • lack of awareness among the public, as well as a lack of knowledge and lack of risk preventive measures concerning health and safety.

Strands of activity

Overall, the guidelines set out four main strands of activity:

  • improving the planning of health and safety policies by providing the necessary scientific and information support, and enhancing the potential to react to changes in the working environment;
  • increasing the capacity and efficiency of the state supervision and control system;
  • promoting a risk preventive culture among the public and in companies by raising the knowledge and awareness of the public, employers and employees about health and safety;
  • improving working conditions through legislative and other measures, and by promoting social dialogue, reducing administrative demands on companies, and motivating employers and employees to follow the provisions of the law.

Plan for first stage approved

On 4 November 2008, MK approved the programme for implementing the first stage of the guidelines covering 2008–2010. This programme provides for five main strands of activity:

  • reducing the risk of accidents at work, and improving the implementation of laws and regulations pertaining to health and safety;
  • improving the planning, development and monitoring of health and safety policies. This will be achieved by concluding an agreement with the Institute for Health and Safety and Environmental Health (Darba drošības un vides veselības institūts) at Riga Stradins University (Rīgas Stradiņa Universitāte, RSU) on the provision of scientific and technical support to LM and the State Labour Inspectorate (Valsts Darba Inspekcija, VDI);
  • promoting a risk preventive culture among the public and in companies;
  • increasing the competence and qualification of health and safety specialists;
  • ensuring a better legal regulatory framework for the health and safety of employees at work.

With the aim of improving the working environment and working conditions in companies, the programme provides for measures specifically supporting enterprises – such as free training in health and safety, and a workplace risk assessment. It also provides for measures seeking to raise the awareness of the general public, employers and employees about health and safety matters.

Commentary

The incidence of accidents at work is not decreasing; therefore, the implementation of new measures in health and safety is needed. The new guidelines, which will be financed by the European structural funds, focus on improving the quality of policies and quality of control towards risk preventive health and safety. They also provide for practical measures which will give a greater incentive to employers to improve working conditions. The programme has been developed in cooperation with the Latvian Employers’ Confederation (Latvijas Darba devēju konfederācija, LDDK).

Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences

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