Poland: EWCO comparative analytical report on Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Participation at work,
  • Industrial relations,
  • Published on: 21 October 2010

Piotr Sula

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.

Health and safety of labour is an issue that often gets pushed aside in view of the strong competition on the market in SME and big industry sectors alike. However, neglecting the matters of health and safety at work usually results from ignorance on the part of employers and employees. For this reason the National Labour Inspectorate has an important role to play when it comes to educating business owners and executives about H&S.

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.


1. National settings and regulatory framework (max 400 words)

- 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 is implemented by means of the Labour Code enacted in 1974 and several times amended

The Labour Code is observed in all enterprises to the extent imposed by the legal system. Only some part of labour infringements is identified by the National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP), as not all enterprises get to be inspected.

Recurring problems with the implementation of the rules provided by the legislation has been documented by the data included in the “Report on the inspection of labour conditions and organisation of actions for health and safety of labour in small and medium sized companies in construction, chemical, plastic and rubber industry sectors”. The report was founded on a survey conducted in 425 construction and chemical SMEs in 2005 and published by the Central Institute of Labour Protection (Centralny Instytut Ochrony Pracy, CIOP).

The authors of the report point out to the following as the reasons of health and safety practice shortcomings:

  • the employers’ ignorance of the legal regulations,

  • lack of health and safety training for the executives,

  • lack of training for employees,

  • lack of knowledge of employees’ rights and duties,

  • employers do not consult employees on health and safety of labour,

  • employers ignore the role of employees in the process of risk assessment on their work posts.

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

The differences do not result from Labour Code provisions, but smaller enterprises do worse than medium ones mainly due to smaller financial means, for example when it comes to controlling the levels of concentration of chemical reagents in the workplace.

It has been diagnosed in the “National Strategy for Health and Safety of Labour in the Years 2009-2010” prepared by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS), that the main negative factor affecting the state of health and safety in micro and small enterprises was the employers’ insufficient knowledge of duties that they have with this respect. The Strategy stated that employers in SMEs are often unaware of the dangers occurring in the course of labour performance and do not know about the necessity of their prevention.

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

In legal respect the issue of H&S is definitely regulated. “Well-being at work” is not regulated. The report cited above points out that presently there should be more emphasis on information campaigns as well as control and prevention. And this is precisely the type of actions that are going to be undertaken by the PIP.

- 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 National H&S Strategy does single out the SME sector for the fact that SME employers tend to have too little knowledge about health and safety of labour and for this reason the PIP should devote special attention to educating and informing those employers.

On the basis of the National H&S Strategy in the years 2009 – 2012 a prevention and control campaign is going to be launched and will be addressed to the small and medium sized companies in the construction sector, considering that construction involves the type of activities during which falling from height holds the highest fatality rate within work injuries, next to slipping and tripping.

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?

According to the Labour Code an employer of more than 250 people must establish a Committee for health and safety of labour. The H&S Committee is a consulting and advisory body and is made up of representatives of the employer, including H&S experts and a medical doctor who provides prophylactic care, as well as representatives of employees, including a social labour inspector. The committee is headed by the employer or a person delegated by them. The deputy head of the committee is the social labour inspector or another representative of the staff.

The committee has the following duties:

  • to revise working conditions,

  • to run periodical evaluation of the state of H&S,

  • to issue opinions about the measures undertaken by the employer in order to prevent work accidents and occupational diseases,

  • to formulate conclusions in relation to improving working conditions,

  • to cooperate with the employer on fulfilling obligations connected with health and safety of labour.

The Labour Code also provides for the establishment of H&S Services that act as health and safety advice and control bodies in companies that employ more than 100 people. If an employer has fewer than 100 staff members the duties of H&S services are imposed on one of the employees. If an employer has completed the necessary H&S training, then they can act as an H&S service for the company themselves in case if they employ up to 10 people or if the staff counts up to 20 people and the type of company operations is qualified as low risk (not higher than the third category of risk as understood by the social insurance regulations). The persons performing H&S service in an enterprise must complete a health and safety training for H&S employees. In a situation where neither the employer, nor employees have the necessary competence to provide the H&S service, the task can be conveyed to H&S experts from outside the company.

If a labour inspector (PIP inspector) finds that an enterprise is prone to a specific type of occupational hazard they may request the establishment of an H&S service or employment of a bigger number of staff.

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

Apart from the H&S Committe an enterprise may also have a Social Labour Inspection in operation. It’s competence is regulated by the Social Labour Inspection Act of 1983. It says that the Social Labour Inspection represents all employees in an enterprise and is run by the works trade union organisations. Its objective is to ascertain the enterprise has safe and healthy working conditions. A Social Labour Inspection can be established in any enterprise with an operating trade union which is the only precondition for establishing SLI.

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

The Labour Code states that employees and their representatives may submit motions to the employer for elimination or limitation of occupational hazards which also concerned individual complaint. This is the only initiative that can be taken by committee. The consultations need to be done during office hours and counted as labour time.

If an employer has got an H&S committee the aforesaid consultation can be done by the committee.

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

There are no territorial structures existing in the area of H&S. If neither the employer nor employees have the right competence to perform H&S service the task can be conveyed to H&S experts from outside the company. One H&S expert may assume this function in multiple business entities.

Territorial structure exists within the National Health Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Sanitarna, PIS), under which along with the Chief Health Inspector (Główny Inspektorat Sanitarny, GIS) on the regional and local levels are established the voivodeship and the poviat health inspectorates. The PIS and its local divisions have the duty to run supervision of health conditions in companies.

- 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?

The PIP provides training materials about occupational hazards in different sectors and the ways of eliminating them.

All employees within a company must undergo regular H&S 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?

In the course of performing its tasks, an H&S Committee may use the expertise or opinion of specialists from outside the company. This must be first endorsed by the employer who covers the cost of such service. This option exists only in enterprises that have an H&S Committee in operation, so if a SME has a H&S Committee this options exists.

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

H&S Committee does not have right to consult the Labour Inspectorate.

Employees or their representatives (i. e. H&S committees’ members) may appeal to the PIP for running an inspection of health and safety of labour in a company. In such instance the PIP officers conduct and inspection in the company and employees must not be persecuted in any way for making such an appeal.

- 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?

The Labour Code states that an H&S Committee runs periodical checks of health and safety conditions in a workplace.

CIOP conducts surveys with regard to H&S. They may be then sent to H&S Committees for discussion but not on regular basis.

- 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?

The general image of a corporation obviously plays a role in winning major contracts. However, the main factor taken under consideration is always the price. Big companies manifest the fact that they take good care of their employees, also with respect to health and safety, when they present themselves. Annual reports provided by Poland’s top enterprises (for example KGHM Polska Miedź) often emphasise care about H&S standards, but the matter of H&S Committee operations is usually omitted, whether the reports come from small, medium or large enterprises. The are no reliable data for drawing conclusions concerning differences between small and large companies.

3. Social partners and the role of collective bargaining (max 300 words)

Please summarize specific arrangements on H&S for SMEs and SME-dominated industries, and how territorial OSH representatives could intervene at workplace.

There are no specific arrangements or agreements regarding H&S in SMEs.

Health and safety inspection must be done by authorised labour inspectors. The PIP officers are required to show their service ID before embarking on an inspection, as well as a warrant specifying the reason for the inspection. An inspection can be conducted at any time of day or night.

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.

Employee representatives in H&S Councils in companies are selected by the works trade unions. In companies that do not have trade unions employee representatives are elected by employees in a manner accepted by the company.

According to the Act of 13 April, 2007 on the National Labour Inspectorate the H&S Council is an institution that cooperates with the trade unions, employer associations, employee self-governments, employee councils, social labour inspections and local authorities.

A prevention and supervision campaign has been scheduled for the years 2009 – 2012, targeting construction sector SMEs. Construction involves the type of activities during which falling from height holds the highest fatality rate within work injuries.

Trade unions coordinate trainings for labour inspectors.

No other activity with respect to SME sector is undertaken.

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 CIOP survey cited in part one stated, that SME employers have difficulty implementing legal regulations and that the difficulties are greater than in big companies because there are no suitable instruments for SME to implement H&S rules. There are no specific data available.

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

The survey point out the need for more widespread trainings and information about H&S. The authors cite the lack of information as the main reason for H&S incompetence and consequently non-observance of health and safety regulations.

Research into the construction and chemical industries have proven that managers are not definitively aware of the state of H&S in their enterprises. Nearly half of respondents said they discuss H&S matters during meetings, 44% of managers declare they attend H&S trainings, and 60% of them have valid certificates of H&S training. Poor engagement of the management in motivating the staff and setting the H&S objectives and action plans results from the lack of awareness or knowledge of these matters. In 80% of surveyed enterprises all mandatory trainings had been conducted. In 48% of cases other than H&S trainings had been conducted as well. Actions connected with H&S are consulted with employees in 49% of enterprises and in 56% employees may freely report H&S problems to the management of H&S personnel. 54% of respondents declared they would be willing to get specialised H&S advice service.

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

The quoted survey points out that the postulate for more intensive training in national strategy is fully justified.

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

Report on the inspection of labour conditions and organisation of actions for health and safety of labour in small and medium sized companies in construction, chemical, plastic and rubber industry sectors, http://www.parp.gov.pl/index/more/259

“National Strategy for Health and Safety of Labour in the Years 2009-2010”, http://www.mpips.gov.pl/bip/download/krajowa strategia bhp na lata 2009-2012_15-10-08.pdf

There were no other surveys conducted.

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.

No collective agreements have been noted in the SME sector.


  • HSE (2005), Obstacles preventing worker involvement in health and safety. Research Report 296. http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr296.pdf

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

  • Research survey on the conditions of work and organisation of actions for health and safety in the workplace in construction, chemical rubber and plastic production SMEs, http://www.parp.gov.pl/index/more/259

  • The National Strategy for Health and Safety in the Workplace in the years 2009-2012 http://www.mpips.gov.pl/bip/download/krajowa strategia bhp na lata 2009-2012_15-10-08.pdf

Piotr Sula, the Institute of Public 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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