Spain: Rise in number of companies instigating prevention activities

According to the 2009 National Survey on Enterprises’ Health and Safety Management, 43% of companies with six or more workers had risk prevention representatives. Of the surveyed establishments, 20% did not carry out risk assessments whereas 61% had arranged health and safety training in the previous two years. Use of external prevention services had increased since 1999. Work accidents and musculoskeletal problems were the most frequently registered health risks.

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About the survey

The first National Survey on Enterprises’ Health and Safety Management (Encuesta Nacional de Gestión de la Seguridad y la Salud en las Empresas (3.02Mb PDF) (ENGE 2009) was carried out in 2009 by the Spanish National Institute of Safety and Hygiene in the Workplace (INSHT), an agency of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

The survey’s objectives were to:

  • identify the resources and preventive systems applied by employers to guarantee workers’ health and safety;
  • assess the prevention activity developed by companies;
  • identify companies’ perception of labour risks and legal obligations in relation to health and safety at work.

Previously the main information source was the National Survey on Working Conditions (Encuesta Nacional de Condiciones de Trabajo, ENCT), which provided information on health and safety from the perspective of both workers and employers. In 2007 the survey methodology changed and the Sixth National Survey on Working Conditions in 2007 (ES0906019D) was the first survey of its kind to include only the workers’ viewpoint. Subsequently, the employers’ perception on health and safety conditions was analysed in 2009 through the first National Survey on Enterprises’ Health and Safety Management. The main methodological aspects of ENGE 2009 are summarised in the table below.

ENGE 2009: Survey methodology



Survey name

Encuesta Nacional de Gestión de la Seguridad y la Salud en las Empresas

Organisation in charge



First issue (2009). This survey stems from the National Survey on Working Conditions (1983, 1987, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2004 and 2007).

Geographical coverage

Whole of Spain except for Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish territories in north Africa)

Surveyed population

Companies from all economic sectors (including public administration) with at least one employee registered in the Social Security System. The survey was directed at business owners and/or general managers.

Date of fieldwork

22 January 2009 to 15 May 2009


Total of 5,147 interviews

The sample, stratified by economic activity and staff size, consisted of organisations representative of Spanish business (1,120,276 units).


The questionnaire had 57 questions. Besides the general questionnaire, a specific questionnaire was developed for the construction sector, including two questions related to ‘health and safety plans’ and the ‘sharing of health and safety information between contractors and subcontractors’.


Following an initial introductory phone contact with the selected companies, a questionnaire was sent to them by post. Two weeks later, the fieldwork agent visited the company to collect the completed questionnaire, answer any queries and initially validate the survey contents.

Source: ENGE 2009

Key findings

This report follows the structure of the survey and presents the results under the following headings:

  • organisation of prevention;
  • preventive action;
  • investment in infrastructure and work equipment;
  • business management;
  • health risks, accidents and professional diseases;
  • motivation and reasons for preventing occupational hazards.

Organisation of prevention

Prevention representative

The position of the prevention representative is established by Law 31/1995 for the Prevention of Risks at Work. This representative is elected by the workers and has a series of specific responsibilities on the prevention of work risks, health and safety, etc. towards both employers and workers, in particular a supervising function on the fulfilment of health and safety regulations.

The number of representatives required increases according to company size, starting from one representative in companies with more than six employees. In principle, the workers’ representative should play this role even in the smallest enterprises. Prevention representatives and employer representatives meet in the health and safety committee, which is compulsory in all companies with more than 50 employees.

In 2009, 43% of establishments with six or more workers had prevention representatives. The industrial sector boasted the highest percentage (55%) followed by the agricultural and the construction sectors (45% in both cases). In the service sector, it was only 39%; within this sector, 46% of public administration establishments reported having a prevention representative.

The larger the company, the more likely it is for workers to have a prevention representative. Thus, all companies with 500 or more employees had a prevention representative in 2009 compared with only 28% of those companies with 6–9 employees. The figure rose to 49% in companies with 10–49 employees, to 75% in those with 50–249 employees and to 86% in companies with 249–500 employees (Figure 1). These results indicate that the requirements of the Prevention Law had not been fully meet, especially in smaller enterprises.

Figure 1: Existence of a prevention representative, by company size (%)

Figure 1: Existence of a prevention representative, by company size (%)

Source: ENGE 2009

The majority of prevention representatives in 2009 were men (76%). Almost all of them (92%) had received training in occupational health and safety since their appointment.

The survey found that 81% of those establishments with more than 49 employees and that had a prevention representative had set up a health and safety committee. The percentage decreased to 77% in companies with 50–249 employees. All large companies (that is, those with 250 or more employees) had such a committee.

Preventive resources

The survey found that the preventive resources most commonly adopted by Spanish companies are external services (73%) followed by designating an employee for these duties (15%). In 10% of the companies surveyed, prevention tasks were assumed by the employer, while other resources such as an internal formal prevention service or a shared one were less common (5% and 4% respectively). No type of prevention service was identified in 10% of surveyed companies (14% in companies with less than six workers).

Comparison of 1999 and 2009 data to determine the evolution of preventive organisation over the past 10 years showed that the presence of external prevention services has increased steeply from 39% in 1999 to 73% in 2009.

An internal prevention service to address health and safety at work had been set up by 38% of large companies (that is, those with 250 or more employees) in contrast with just 7.5% of medium-size enterprises (50–249 employees). Companies with fewer than 50 employees did not report having established internal prevention services.

The work carried out by external prevention services was found to be satisfactory for 90% of the companies surveyed. Interestingly, the percentage of companies dissatisfied with this service increased as the company size increased (for example, 8% for companies with 10–49 employees and 12% for companies with 250–499 employees).

Preventive action

Prevention activities

The most common prevention activities carried out at the workplace were:

  • medical examinations (81%);
  • risk assessments (77%, excluding construction companies as they follow a different scheme);
  • development of a prevention plan (65%);
  • information and training activities (59%).

The number of prevention activities implemented increased with the size of company. For instance, 92% of companies with over 249 employees conducted medical examinations while only 77% of those with less than 10 employees did so; the respective percentages are 100% and 73% for risk assessments and 92% and 60% for prevention plans.

The construction and manufacturing (especially chemicals) sectors had the highest percentages for the different prevention activities considered. For instance, 92% of the construction companies reported carrying out annual health checks and 77% of chemical companies produced a prevention plan.

Risk assessment in the agricultural, industrial and service sectors

Although a majority (77%) of establishments had carried out risk assessments, 20% reported still not having done so.

The industrial sector (81%) had the greatest share of establishments that had carried out risk assessments, followed by the service sector (73%) and the agricultural sector (68%).

Of the establishments that had assessed risks, 19% reported that occupational accidents or diseases had occurred; this percentage was 10% where risks had not been assessed. According to the survey report, this result suggests that risk assessments do not have themselves have the influence they should in averting work accidents or occupational diseases.

Health and safety plans in the construction sector

When companies had acted as construction developers (as opposed to being contractors), 37% of them claimed to have carried out the corresponding health and safety studies. When operating as a contractor, 55% had revised and updated their health and safety plan, and 54% of them had asked subcontractors for the required information to adapt the health and safety plan. The percentage of companies that did not answer these three questions was high (34%, 26% and 26% respectively).

However, when acting as a subcontractor, 50% of establishments reported that the contractor had asked them for the information necessary to adapt their health and safety plans, while 55% reported receiving the information from the contractor for that part of the health and safety plan relevant to them. Again the high percentage of companies not answering these two questions was significant (32% and 30% respectively).

Medical examinations

During the past year, 81% of the companies stated that they had offered their employees the opportunity to undergo a medical check-up. Most respondents said that these were generic examinations (64%), while 17% reported that the examinations had a specific character related to particular occupational risks.

Health and safety training

Some type of training activity related to health and safety at work had been conducted during the previous two years by 61% of the establishments. Training activities had been carried out mainly in the construction and manufacturing sectors (Figure 2), particularly in the chemical and metalworking sectors.

Figure 2: Training activities related to health and safety during the past two years, by sector (%)

Figure 2: Training activities related to health and safety during the past two years, by sector (%)

Source: ENGE 2009

The number of training activities was higher among the larger companies (55% of companies with less than 10 employees had been involved in training activities compared with 97% of companies with more than 250 employees (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Training activities related to health and safety during the past two years, by company size (%)

Figure 3: Training activities related to health and safety during the past two years, by company size (%)

Source: ENGE 2009

The survey distinguished five occupational categories:

  • specific health and safety personnel;
  • directors and managers;
  • middle managers;
  • rest of employees;
  • subcontractors.

The occupational group that attended more health and safety training activities was ‘rest of employees’ (in 84% of the establishments), followed by ‘directors and managers’ (69%), specific health and safety personnel (63%) and ‘middle managers’ (60%). Subcontracted staff came last with only 25% of the establishments providing health and safety training.

Investment in infrastructure and work equipment

In the previous two years, 37% of the surveyed establishments reported having invested in new machinery. The lowest percentage of establishments having made an investment of this type was found in the services sector (34) and the highest percentage was found in the construction sector (59%).

Of the establishments that had acquired new machinery in the previous two years, 79% had established ‘purchasing procedures’ based on their estimated use and taking into account the appropriate regulations affecting the purchased equipment. However, 92% of the establishments that had acquired new machinery and had established ‘purchasing procedures’ to acquire it, also had ‘reception procedures’ for the installation of the new machinery in line with the applicable regulations, including compliance with health and safety requirements.

Pre-established procedures for machinery acquisitions were reported most frequently in the chemical (88%), metalworking (87%) and healthcare/veterinary/social services (85%) sectors.

Business management

Four out of ten (42%) establishments with 50 or more employees stated they had applied a management system of health and safety at work based on the internationally recognised standard for occupational health and safety management systems, OHSAS 18001. Among companies with 250 or more employees, this percentage went up to 49%.

The construction sector had the highest number of companies (those with more than 50 employees) applying a health and safety system based on OHSAS 18001 (54%). The agricultural sector had the lowest percentage (35%).

Health risks, accidents and professional diseases

The health risks identified by business managers varied depending on the type of activity. Generally speaking, work accidents and musculoskeletal problems were the most frequently recorded (40% and 38% of establishments respectively). In 14% of the cases ‘stress, depression and anxiety’ were identified as risks, while ‘physical, chemical or biological agents’ were mentioned in 5%. No specific risks were identified in 39% of the establishments (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Identification of risks (%)

Figure 4: Identification of risks (%)

Source: ENGE 2009

Occupational accidents and/or diseases had occurred in the previous two years in 21% of the establishments surveyed.

In cases of occupational diseases and minor accidents leading to sick leave, in most cases the employees involved continued carrying out their jobs without their working conditions being modified (65% for minor accidents and 64% for diseases). In cases of serious accidents, it is more common for the employees involved to be reincorporated to the same position only after the work post had been modified (38% of serious accidents).

The survey found that 16% of occupational accidents and 29% of occupational diseases that had occurred in the previous two years had not been investigated. This kind of investigation was more frequently carried out in the largest companies, with companies with less than 10 workers being the weakest in this respect with 37% of the accidents/diseases not having been investigated. However, 62% of the companies with 50–249 employees had investigated occupational accidents/diseases involving their own personnel in contrast with 28% of the companies with less than 10 employees.

Motivation and reasons for preventing occupational hazards

‘Compliance with current legislation’ is most often given as why companies carry out preventive actions (85%) when asked what is the main reason that motivates them to prevent occupational risks if all the reasons alleged are considered and regardless of the order of importance in which they were rated (first, second or third), However, the reason most frequently mentioned in the first place is ‘improving working conditions and guaranteeing workers’ health and safety (42%), followed by complying with current legislation (41%).

The assessment of the current regulations on preventing occupational risks is in general positive. Among the best-rated features of this regulation are its efficiency and applicability. Only 13% of the surveyed companies considered the current legislation was inefficient and 18% considered it difficult to implement. However, the worst rated aspects are the ‘low profitability’ of the legislation (considered by 31% of the companies surveyed) and its orientation towards the industrial sector (as stated by 30% of the companies).


INSHT is a public scientific–technical body whose main function is to publish and share up-to-date knowledge on working conditions, principally through the National Observatory of Working Conditions (OECT). Traditionally, the National Survey on Working Conditions has been considered one of the main research tools on the issue as it provides broad information about workers’ exposure to occupational risks and the preventive actions implemented by companies. From 2007 onwards, the change in methodology divided the National Survey on Working Conditions into two different surveys – one referring to the workers’ perspective and the other analysing the employer’s perspective. One of the features of this change was that the employees’ survey started taking place at the employee’s home instead of at their workplace. This change made the fieldwork more complex and arduous. However, it did allow access to employees who were more difficult to reach (those on leave, those with atypical working times, and so on) and demonstrated that employees are more critical about their work and working conditions when they are at home and not at work.

Another significant feature was the inclusion of some specific questions for the construction sector in the questionnaire for the National Survey on Enterprises’ Health and Safety Management. This was because this sector has the highest accident rate of all economic sectors in Spain. This specific section includes special questions on ‘health and safety plans’, as well as the sharing of health and safety information between contractors and subcontractors.

Overall, the National Survey on Enterprises’ Health and Safety Management is a highly appreciated source of information which collects data on key aspects of prevention management such as the way companies organise their prevention activities and their frequency, as well as the perception that employers might have about the health and safety risks in their companies. It contributes to developing a better and wider knowledge on the health and safety conditions in Spanish businesses and to improving them.

The results of ENGE 2009 reflect an increase in the number of Spanish companies carrying out preventive activities. Regardless of their size, companies are relying more and more on external preventive services. However, more than half of companies with more than five employees stated that they did not have a prevention representative.

Medical examinations and risk assessments were relatively extensive, but prevention plans were less common. However, a surprisingly high percentage of companies declared they had implemented a management system of health and safety at work based on OSHAS 18001.

The construction and manufacturing (especially chemicals and machinery) sectors were found to have the highest levels of preventive activities.

The main motivation for companies implementing prevention activities was to guarantee workers’ health and safety, although the need to comply with health and safety regulations seems to have had a crucial subliminal role.

Jessica Duran and Antonio Corral, Ikei

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