Does Estonian working life differ from the working life in other countries?
I suppose yes, it differs a lot today from the point of view of: working conditions; understanding of the importance and the need for health and safety at work; and certainly with regard to EU good practice in the working environment. That's why we, in Estonia, started two years ago to discuss and compile a National Policy on Working Environment. In 1997 these fruitful consultations led to final agreement on our policy.
I am pleased to tell you that on the 2nd of June the Government of the Republic of Estonia accepted the National Policy as a general framework for the improvement of working conditions and working environment.
The policy describes: how we plan to develop occupational health and safety; reflects the socio-economic development and seeks to create a competitive economic infrastructure in Estonia. The National Policy guideline expresses the aims and intentions of the government and all involved parties and contains the following principles:
- the reduction or prevention of occupational risk;
- the minimisation or elimination of risk factors;
- the further development of information systems;
- the refinement and further development of systems for consultations;
- the balanced participation and training of employees;
- the functions and responsibilities of agencies responsible for workplace inspection;
- enhancement of occupational health services;
- increase in the availability of advise to social partners;
- the growth of the tri- and bipartite social dialogue; and
- the approximation of national legislation with EU Directives.
Some of the key elements for the improvement of working conditions are:
- co-operation on the enterprise level
- co-operation on the national level
- development of competence
- delivery of information and publicity; and
- the cost of absenteeism
I would like to deal with each of these in turn.
CO-OPERATION ON THE ENTERPRISE LEVEL
In accordance with the Draft Act of Occupational Health and Safety, already in the procedure at the Parliament, the main emphasis, in the supervision of the working conditions at workplaces, is the employers' responsibility to investigate the risks of the work and to take preventive action in co-operation with workers.
Co-operation between the employer and the employee is the starting point for the attainment of the objective of working environment. This is a natural consequence of the principles of the primary responsibilities of the employer and the recognition of the employee's own interest.
Good working conditions are achieved if both- employers and their emploees are able to work well together. The responsibility for doing so lies with both parties. A pre-requisite for the success of good working environment is internal co-operation within the workplace, serving practical needs, a co-operation including both the employer and the employees, together with their representatives.
The role of labour inspectors is :
- to encourage workers and/or their representatives to play their part as set out in the legislation to achieve a working environment that is safe and without risks to their health;
- to provide appropriate information and guidance to employers and employees in order to achieve better compliance with the laws, regulations and administrative procedures.
According to our legislation all enterprises employing ten or more employees have an obligation to establish an internal health and safety body, consisting of the foreman/manager and elected health and safety delegates among the employees.
The Draft from Act of Occupational Health and Safety Act sets out functions, rights and obligations of the internal health and safety body as follows:
- to estimate the individual working environment through risk assessment;
- to create action plans to address identified problems;
- to check compliance with health and safety regulations;
- to report and investigate occupational accidents and work related illnesses; and
- to participate in the planning and implementation of measures to improve the working environment.
Now we have the legal basis for Internal Control System as a systematic approach to record and ensure the activities of health and safety control are performed in accordance with requirements specified in the regulations.
The Internal Control System assists management to focus as much on health and safety as on other control elements in the company, such as production, efficiency and product quality.
A systematic review and examination of all types of work, working processes and methods, technical equipment, substances and materials, etc., must be made in order to obtain a complete picture of potential exposure and hazards in the enterprise - workplace risk assessment. In order to ensure that all aspects of health and safety at work are included in the workplace assessment, it is important that the internal safety body and the employees participate in the planning and implementation of the workplace assessment.
We consider very important and essential the co-operation of occupational health services in the workplace. Occupational health services can advise and assist the employer, and internal health and safety body to create a general survey of the working environment and to promote health and safety of the employees both physically and mentally.
For the implementation of the national policy, on occupational health activities, the Government of the Republic of Estonia has accepted on the 30th of June, 1998, the Occupational Health Programme to the year 2000. This means financial support for the establishment of occupational health services, especially to small and medium sized enterprises, to assist them promote the health and safety of their employees.
We stress the importance of co-operation among occupational health professionals, including occupational health physicians and nurses, labour inspectors, occupational hygienists, occupational psychologists, specialists involved in ergonomics, in accident prevention and in the improvement of the working environment as well as in occupational health and safety research. The trend is to mobilise the competence of these occupational health professionals into multi-disciplinary team as a new approach in the development of occupational health system.
CO-OPERATION ON THE NATIONAL LEVEL