E S T ÷ Estonian Working Life Promotion Project

Introduction

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:

  1. co-operation on the enterprise level
  2. co-operation on the national level
  3. development of competence
  4. delivery of information and publicity; and
  5. 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

In order to develop co-operation between workers, employer organisations and government in the elaboration and implementation of occupational health and safety measures at the national level we established, in July 1997, Working Environment Council, consisting of equal representation from the three main partners.

This tripartite body is a way of jointly formulating agreed solutions on common socio- economic concerns by the social partners- Workers, Employers and Government. It relies on the potential, and the strength, of communication and consultation leading to co-operation, as a method of resolving issues.

So far as tripartite consultations in Estonia is a relatively recent phenomenon, we have to consider the historical weakness of tripartism which have arisen:

  • unsatisfactory and unsuitable representation; in the case of employers, there is a general lack of appreciation and understanding of the benefits of tripartism; in regard to workers, this is due to low union density, as well as multiplicity and political affiliations of unions;

  • inexperience of participants to discuss many issues which generally require specialised knowledge;

  • a lack of trust and confidence among the partners, resulting in caution and reluctant participation;

  • a lack of commitment on the part of the participants to make a substantial contribution to tripartite discussions leading to decisions on socio-economic policy; and

  • both insufficient training and education and financial constraints, also contribute to the participants inability to have their points of view heard and reflected in policy formulation on socio-economic issues.

We express our attention and belief to the promotion of tripartism, however not without difficulties, as a useful process for involvement of government and social partners

as active and committed partners.

COMPETENCE

Training and education on occupational health and safety is one of the most important means of improving the working conditions. Appropriate training improves the possibilities both of debating and analysing problems and a finding the technical and economic means most suitable for solving these problems.

The main target groups for training are the members of internal safety body, including managers, their representatives and health and safety delegates of employees. Today we have 24 training centres, private institutions, licenced by the Ministry of Education, providing training on health and safety matters over a two-three day period.

We have accepted the need for a modern training system and training of all involved parties to be based upon a sound training strategy introducing new training programmes for example modules and training materials and based on risk assessment principles.

DELIVERY OF INFORMATION AND PUBLICITY

For the development of information dissemination on health and safety we have agreed at the Working Environment Council to prepare and issue guidelines and leaflets on the following priority topics:

  • Workplace Risk Assessment;
  • Internal Control System;
  • Cost and benefit of health and safety;
  • Advice to SMEs;
  • Advice for priority sectors of industry in 1998 construction activities;
  • Some guidance on what employers and employees need to know and do - in a form that is both clear and usable to them.

THE COST OF ABSENTEEISM

The following table estimates the total cost of illness across Estonia. Absenteeism in the workplace, indicates that the health issues are still relevant from an economic point of view. Serious efforts need to be made to reduce the total costs of illness and accidents.

Occupational health services and research on work-related health hazards are of crucial importance in this context. Although only part of all illnesses are work-related, the occupational health services can play a decisive role in affecting people`s health behaviour.

Now we would like to see companies take on interest in calculating and estimating the cost of workplace absenteeism by themselves and begin to consider the problems more seriously, in order to determine:

  • their current commitment;
  • their understanding of the cost of occupational accidents and illnesses;
  • whether they can identify the main hazards.
SOCIAL AND FINANCIAL LOSSES IN ESTONIA

 

1996

1997

Sick leave compensation,

incl. occ.accidents

460 047 881 EEK

552 022 244 EEK

sick days / per year:

7 573 872

 

 

 

Medical care costs

914 875 650 EEK

867 858 438 EEK

No of workers:

637 985

634 214

sick workers / per day:

30 143

32 787

GNP

50 000 000 000

63 000 000 000

GNP per/worker per/day:

303 EEK

430EEK

GNP loss per all workers per/day:

9 133 329 EEK

14 098 410 EEK

GNP loss per all workers per/year:

2 009 332 380 EEK

3 256 732 710 EEK

All costs of absenteeism:

3 384 255 911 EEK

4 676 613 392 EEK

% of GNP:

6,8

7,4

 

 

 

Early retirement

at age of 18-64

39 770

43 544

GNP loss per/day:

12 050 310 EEK

18 723 920 EEK

GNP loss per/month:

253 056 510 EEK

393 202 320 EEK

GNP loss per/year:

2 783 621 610 EEK

4 325 225 520 EEK

Total costs of absenteeism:

6 167 877 521 EEK

9 001 838 912 EEK

% of GNP:

12,3

14,3

 

The occupational health and safety administration foresees the need to implement new working methods for supervision to proceed in three different directions:

  • inspectors should try to shift their focus from direct surveys of working conditions to furthering and controlling the firms' own safety activities;
  • inspectors should try to change the focus of their work to the prevention of defects by giving expert opinions and advice on the design of working premises, machinery and methods;
  • the third new opportunities could be seen from the integration of labour inspection to the measures with which the management tries to further mastery of production and safeguard product quality.

The main task of E S T ÷ is to follow up the implementation of the National Policy on Working Environment, to highlight priority areas or particularly in those areas of management where decisions have an effect upon w o r k i n g l i f e i n g e n e r a l .

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