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

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

Katalin Balogh

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.

The Act on Labour Safety stipulates that enterprises employing at least 50 shall select labour protection representatives and that the election shall be organised by the employer. According to estimates, elected labour protection representatives represent one sixth of employees. Typically, they are elected at large multinational enterprises. The Act has contributed to the development of the institution of representation; the Foundation for Workers’ Representatives takes care of the training and further training of the representatives.


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?

Regulatory framework

Since the Hungarian Act XCIII of 1993 on Labour Safety came into force on 1 January 1994, employers shall initiate consultation with employees and/or their representatives in advance and in good time on all questions relating to the employer’s actions concerning safety and health at work.

Employees or their representatives shall be consulted with regard to the following obligations of the employer:

  • the designation, employment and activities of workers for carrying out the duties related to occupational safety;

  • the provision of information concerning safety at work;

  • the planning and organisation of training on with occupational safety.

Workers representatives

Workers have the right to elect (a) representative(s) to represent their rights and interests related to occupational safety, and an occupational health “worker’s representative” according to the following:

a) A worker’s representative shall be elected at all employers with at least fifty employees in accordance with the Hungarian Labour Code. The provision of the conditions for the election and the staging of the election shall be the responsibility of the employer.

b) Since 1 January 2008, the employer with less than fifty employees (SMEs) has an obligation to organise the election of employee representatives wherever it has been initiated by the local branch of the trade union or the works council, or – in case they have failed to do so –by the majority of workers.

c) At employers’ with less then fifty employees (SMEs), consultation with the employees shall be held if a workers’ representative has not been not elected.

Representative body

At employers with at least fifty workers and where a workers’ representative has been elected, a representative body shall be set up by the employer, with an equal number of delegates representing the employer and the employees.

Administrative reporting

An administrative report on the situation of OSH in Hungary is prepared for the government by the National Labour Inspectorate (Országos Munkavédelmi és Munkaügyi Főfelügyelőség, OMMF) and the Hungarian Office for Mining and Geology (Magyar Bányászati és Földtani Hivatal, MBFH). According to the latest report on the year 2007 (available at at the majority of enterprises worker representatives do not take part in the investigation of accidents at work.


In order to help worker’s representatives to carry out their activities efficiently, the Foundation for the Worker’s Representatives (Munkavédelmi Képviselőkért Alapítvány) was founded, which organises training courses, forums for the members of the foundation, issues booklets to support them in their work at the workplaces.

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

Since 1 January 2008, employers with less than fifty employees (SMEs) are obliged to organise the election of employee representatives wherever it has been requested by the local branch of the trade union or the works council, or – in case they have failed to do so – by the majority of workers.

Employers with less then fifty employees (SMEs) – if a workers’ representative is not elected – shall hold a consultation with the workers.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of elected representatives. According to the estimation issued by the Foundation for the Worker’s Representatives, they represent one-sixth of all employees.

This estimation is issued by the Foundation for the Worker’s Representatives.

Trade unions demand that safety representatives shall be elected in SMEs too. The National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions (Magyar Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetsége, MSZOSZ) calls for the compulsory election of in workplaces with more than twenty employees, given the large share of SMEs in the economy. The proposal met fierce opposition from the employer side.

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

Most typically, enterprises strive to simply comply with the legal regulations, rather than outdo those. The approach “well-being at work” is applied by thriving businesses and/or multinational enterprises.

- 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?

The first occupational health and safety strategy is included in the Hungarian Programme of Occupational Safety and Health (A Munkavédelem Országos Programja, available in Hungarian at, which covers the period 2002-2007. This programme recommends the election of safety and health representatives, as well as their training, and their provision with information and legal protection under labour law should be ensured.

The National Policy on Health and Safety at Work 2009-2012 (Nemzeti Munkavédelmi Politika 2009-2012) has laid down the principles of the strategy on health and safety at work, taking into account the Community Strategy which calls upon the member states to reduce the number of work-related accidents by 25%.

This national policy is currently undergoing consultations in the public administration system and has not been approved by the Hungarian Parliament yet. Although the current version of the policy paper, approved by the National Interest Reconciliation Council (Országos Érdekegyeztető Tanács, OÉT), does not single out SME-s, it proposes an analysis and preliminary investigations of the ways in which of the threshold may be lowered with respect to company size where the election of representatives would be mandatory or proposes to extend to the whole “organised work”.

According to this policy mentioned, there is a need for the

  • simplification of the election procedure,

  • voluntary registration of representatives,

  • setting up professional standards on the training of representatives.

2. The micro-level settings: the role of H&S representatives - 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?

- 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 safety representatives, if there are at least three at a given enterprise, may establish a local labour safety committee. If a committee is established, the rights of labour safety representatives, if such rights affect all employees, shall be exercised by the committee.

The employer, or its duly authorized representative, shall attend the committee sessions if so requested by the committee.

The election of “risk prevention” representatives is not specified by the Hungarian law, but wherever they operate, they are entitled to execute activities such as “risk prevention”.

Workers’ representatives are entitled to inspect the enforcement of occupational safety and occupational health requirements at workplaces, with particular attention to the following:

  • safe condition of workplaces, work equipment and personal safety equipment;

  • the implementation of measures taken in order to protect health and to prevent accidents at work and occupational diseases;

  • the preparation and training of employees for occupational safety and occupational health at work.

Within the framework of exercising their rights, labour safety representatives are entitled to

  • enter the various units of the workplace during working hours and inquire among the employees working there;

  • participate in the preparation of employer decisions which may affect the health and safety of employees, including the compulsory employment of specialists, the planning and arrangements for occupational safety training and the decisions on the establishment of new jobs or positions as well;

  • request information from employers regarding any and all issues pertaining to occupational safety and health;

  • express their opinion, and request the employer to take the necessary measures;

  • take part in the investigation of industrial accidents, and in the exploration of the circumstances of occupational diseases upon the initiative of the party entitled to conduct such investigations;

  • petition the competent occupational safety and health administration in justified cases;

  • express their opinion to the person conducting the regulatory inspection.

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

The workers’ representative or H&S Committee may request information from employers regarding any and all issues pertaining to occupational safety and health and employers shall take measures or respond within 8 days to the initiatives of workers’ representatives or H&S Committee. If they disagree with an initiative, employers shall explain their position in writing, with the exception of cases requiring immediate action.

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

There are no regional/territorial risk prevention representatives covering SMEs.

- 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?

According to the Act on Labour Safety, employers must ensure the conditions under which workers’ representatives may exercise their rights. There is the opportunity to attend, within one year after being elected, a training course of at least 16 hours during an election cycle, and the opportunity of annually taking 8 hours of training subsequently. The costs incurred by the training shall be borne by the employer. The training shall be held in regular work hours, and it may be held in an external location. It is usually organised by training companies which, as a rule, approach the enterprise with repeated offers of their training.

- 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?

A questionnaire has been elaborated by the Foundation of Workers’ Representatives, which representatives are requested to fill out and report on their activities. More than half of the contacted companies fulfilled the questionnaire in 2007, the results of which can be accessed on the Foundation’s website: The assessment of the companies was carried out on a one by one basis, the results have not been summarized yet.

On the same website there is an interactive page ( which allows individuals to consult experts of the Foundation free of charge on issues of occupational health and safety. This site can be used by SMEs as well.

There is no data on H&S Committee calling in outside independent experts.

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

National interest reconciliation related to occupational safety and occupational health is performed by the Labour Safety Committee, operating according to its own regulations within the framework of the National Interest Reconciliation Council, and consisting of the interest representation bodies of employees and employers, as well as the representatives of the government.

- 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?

Reports to the government on the labour safety situation in the Hungarian economy are prepared every year by the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour. As stipulated by the law, the report considers in a comprehensive way the implementation of safety and health requirements, their circumstances, and takes into consideration both qualitative and quantitative aspects. Employee organisations are consulted on this report which is also discussed at the plenary session of the Labour Safety Committee of OÉT.

- 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?

Employers and employees equally lack sufficient amount of relevant knowledge and information occupational safety and health. However, safety and health aspects have not yet been integrated into enterprise management or into education the labour market and employment policy has become more important than previously. Based on the Report on the situation of health and safety at Work for the Government 2008, prepared by the Hungarian Labour Inspectorate (see page 39), it can be stated in general that prosperous companies (e.g. multinational, foreign-owned large companies or smaller ones in booming sectors) have better OSH situation.

Negative competition factor

The occupational safety and health administration is obliged to display on its official website - based on its records - the name, registered office and tax number of employers sanctioned for breaching occupational safety regulations, including the description of the infringement and the amount of the fine imposed, as well as the date of the resolution passed on the infringement and the date when it becomes operative. The record will be removed from the register two years after the decision has become operative.

There is no data available on whether companies suffer any disadvantage as a result of this measure. At present, it is only the breach of labour issues (e.g. illegal work) that excludes companies from public procurement.

Positive competitive factor

Partnership for safety in employment (Partnerség a foglalkoztatás biztonságáért

Only those employers are allowed to join this Partnership which are not under litigation, and which had not been fined for breaching labour regulations in the course of the year preceding the declaration of intent to join the Partnership, and if over the same period no administrative ruling or penalty, prescribing immediate execution, had been issued in a labour safety proceeding. The list of registered partners to the Partnership is regularly published on the website of the Labour Inspectorate. Partners have the right to use the label “For Safety Employment – Partner” on their programmes, services etc., if they comply with the regulations.

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.

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.

National interest reconciliation related to H&S is performed by the Labour Safety Committee operating according to its own order of business in the framework of OÉT and consisting of the interest representation bodies of employees and employers, as well as the representatives of the government.

Within the framework of its operation, the Labour Safety Committee carries out, among others, the following activities related to occupational safety and health:

  • gives its preliminary opinion on bills and drafts of other provisions, measures, reports and temporary programmes, with its unanimous resolution or the differing opinion of the negotiating parties shall be indicated in the respective proposal;

  • takes part in drawing up the programme for occupational safety, as well as the annual schedule and timetable for the execution of the programme, and carries out the analysis and review of the programme;

  • provides its opinion and recommendations concerning the issues presented by the negotiating parties and to OÉT;

  • makes recommendations concerning occupational safety beyond those contained in occupational safety regulations;

  • provides information to the general public concerning its work;

  • makes proposals for the use of proceeds from the penalties imposed by the H&S administration.

In Hungary social dialogue for better working conditions is in development. According to social partners, national level dialogue and its structure function well but in the majority of sectors H&S related dialogue does not exist.

Workplace level dialogue on the issue shows a colourful picture. In large companies it works at a higher level, and there is a more widespread practice of corresponding social dialogue. However, at a great number of workplaces no safety representatives are elected, or instead of consultation employers reduce their duties in providing information.

4. Figures, quantitative and qualitative studies. (max 800 words)

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?

The role of SMEs in economy

Although there are surveys on the role and activities of SME’s in the Hungarian economy, results on the working conditions at different types of enterprises are not available.

SMEs play an important role in the Hungarian economy, they employ 71% of employees, producing 50% of Value added. Their productivity is less than that of the large enterprises, only a minority of SME’s are able to take part in the modernization of the economy.

The majority of SMEs can be characterized by high workforce intensity and low capital intensity. As much as 99.8% of the operating enterprises are micro-, small and medium size companies. Among them the proportion of the companies employing no employees, or only 1-9, is very high (94.7%).

There are approximately 55 SMEs per 1000 inhabitants in Hungary, which is markedly above the EU average of ca. 40. Since it is mainly due to a high overall number of businesses, the proportion of SMEs, as compared to all enterprises is exactly the same, even though the micro enterprise sector is comparatively more important. In terms of SME employment contribute more to total employment than in EU average, in particular in the segment of the Hungarian micro enterprises. On the other hand the figure is reversed in terms of value added, suggesting room for improvement in terms of the productivity of the Hungarian micro enterprises.

Source: European Commission Enterprise and Industry SBA Fact sheet Hungary, 2008 edition, available at

Accidents at work

The H&S administration, conducting inspections in order to enforce the provisions on safety at work, reports annually about the results of these inspections and the situation of H&S to the minister in charge of employment and labour, including statistical data on accidents at work, occupational diseases, as well as increased exposures

However, data on occupational accidents (see statistics of OMMF on page 9 of the report available at by the size of enterprises have been available since 2008, which are accessible by directly requesting the Hungarian Labour Inspectorate related to earlier statistics.

There were more than 80 thousands accidents at work in 1989, but only more than 22 thousand in 2008. The decline is due to the decrease in the level of high risk in the heavy industry, the appearance of unemployment, as well as the general decrease of the intensity of production in many places. At the same time accident statistics need to be used with great caution in the attempt to assess the Hungarian situation of H&S at work.

The Hungarian Labour Inspectorate conducted a nationwide inspection campaign in the end of the 1990’s to examine whether employers actually report occupational accidents as. The results of that survey are still valid today: at least 25% of work accidents have not been reported. Consequently the apparent decrease in the number of accidents is partly due to an increase of underreporting. One of the reasons of underreporting is the heavy presence of the illegal economy, but it is impossible to even estimate the number of accidents among illegal worker, and only a few serious fatal ones are known of.

Self-employed people, i.e. one-person enterprises with no employees, are not covered by the occupational safety and health regulation at the present time, and consequently there is no reliable information available about their accidents at work.

Statistics available

Total number of accidents at work

The number of reported occupational accidents has shown an apparently improving trend for the past five years: the absolute number of the registered accidents decreased in the period 2004-2007, and showed a little increase in 2008. Most of the accidents occurred at the companies with 500 employees (37-39%), the proportion of the accidents at the micro-small-medium size companies is lower (4-15%).

Accidents entailing 3 lost days

Regarding accidents with 3 or more lost days, the same statement can be made: the highest proportion of accidents occurred at large companies (cca 38%), the lowest proportion of accidents at micro- (cca 4%), small- (14-15%) and medium sized (cca 30%) enterprises.

Fatal accidents

The reverse can be said if we look at fatal accidents at work: the majority of fatal accidents occurs at micro- (30-35%), small- (26-34%) companies, and a lower proportion can be noted at medium sized (18-22% ) and at large (8-10%) ones.

However, the total number of fatal accidents decreased slowly but consistently in the period 2004-2008, with the proportion of accidents occurring at SMEs is relatively high.

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

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

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

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 Foundation for Workers Representatives on H&S was established in 1996. The Foundation announces tenders to fund projects from the fines paid by employers failing to fulfil H&S requirements; it regularly and organises forums, regional meetings for the representatives; issues booklets on the following, for example:

  • Methods and proposals for representatives of OSH

  • Basic knowledge on labour law for workers representatives of OSH.

Regional Consultative Forums are organised annually for promoting representative activity, where outside experts and lecturers are invited. The elected chairman of the Forum has a consultative right in the Labour Safety Committee of OÉT.

The Foundation conducted a survey in 2007 to explore the experience of the operating representatives and committees, the results of which have not been summarized yet . They were requested to fill out a questionnaire. 73 of the requested 125 companies have sent back valied responses.

The Foundation leaders expect further support from the Hungarian Labour Inspectorate. They seek to increase their prestige, e.g. by taking part in inspections conducted by the authorities.


  • HSE (2005), Obstacles preventing worker involvement in health and safety. Research Report 296.

  • Walters D. (2002), Regulating health and safety in small enterprises. PIE, Peter Lang, Brussels

  • Hungarian Act XCIII of 1993 on Labour Safety (Hungarian and English versions)

  • National Policy on Health and Safety at Work (Draft version)

  • Working conditions and social dialogue – Hungarian report to the Dublin Foundation by Károly György

  • Hartai, F.: The situation of workers representatives and their possibilities in promoting H&S at work in Hungary in Munkavédelem és Biztonságtechnika 2008/1.


  • The number of accidents at work by the size of the companies (Hungarian Labour Inspectorate, Department of H&S)

Katalin Balogh, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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