Czech Republic: Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety in SMEs

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 21 October 2010



About
Country:
Czechia
Author:
Hana Geissler
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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.

In the Czech Republic, the occupational health and safety policy is usually pursued in large companies as a part of their corporate culture. In contrast, in SMEs this topic often ranks among the neglected or formally performed ones. Exchange of information and consultations, training and SME employees’ participation in H&S generally are often aggravated by non-existence of trade unions or representatives of employees in charge for H&S issues in small companies. The aim of the national policy is to promote H&S in SMEs, no matter whether via prevention and education, or by repressive targeting of inspections by the Labour Inspectorate.

Background information

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.

Regulatory Framework

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-entreprises (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.

Questionnaire

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?

The Directive has been transposed to the Czech legislation, respectively to the Act no. 262/2006 Coll., Labour Code, in many aspects above the standard covered by the Directive, which is positive. The said articles 10, 11 and 12 of the Directive are transposed in articles 107-108, pursuant to which the employer is obliged to inform, consult and train representatives of employees, i.e. trade unions, or representatives of employees in charge for H&S issues, or employees themselves.

However, negative points can be seen in the insufficiently defined duty of the employer to ensure risk prevention and the voluntary option of the representative of employees in charge of H&S issues. In reality, this is often missing in companies where no trade union exists. By estimate, trade unions operate only in 25-30% of companies in the CZ, and this number declines significantly with the number of employees in the company. Especially in small companies, partially also in medium-sized ones, trade union or an authorized representative of employees, who would take part in consultations, are missing. Information and consultations for individual employees are often unsatisfactory (Baron 2009).

In the last three years, Labour Inspectorates (Státní úřad inspekce práce, SUIP) targeted their controls precisely on the small and SMEs in hazardous sectors. These are selected particularly based on the accident rate and deficiencies detected. In 2008 for example, it was agriculture and forestry, mechanical engineering, building industry, processing industry, metal structure manufacturing, and forestry and so on. In terms of prevention, the Labour Inspectorates strive to carry out inspections in newly established entities in particular. The main reason for deficiencies in H&S can be described as low awareness of employers and their executive staff regarding the legislation.

To illustrate the most frequent deficiencies in observance of the H&S legislation, we can state results of 2007 inspections carried out by Labour Inspectorates in SMEs (6-249 employees). They show obviously that 70% of SMEs did not inform their employees about existing risks and did not provide them with trainings or qualification improvement focusing on safe performance at work.

Table 1: Results of inspection activities by Labour Inspectorates in SMEs (2007)
Inspection activities Results
Number of inspected entities 4,944
Number of inspections made 5,029
Number of detected deficiencies 22,333
Of which:  
- no assurance of prescribed regular inspections and overhauls of machines and equipment, insufficient maintenance 4,031
- no fulfilment of required parameters for workplaces and working environment 3,589
- no information provided on risks, no trainings performed 3,472
- insufficient seeking for risks, their evaluating and removing 3,147
- no conditions created for safe and harmless performance of work 2,620
- deficiencies in allocation and use of personal protective equipment 1,456

Source: State Labour Inspection Office 2008: Annual summary report on results of inspections carried out by labour inspection in 2007 (Roční souhrnná zpráva o výsledcích kontrolních akcí provedených inspekcí práce za rok 2007, in Czech 784.84 KB)

- Does its implementation in micro and small companies follow similar patterns than in medium ones?

Based on the above-mentioned indicators, it can be assumed that the lower the number of employees is the less concerned about the occupational health and safety a company is. Little or no investments of resources into this area may mean a relative competitive advantage for small companies. However, they are more dependent on the probability that the company is not visited by inspectors, or no serious industrial accident occurs which might even make them go bankrupt (Baron 2009). According to experts from the Labour Inspectorate, apart from the size of the company, another determining factor is employers’ attitude and willingness as such to deal with the H&S issue. And these differ across companies.

- Is H&S the current focus of legislation or did it evolve by incorporating “well-being at work” as the basic concept?

The concept of “well-being at work” is not part of the Czech legislation. In strategic documents, such as the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy of the Czech Republic (Národní politika bezpečnosti a ochrany zdraví při práci České republiky) and the National Action Plan for H&S drawn up annually or biannually, this multi-dimensional approach can be however found in the form of targeting the policy not only on health protection but also on mental and social well-being at work.

- 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?

In the national H&S policy (Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs 2008) and its goal setting a special attention is paid to SMEs with regard to the following aspects:

  • To improve the level of prevention of occupational risks via their timely and high-quality detection, evaluation and management through all subjects (state authorities, employers, employees and self-employed workers). The matter of prime importance is an integration of H&S topic into the corporate management system, in SMEs in particular, exercise of the role of representatives of employees in dealing with H&S issues at work, technical assistance and assurance of accessibility to information, specialized consulting and education for all entities.

    • Specific tools consist in improved motivation of SMEs via economic incentives (esp. via a change in the accident insurance system, which currently does not represent an economic stimulus due to its setting-up) and via provision of technical assistance (availability of standards, manuals).

  • To provide information and consulting for small and medium-sized entities in order to raise their H&S awareness (through drawing up risk assessment methodologies, educational materials and consultations and information and EU-resource funded projects.)

  • At the company level, to promote cooperation among large companies, which are bearers of the H&S culture, and their subcontractors, especially SMEs.

Moreover, in order to implement the legislation, the Labour Inspectorates focus, in the long run, on inspections of particularly risky SMEs.

2. The micro-level settings: the role of H&S representatives (max 700 words)

- 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 Czech legislation does not know H&S Committee as an institution. However, it can be established as an internal trade union body (in the trade union either at the company or sectoral level), which is usually managed by one person from the basic unit of the trade union and the remaining members are employees from different departments of the company who are members of the trade union. Sometimes even management can be represented there.

A certain picture of operation of H&S committees in Czech companies has been given by the survey by the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (Českomoravská konfederace odborových svazů, ČMKOS), called “Employees’ participation: Recognized, or neglected key for better H&S?“ (232 companies, 2009). However, it is necessary to say that the survey was not representative and as the sample only included companies in which a trade union was present. Therefore, it often means especially by larger companies. Results may thus differ from the real situation in SMEs.

The H&S committee was present in 51% of the companies in the survey. Their role consisted most frequently in examining causes of industrial injuries (91%), submitting proposals for the risk reduction (87 %) and H&S improvements (85 %). According to the survey results, it deals most frequently with topics such as working conditions, job planning, industrial accidents, noise, employment of women and alcohol and drugs (Kosina 2009).

- From what level onwards / number of employees onwards are risk prevention representatives elected? Are they distinct representatives from H&S Committee and work councils?

The Labour Code defines the status of a person qualified for risk prevention, who must be present in the company. However, this person is not a representative of employees, nor is elected. If an employee has this qualification, the employer can charge him or her with this task. Otherwise special employee with this qualification must be hired. The status of the person with such a qualification is not linked with the H&S Committee or Board of Employees, nevertheless, they can cooperate.

In the company with less than 25 employees risk prevention tasks can be fulfilled by the employer himself if s/he has the “required knowledge”. In practice, inaccuracy of the definition of qualification means that small companies often lack a person with the qualification to perform this work or they hire an external qualified expert for this activity. This often results in risk prevention not carried out at all or just formally (Baron 2009).

Pursuant to the legislation, larger companies must have a person qualified for risk prevention. In companies with less than 500 employees the risk prevention can be carried out by an employer only when he/she is qualified. Larger companies then usually employ competent persons for this activity.

- Does the H&S Committee deal with individual health related complaints? Does it have the right to initiate action?

According to the survey by ČMKOS mentioned above, in the last two years 82% of committees examined employees’ complaints concerning H&S and well-being at work. Employees – often also those who are not members of trade unions – use the committee for their complaints in a large extent, unless they succeed to reach agreement with their superior individually (Kosina 2009).

The committees are not allowed to initiate an action at work, in the sense of a stoppage of production. However, they submit information to trade unions whose powers towards the employer are larger. They can report deficiencies to the labour inspection.

- Do regional/territorial risk prevention representatives exist, covering several small SME’s?

It is not known. Probably, it is not a widespread phenomenon.

- 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?

Pursuant to the Labour Code, the employer is obliged to provide training to the trade union or a representative of employees in charge of H&S issues, enabling them to perform their duties. This issue is often covered by provisions in the collective agreement. However, data on quality and adequacy of the training are not available.

- 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?

The committee does not have such an explicit right at their disposal, nevertheless it is not forbidden to do so. As long as the committees are not widespread in the Czech Republic, this activity does not appear very often either. However, it cannot be ruled out that committees (mainly on the sectoral level) carry out surveys and independent analyses. In that case, they would be paid by trade union on the corresponding level.

The survey by ČMKOS has shown that 95% of committees at the company level may call in an H&S specialist from the trade union confederation in which the trade union belongs. 55% may invite an external expert. Kosina 2009).

- Does the H&S Committee have the right to consult the Labour Inspectorate?

The committee alike the trade union or the employee has the right to suggest an inspection to the Labour Inspectorate.

- 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?

In compliance with the Czech legislation (Act no. 262/2006, Labour Code, art. 105), the employer is obliged to keep an accident register where all the industrial accidents must be recorded (also those which do not result in incapacity to work). At the presence of the employee, witnesses, trade union or representatives of employees in charge of H&S issues, causes and circumstances of the accident must be examined and steps taken to avoid their recurrence. The employer must send an accident report to the respective Labour Inspectorate.

The employer also keeps records of employees whose occupational disease was recognized by an official occupational medical specialist. At the same time, he must eliminate hazardous factors or reduce them to minimum.

The trade union, or H&S Committee, or the representative of employees in charge of H&S issues are entitled to consult the respective records as well as documents assessing risks and reports on inspection results by Labour Inspectorates. Also, they can take part in H&S tests and contribute to the risk elimination / recovery programme preparation.

- 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?

In case of SMEs, where committees are not present in a high degree, a positive competition factor cannot be assumed. However, this definitely holds for larger companies and a good level of H&S may increase company’ s chances to get major orders. For example, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Ministerstvo práce a sociálních věcí, MoLSA) awards a “Safe Company” certificate (for companies with more than 200 employees), which means an increase in prestige of the company.

Whether the committees are mentioned in annual reports is not known. Some companies, especially the larger ones, may do so (in particular with regard to the social dialogue or general H&S status), the smaller ones, that deal less with this issue, are likely to mention it less frequently.

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.

Specific arrangements focusing on SMEs, which would result from social partners’ activities and collective bargaining were not noticed. Social dialogue deals with the H&S topic without an intensive consideration of company size.

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.

At the national level, social partners are active in the Government Council for Safety, Hygiene and Health at Work (Rada vlády pro bezpečnost a ochranu zdraví při práci), contributing thus to the national policy-making. The Council’s goal is precisely to cooperate with social partners, public administration and experts in this field.

At the company level, employers’ duties and rights and duties of employees (or their representatives) are defined by the said Labour Code and Act No. 309/2006 Coll. on occupational health and safety. The way H&S policy is implemented directly in the work process and to what extent this process is carried out through cooperation of social partners are determined by the corporate culture, employer’ attitude as well as existence of trade unions. If a trade union operates at the workplace, H&S often improves and employees’ interests are enforced more strongly.

Activity of Labour Inspectorates is based on one hand on the inspection plan (approved by MoLSA) and on the other hand on responding to suggestions for inspection. The latter ones are often raised by trade unions. Inspections represent a threat for companies that do not respect the legislation, nevertheless, because of the high number of SMEs and limited financial and personal capacities of the state authority, they have a rather limited impact on SMEs.

The social insurance system does not comprise any tools which would be targeted on SMEs and simultaneously focused on reduction of industrial accidents.

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?

Databases, on which the given analysis can be carried out, are available in the Occupational Safety Research Institute (Výzkumný ústav bezpečnosti práce, VÚBP). However, the analysis itself has not been carried out and is not at disposal. No research was primarily focused on comparison of working conditions by company size.

Basic statistics on occupational diseases and industrial injuries are published by the Czech Statistical Office (Český statistický úřad, CZSO) based on data supplied by the Czech Social Security Administration (Česká správa sociálního zabezpečení, CSSZ). While the number of fatal injuries decreases with the company size, the opposite is true for industrial injuries and occupational diseases.

Table 2: Industrial accidents and occupational diseases by company size
  No. of newly notified cases of occupational diseases per 100 sickness insured persons Number of newly notified cases of incapacity for work because of industrial injury per 100 sickness insured persons Fatal injuries per 1 000 sickness insured persons
Self-employed   0,35 0,04
1 - 49 0,09 1,16 0,05
50 - 99 0,12 1,91 0,04
100 - 249 0,21 2,15 0,03
250 - 499 0,13 2,15 0,03
500 and more 0,31 1,61 0,03
Total 0,17 1,56 0,04

Source: CZSO, Incapacity for work due to a disease or injury in the Czech Republic in 1995-2007

Do these surveys also investigate the impact of training, information and consultation over working conditions also in SMEs?

Yes, they do. For example, within the research “Price for Health 2007” (VÚBP) respondents were asked questions such as “Are you satisfied with securing safety at your work?” or “Do you think you are well informed about various risks for your health which may endanger you at work?”, which could be correlated with company size.

When surveys lack, are there qualitative studies investigating the impact of involvement and training on working conditions and health in SMEs?

A qualitative research on SMEs was carried out by the VÚBP within the project “Influence of Labour word changes on the Quality of life”. In 2005-2006, two focus groups and 25 in-depth interviews were held with entrepreneurs from SMEs and other experts. It was difficult to find respondents for the research as they were concerned their direct involvement in the research would be interpreted as a criticism against their own company or that they may get into conflict with the existing network of relationships, which are vital for them as entrepreneurs.

Research results imply that SMEs care for H&S issues only to the necessary extent when forced to deal with problems “vital” for them. Failing to make regular assessments and archive results of personnel management, ignoring the required system or unwillingness to deal with these issues and ignoring them as unimportant rank among problems in this field.

One of the causes of such deficiencies consists in an insufficient cultivation of the business environment, a lack of bottom-up pushing for work quality improvement, because trade unions do not often exist in SMEs, the employer has a dominant position and H&S issues as a public interest are insufficiently enforced (Mansfeldová 2009).

Develop on the findings / results. Please mention / enumerate / give links.

More information can also be found at:

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.

The question could not be answered by an expert from the Labour Inspectorate or a representative of the trade union confederation ČMKOS.

Working conditions in the Czech Republic are primarily determined by the legislation, provisions of collective agreements beyond the legislation are often rather extensions than crucial changes. Generally, H&S is a topic not being in the limelight of employers, especially it does not rank among priorities in SMEs. Moreover, trade unions are not often present in these types of companies. Thus, collective agreements which govern H&S above standard are not easy to find.

At the sectoral level, the most elaborate collective agreements are in the building and metal industries. At the company level, we think more elaborate provisions may occur in collective agreements in SMEs in power engineering and chemical and pharmacological industry, with their scope of business requiring strict H&S measures.

References

  • Baron, L. 2009. Brzdy implementace v České republice (in Czech, PDF) [Implementation barriers in the Czech Republic] International conference “Strategies and methods of risk decreasing at work. Assessment of impact of Framework Council Directive 89/391/EHS”, Prague, June 2009

  • Kosina, M. 2009. Participace zaměstnanců: Uznaný nebo opomíjený klíč k lepší BOZP? (in Czech, PPT) [Employees’ participation: Recognized, or neglected key for better H&S?] International conference “Strategies and methods of risk decreasing at work. Assessment of impact of Framework Council Directive 89/391/EHS”, Prague, June 2009

  • Mansfeldová, Z. 2009. Kvalita pracovního života v malém a středním podniku (na příkladu Jihomoravského kraje) [Quality of working life in SMEs (Example of South Moravia region)] In: Influence of Labour word changes on the Quality of life. (in print)

  • Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, 2008. Národní politika bezpečnosti a zdraví při práci (in Czech, PDF) [National Occupational Health and Safety Policy of the Czech Republic], Prague, 2008

Hana Geissler, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs

[1] 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?”

[2] 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?”

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