National Policy on Working Environment


Work can make a positive or a negative contribution to a person's health. When people are exposed to danger - physical and mental health may suffer. In the absence of danger, when people are interested and involved in their work - satisfaction and enjoyment are increased and improvements in health and wellbeing can result.

The continuous development of working life requires that there should be a constant monitoring of the working environment. Technological developments especially change the working environment. Consequently, for there to be an effective implementation of policy there needs to be continuous planning.

Also, the development of working conditions requires planning and co-operation, particularly in those areas of management, where decisions have an effect upon work life in general.

In 1981 ILO approved Convention No 155 concerning the Safety and Health of the Working Environment. According to the Convention each member-state is obligated after ratification, to formulate, implement and at fixed times review the operation of a uniform national policy of action concerning the working environment and the safety and health of employees. Therefore, ratification of the Convention in Estonia should take place after the Government has accepted the National Policy on Working Environment. After that there needs to be drawn up an implementation plan and arrangements for review.

1 Scope and present state of the working environment

1.1 The national policy objective

The objective of the national policy is to create a general framework for the improvement of working conditions and working environment. The national policy is a guideline which expresses the aims and intentions of the Government. It describes how to develop occupational health and safety in Estonia. As such it reflects the socio-economic development and helps to create a competitive economic infrastructure in Estonia.

Such a framework contains general principles, which concern

  • the reduction or prevention of occupational risk
  • the minimisation or elimination of risk factors
  • information systems
  • systems for consultation
  • the balanced participation and training of workers
  • the functions and responsibilities of agencies responsible for workplace inspection
  • occupational health services
  • advising the social partners
  • the growth of the tri- and bipartite social dialogue at the State and enterprise level, and
  • the approximation of national legislation with EU Directives.

The task of the national policy has several purposes. It is not only to eliminate or reduce hazards and detrimental factors in working conditions. It is also to contribute to the positive development of those factors in working conditions, which make possible the physical, mental and social well being of the employees.

The main principles of the national policy are generally follows:


It is possible to take precautions against hazards in working conditions. In principle, all hazards can be foreseen and most can be prevented in advance.

Safe technology

When designing a machine or a working environment endeavours should be made to foresee any possible hazards and risks which might arise. After this assessment of risk, steps should be taken to eliminate them altogether or, at the least, to minimise them. The factors which affect the application of this principle can be of technological, economical, related to the production process, or human.

Optimization of working conditions

In developing working conditions the following steps should be made to take into account: -

  • the individual physical and psycho-physiological characteristics of each worker and
  • his functions

in order to: -

  • create the basis for the optimal performance of his tasks
  • to eliminate hazards and risks
  • ensure that working tasks are arranged in the manner, which is most appropriate and sensible from the standpoint of each worker .

Co-ordination of production and working conditions

Changes in production methods frequently involve changes in working conditions. This being the case, changes in occupational safety and health needs should be taken into account, when planning and developing production systems.

Primary responsibility of the employer

The employer organises his activity in accordance with his own production objectives and tasks. In doing this, he also shapes the working conditions of the employees. Consequently, it is the employer who is responsible for the quality of the working conditions.

Recognizing an employee's own interests and responsibilities

Employees also have a personal and mutual responsibility for health and safety at work. Implementing this responsibility is only possible if every employee recognises that they have an obligation. It also presupposes that there is a recognition of the employee's own interest beyond looking after their own safety. There must be a securing and development of safety, welfare and health measures, which are based on encouraging the initiative of employees.


Cooperation between the employer and the employee is the starting point for the practical activity for the attainment of the objective of working environment. This is a natural consequence of the principles of the primary responsibility of the employer and the recognition of the employee's own interest.

Continual follow-up of working conditions

As technology develops and changes, the hazards linked with working conditions also develop and change. This means that people at work and their employers must become aware of the possibilities for eliminating hazards. In order to achieve this there is need to monitor changes in working conditions and for continuous training of employees.

The principles presented above should be manifest. They need to be incorporated in the measures taken by public bodies who have a responsibility for regulating and inspecting the working environment. Additionally, these principles are the basis for:-

  • all occupational health, welfare and safety activities and
  • all the different parties who are involved in working environment issues.

1.2. Historical review

Period of 1917-1940

The Provisional Government of the Republic of Estonia was established in 1917. In 1918 the National Labour Inspectorate was created at the Ministry of Education and Social Affairs. Later it was known as the Department of Labour Protection and Social Insurance, at the Ministry of Social Affairs. On 14 December 1918 the "Decree on labour protection commissars" was issued. The commissars (from 1926 they were called labour inspectors) headed the departments (ten in 1922), that controlled adherence to labour legislation.

The commissars supervised private firms, state and municipal enterprises, mining, agriculture and handicraft activities. There was an establishment of five or more inspectors per department. However, in practice some departments had fewer inspectors in post.

In cases of breaches of labour legislation, based on the commissar's report, the senior commissar had the power to fine the official responsible for the infringement. In case of refusal to obey an order of the inspector, punishment was implemented by the Court of Common Pleas. Estonian Labour Inspectorate had the power to publish its own legal acts and decrees.

The Republic of Estonia was a member of the League of Nations. Between 1921 and 1938 Estonia ratified 22 ILO Conventions. During this period labour legislation was harmonised with the ILO demands.

In 1920 the Estonian Society of Technical Supervision was established. After 1936 it was known as the Estonian National Power Committee. It had the power to deal with the problems of supply of energy, electrification, licensing and use of equipment. The Power Committee contributed to the World Power Conference.

In relation to health protection matters, "The Act on Arrangement of Public Health" was enacted in 1927 and the State Health Council was duly created as a consulting body, to deal with questions of public health protection and social care.

The Soviet Union period

With the annexation of the Republic of Estonia by the Soviet Union in June 1940, the Estonian Labour Inspectorate was abolished.

After the Second World War the state control of labour protection was delegated to the Trade Unions' Central Council and the Central Committees of a variety of different Trade Unions, situated in Moscow.

In Estonia, the Estonian Council of Trade Unions, with its Labour Protection Department and labour technical inspectors, assumed the respective responsibilities of the respective Trade Union Committees or the Department of Labour Protection. During this period working conditions were the responsibility of the line managers and chief engineers of organisations and enterprises. Dangerous equipment was placed in the care of certain persons designated as responsible for its safety. Estonian ministries and governmental institutions had their own safety services. Each enterprise had its own health care unit. The various bodies responsible for safety services planned activities for labour protection, took part in investigations of serious and fatal accidents, monitored accident statistics and forwarded data to Ministries and Committees in Moscow, and to the Estonian Office of Statistics.

Legal Acts and Decrees, issued in Moscow, were obligatory statutes for all republics of the Soviet Union. Some of these laws were translated into the local language and supplemented with comments about implementation.

In each enterprise were elected labour protection boards. They engaged voluntary labour inspectors in local committees of Trade Union. These inspectors took part in investigation of occupational accidents and dealt with working conditions, employment and problems of wages, which had been discussed between Trade Union Committee and the administration of the relevant enterprise.

Under the supervision and responsibility of the chief engineer of the enterprise a Safety Office was created, headed by a safety specialist, who solved technical problems, arranged investigations, recorded occupational accidents and kept disease statistics. The occupational health and safety plan was included in the collective agreement between the Trade Union Committee and the administration.

1.3 Analysis of the management at working conditions

Analysis for the Soviet Union period

The former USSR had a huge body of standards and decrees concerning occupational health and safety. However, their implementation and control were subordinate to the production plan. This went as far as ignoring the rights of an individual's welfare, safety and health at work.

There was no extension of the preventive policy in labour safety and health matters, including identification, control and elimination of risks. Instead workers got wage premiums for risk and occasionally some other benefits (shorter working hours, additional leave, early retirement) accordingly to the workplace. In extreme adverse cases workers were advised to change their work.

The role of the state in the USSR was to ensure the fulfilment of the Plan. This was done through subordination, by giving orders to the relevant enterprise, and by redistributing the national product.

Managers had no motivation to improve working conditions, because allocations for labour protection were planned one year in advance. Losses due to occupational accidents and diseases were insured by the state. Occupational accidents could cause dismissal from the enterprise without compensation, so there was always a reason hide these or to record them as "off-the-job" accidents. Additionally, occupational diseases were under-reported and it was very difficult for employees to dispute a report on occupational disease.

The insurance benefits for workers was guaranteed by the State. The employees' lack of interest in keeping of safety rules and poor safety culture had an economic imperative too. Management was motivated by work productivity rather than work safety. Economic losses from occupational accidents and disease involved only the payment of compensation for sick leave.

The manager or a higher institution (safety service of the Ministry) provided the analysis of causes of occupational accidents. The distribution of blame for the accident between the employer and the employee was determined by the firm's own management. As an interested party as the potentially guilty person there was frequently a mis-reporting of blame.

Formal responsibility for accidents was divided between several layers of management and responsible persons. In this way, the ultimate responsibility was reduced. Administrative punishments of little consequence were often imposed.

More severe punishments, like imprisonment, were not implemented in practice. Instead of eliminating causes, in cases of serious accidents it was the victims who were often punished for the errors made. These only underlined the existing failures of safety management. The punishment imposed on a worker for a violation of the safety rules in the penal code was essentially lighter than on managers.

It was rare for there to be a claim to the enterprise (State), in those cases where the enterprise was blamed for an accident.

The Trade Unions' Committees at each enterprise, together with representatives of workers, had to ask the opinion of workers about working conditions. These opinions were included in the annual collective bargaining proposal. The collective bargaining proposal was discussed at the local conference of the Trade Union before the bargain was concluded. If not settled at the enterprise level, labour inspectors of the Trade Union settled any dispute about wages, compensation and the reporting of occupational accidents.

Overlapping responsibilities, lack of co-ordination and information exchange between the Labour Inspection, the Sanitation Stations and Technical Inspections did nothing to help the improvement in working conditions. The duties of local hygiene units were to conduct medical examinations, to assess the health impairment of the workers, but not to investigate occupational diseases. This was done by the Clinic of the Occupational Diseases.

Technical Inspectors controlled inspections on lifting machines, electrical and gas equipment and pressure vessels. No risk assessment of processes and workplaces was provided. Furthermore, the sanitary classification of work (1986) - 3 class of working conditions - was not implemented in practice.

In summary, workers tended to get extra payments for poor working conditions, according to special lists of professions. They also received shorter work hours, an additional week's holiday and earlier retirement.

Analysis of after the period 1991

Since the re-establishment of independence of the Republic Estonia, in conditions of economic transition, the State is losing the regulatory role of working and social conditions. With frequent restructuring and the merging of Ministries and with the abolishment of the Labour and Juridical Inspectorates of Trade Unions' Association, the regulative responsibilities of working conditions and social relations have been almost lost by the State. The privatisation of big state enterprises has led to an emergence of a hundred fold increase in smaller firms (SMEs). SMEs tend to employee non-union labour and managers, who do not belong to professional associations of managers and employers.

An increase in unemployment exerts further pressure on existing workplaces and is leading to a worsening of workers' rights.

There is a necessity for a multi-faceted force, which can:-

  • balance economic and social goals
  • guarantee the implementation of legal acts which promote workers' interests
  • encourage tri- and bipartite negotiations from State to the workplace level

whilst avoiding social disturbances and conflicts. The roles are best filled by a special department of the Ministry of Social Affairs. This is to be created. The Labour Inspection department is to regain a regulatory role and a role to promote negotiations at the workplace level.

The task of undertaking a general survey of the working environment should be the responsibility of the Occupational Health Services, being created using the existing structure of occupational health laboratories. The efforts of special inspecting bodies, like the Rescue Service, the Technical Inspectorate and the Centre of Electricity Control are to be joined in dealing with information for working environment database and in means of prevention.

One of the means of the compliance between State, employers and employees is the reorganisation of the social insurance policy. There will be an incremental transition from an umbrella social insurance by the State to one of tripartite insurance, provided jointly by the State, employers and employees themselves.

1.4 General conditions of work and main trends during the transition years

In working conditions essential changes and developments occurred during the transition years 1991-1996. The privatisation of state enterprises started from the new and modern enterprises or their departments. The older enterprises and their subdivisions failed, particularly those with old technology running below capacity, waiting for investors, not able to pay their debts and renovate technology. A large proportion of workers were dismissed, efforts were made to save energy and working conditions worsened.

As a result of privatisation numerous SMEs (about 40% of the total number) emerged using partly the unregistered (illegal) labour force.

The working and social conditions vary between SMEs. In connection with the dramatic rise of prices on energy and the shortage of capital, many plants have been sold to foreign owners. At these enterprises working conditions tend to have improved.

Other plants have difficulties paying for energy, waste disposal and wages. Problems are common in big plants with old technology, built for the big market of the former Soviet Union. Working conditions tend not to meet the modern day standards, even when they have ventilation and lighting systems.

In SMEs established mainly after the 1990, there is evidence that some of the working conditions are the worst in Estonia. If the firms are using the premises of former industrial enterprises or their subdivisions, there is usually ventilation and lighting. However, evidence shows that many of these firms are using garages, cellars or flats where there is no daylight or poor daylight in work rooms. The unregistered workforce is especially at risk, working at home or outdoors, without any control by manager or labour inspector.

Another serious problem is the knowledge of managers and employees about occupational safety and health matters. Only a few managers have had appropriate health and safety training. Presently managers themselves are responsible for taking courses. Motivation for training is low, taxes are high and the future of many enterprises is uncertain. In this climate managers are oriented towards short-term profit.

The standards used in the transition period are dated, originating from the former USSR. If they are available they are frequently published in the Russian language.

Foreign managers tend to use the instructions and norms of their respective country.

The Labour Inspection controls a small part of workplaces, mainly the bigger enterprises (14244 in period of 1992-1995, 4165 in 1995 and 4242 in 1994). The new small enterprises lack the control. In the Enterprises' register there are about 56 000 units, which are subject to changes. About 20 000 of these firms are supposed to be operating.

The hours of work are regulated by Act on Working and Leisure Time (1993). The total duration of work may not exceed 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week by 5 workdays a week; in case of underground workers, health impairing and special works - 35 hours per week.

The employer has the right to make changes in daily duration of work time provided summarised accounting of the working hours, but 12 hours per day is the maximum. Overtime may not exceed 200 hours per year and 4 hours per day. The night shift is to be decreased by 1 hour. The rest time between shifts must be 11 hours as a minimum. By summarised accounting of the working hours the weekly uninterrupted rest time must be at least 36 hours; by way of exception, working hours of enterprises with continuous technologies must be co-ordinated by a local labour inspector.

Permission for prolonging the working shift were given to 3761 workers employed in 247 enterprises in 1996. These figures were 868 and 300 respectively in 1995.

The basic annual leave is 28 calendar days for minors, 35 calendar days for disabled persons and public servants, 56 days (under the Act on Vacations, 1992) for teachers and lecturers.

Additional leave is provided for those working underground and doing special and health impairing work.

Maternity leave is 70 days before and 56 days after the birth.

The providing of welfare facilities and room for working clothes is regulated by Act on Labour Protection (1992).

1.5 The occupational health and safety situation

Table 1 Reported occupational accidents in Estonia 1993-1998

Type of accident














Fatal accidents per 100 000 workers







All accidents








According to Table 1, the share of serious occupational accidents has been increasing since 1993, but the fatal accidents are decreasing after some stabilisation period, and so is the annual fatality rate. The respective rate in the Nordic countries was 3-4 per 100 000 (1993).

The reporting of occupational accidents from 1 work day incapacity to work is slowly improving. The percentage of unreported accidents is unknown.

The main causes of serious occupational accidents are machines, devices and falls. This is due to a lack of safety devices and unsatisfactory premises. Shortcomings in the organisation of work were the cause of 64% of the occupational accidents with serious consequences which had a technical factor - 30% (1996). The rate of occupational accidents per 1000 workers has been increasing since 1993, but the level (4.5 in 1995) is at least ten times lower than in Western and Nordic countries (20 - 100). However, this merely indicates a very serious under-reporting of accidents.

The majority of occupational accidents happened to workers with between 1 and 3 years seniority. A violation of safety rules was the cause of 46% of the occupational accidents (1995).

Table 2 Reported serious occupational accidents in Estonia 1996-1998

Economic activity


With serious consequences








Agriculture, forestry, fishing





















Power, gas and water supply





















Transport, communication







Finance, insurance, real estate







Societies, services






















The reporting of occupational diseases (Table 2) is increasing thanks to better diagnostic work at the Clinic of Occupational Diseases and the workers' increasing economic interest. Occupational diseases are not diagnosed by periodical medical examinations, which are formal. There are too few occupational health physicians at the outpatients clinics. Most of the workers apply to the Clinic only when affected with a serious impairment of their health. By that time many of these people are given two or three diagnoses.

The rate of occupational diseases was 0.3 per 1000 workers 1996, about 20 times lower that of the Nordic countries. On the first place are muscular-skeletal disorders, followed by vibration disease, hearing damages and erysipelas in the meat processing. According to measurements by laboratories (1996), 47% of the workplaces do not meet the standards; the measurements were conducted at 24% of the enterprises controlled.

The ergonomic assessment of the workplaces includes the recording of cases of monotonous work, static postures, physical and mental overload. There is also evidence of an increase in psychological violence by managers and the stress of workers is increasing.

Hazardous substances, like asbestos, are still in use, but only single cases of asbestosis have been diagnosed.

The socio-economic situation is the reason of the spreading of infectious diseases, like tuberculosis, which has been registered among medical personnel, too.

Major hazards are connected with transport of fuel and other hazardous chemicals.

Table 3 Reported occupational diseases in Estonia 1994-1998

Main diagnosis






Physical factors






Hearing damage






Vibration disease






Eye diseases






Radiation disease






Muscular-skeletal disorders






Bronchi-pulmonary diseases






incl. pneumoconiosis












caused by dust






Skin diseases












Biological factors






























* data not available

1.6 Social relations

The social situation

The political and economic changes in Estonia since 1991 have influenced the social situation. The birth-mortal rate became negative in 1991; emigration (mainly of Russians) exceeds immigration and the population was decreasing about 1% per years in these last years. Instead of 1.5 millions in 1990, the population was 1.46 millions as of 1 January 1997. Pensioners' are 25% of the population and the average life expectancy is 73 years for women and 61 for men (1994).

Workers made up 43.6% of the population years' average (about 640 000 1995). The retirement age has been shifted, step by step, from 55 years for women and 60 years for men, to 60 and 65 years respectively The average net wage was 230 USD and the pension 77 USD (Dec., 1996), the minimum wage 62 USD (Feb. 1997).

Before 1991 no unemployment and labour market existed. Employment was guaranteed by the State and it was recorded at over 90%. For 1996 the unemployment rate was estimated at 10-11% and the unemployment level 4.4-4.5%.

An essential hidden unemployment, as well as black labour is a fact.

There are small towns with unemployment reaching nearly 100% due to the bankruptcy of a single factory.

Jobs in industry, have been concentrated mainly in Tallinn and North Estonia. Consequently, most foreign investments is made into these places.

The southern regions are mainly agricultural, excluding some towns. Now the collective farms are closed but land reform has not yet been completed.

Taxes were estimated at 35.3% of GNP (1996). The social insurance tax is 20%, the health insurance tax 13% of the payroll and income tax is a flat rate of 26%. Value-added tax is 18% of the value of the goods or services provided.

The role of the State

In the USSR social benefits, social and health insurance were guaranteed by the State, as well as education, dwellings, recreation and some other benefits. However, prices were fixed, although prices and wages were both low.

In the transition to a market economy the population has lost the advantage of the former system. The rising of cost of energy has increased all prices. The price of communal services have risen up to the world market level and even more. As the enterprises in the power, heating and water supply have a monopoly position without constraints on rising the prices, the tenants of some recently privatised housing have been displaced.

Increasing poverty lays additional responsibilities on the State to subsidise a poor population in paying taxes, for transport and dismissal pay in the cases of enterprises' bankruptcy. Poverty increases criminality and means additional expenses and losses for the State, enterprises and inhabitants. There are about 10 000 homeless persons in Tallinn. All of these people are in need of social aid.

The State is responsible for the regulation of the social situation in the transition period. Such regulation can be implemented by regulating the taxes, through legislation on social warranties, employment policy, creating funds for bankruptcy, imposing the requirement of keeping the workplaces by privatizing the enterprises, controlling the social and working conditions and creating instances for settling labour disputes.

According to the agreement reached on tripartite negotiations between representatives of the State, employers and employees, a workgroup _was created by the Ministry of Social Affairs in January 1997 for elaborating the concept for state social insurance. Proposals have been made to include the insurance on pension, medical treatment, occupational accidents and diseases, unemployment and aid for families. It is planned that social insurance taxes will be paid by both employer and employee. For covering the new kinds of state insurance - for occupational accidents, diseases and for unemployment - the previous social insurance tax should be increased, and the employers should become involved. The personal accounting of payments could increase workers' responsibility and discipline. The matter is subject to bipartite negotiations between employers' and employees' representatives.

The State Social Insurance Council is planned to be established on tripartite principles. For settling collective labour disputes the Arbitration Board with the State conciliator was created and for individual labour disputes, Labour Dispute Commissions were establishedt district level in September 1996. Legislation, concerning democracy in the workplace is under preparation.

The role of the Trade Unions

The role of Trade Unions has changed since USSR times. Before 1991, most of the workforce were Union members, nowadays less than 30%. Instead of fulfilling the administration's will on the state enterprises, trade unions must now fight for the workers' social interests in state, municipal and private enterprises. There are difficulties in creating trade union units, especially in private and small-scale enterprises.

The Act on Labour Protection (1992) provides for a workers' representative (a shop steward) where the staff number is at least 10 and some local unit in case of 50 workers. If such shop stewards exist ( at 15-20% of enterprises), they lack knowledge, negotiation skills and they are afraid of loosing the job.

When bipartite negotiations held by trade unions fail, other groups of workers using emergency means have carried them out. In active tripartite negotiations in social issues, arranged by the Ministry of Social Affairs, top leaders of the Trade Unions Associations and experts have taken part recent years.

Usually, the workers' interests concerning social and working conditions are defended by the safety specialist, the manager or personnel manager. To some extent these interests are the concern of the employers' associations, too, but these include only a small number of employers.

Thus, the need for the emergence of Trade Unions and their consolidation in defending the workers' interests is evident, especially in SMEs. The role of Trade Unions is to help members on labour protection and employment matters, and to draw the attention of the labour inspectors to complaints and deficiences.

2 The means for working environment policy

2.1 Tri- and bipartite collaboration at the national, local, sectoral and enterprise levels

Tripartism in occupational health and safety includes the participation of authorities and employers' and employees' organisations in preparing statutory instruments, monitoring implementation and developing activities. Besides the social partners, also the co-operation and co-ordination among authorities are of importance, because many subjects concern several sectors of administration. Research and other expert organisations in occupational health and safety should also be representeted in this collaboration.

In Estonia, a Working Environment Council was established in May 1997 for such collaboration.

The development of the working environment in Estonia is a necessary precondition for integration to the European Union. In the EU, with free movement of capital, goods, services and labour, the harmonization of demands on working environment avoids the improper competition of enterprises and economic activities due to poor working conditions. Favourable working environment increases the productivity and decreases the economic losses from occupational accidents and diseases. The determination of the level of minimum demands on the working environment in harmony of the Estonian legislation with ILO Conventions and EU Directives, concerning occupational health and safety, is a matter of compromise between the Government, employers' and employees' organisations.

All rules concerning safety, health and welfare at work must have the Working Environment Council´s approval. The projects and documents for the Council are to be prepared on bipartite negotiations on the level of employers' and employees' organisations in collaboration with experts. In the different sectors of economic activity the action program could be initiated by Trade Unions and employees' Associations.

To promote democratic collaboration between public authorities and social partners the securing of general rights of employers' and workers' organisations is necessary.

According to the ILO Convention No 81, labour inspection shall be placed under the supervision and control of a central authority, which is the State Labour Inspection at Estonia. The institution coordinating the policy on working environment should be the Working Environment Department at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

At the sectoral level , a consultancy service is planned by the Branch Safety Committees by the Working Environment Council. The Association of Employers is planning collaboration with Trade Union Associations for implementing new technology and machines.

At the enterprise level , the bipartite negotiations about the working conditions and social guaranties are subject to discussion between the management and the representatives of workers according to the situation and the regulations in the Act of Labour Protection.

At the regional level , the collaboration between the Baltic States could be realised in harmonisation of databases on working environment and in change of experience in the field.

2.2 The preparation of legal provisions on working environment

The legislative reforms carried out due to Estonians application for membership of the European Union have developed the legal basis for occupational health, welfare and safety.

In accordance with the EU Directive 89/391 EEC, 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.

There is a need for legal provisions concerning:-

  • responsibilities of employers and employees
  • occupational health and safety organisation at the level of enterprise
  • internal safety organisation
  • occupational health services
  • the role and responsibility of the labour inspections
  • insurance system of occupational accidents and diseases
  • provisions for labour disputes

The following individual EU Directives are taken into consideration:-

  • 90/270/EEC - Safety and health requirements for the use of display screen equipment (1996)
  • 89/656/EEC - Order of selection and use of personal protective equipment (1994)
  • 90/269/EEC - The manual lifting and carrying (1993)
  • The requirements of the Directives 89/392/EEC, 91/368/EEC and 93/44/EEC are implemented in the safety requirements on the machinery and equipment (1993,1994).

The elaboration of the following legal provisions are underway:-

  • 89/654/EEC - Safety and health requirements for the workplace
  • 92/57/EEC - Safety and health requirements at temporary or mobile construction sites
  • 89/655/EEC - Safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment
  • 90/679/EEC - Protection of workers from risks related to exposure to

biological agents at work

  • 89/391/EEC Art.6.2 - Workplace assessment.

We have drafted already, and they are passing through Governmental procedure, two basic legal acts on working environment:-

  • Act on Occupational Health and Safety
  • Act on Chemicals

2.3 Supervision and follow-up of working conditions

The Estonian Labour Inspection was recreated in 1991. The basic tasks until now have been as follows:

  • planning and providing of supervision over implementing of legal acts, regulating the working environment
  • licensing of instances, engaged in quality and type assessment of machines and devices
  • arranging of statistics and analysis of reasons of occupational accidents, breakdowns and diseases
  • coordinations and consulting for employers, employees and Trade Unions
  • contacts with other state institutions, incl. on the international level.

The labour inspectors have the right of stopping the work or use of the machines and devices in case of hazards to life, health or of breakdown, as well as making proposals of punishing employers violating legislation.

In 1996 the number of enterprises inspected was 4472 with the number of employees 243878; in 20% of the enterprises special follow-up was provided and in 18% - afterwards. 13 635 pieces at legal advice was given in 1996, 7971 of them to employees and 5180-to employers.

The commissions (15) for settling labour disputes, attached to local labour inspections, have discussed 781 revelations of employees, mainly concerning unpaid wages or claims and the work contract matters.

The supervision activities were pointed to improving the working environment at the enterprises of industry, construction, power supply and transport with hazardous working conditions.

Advanced and targeted inspections involved complying the basic safety demands on devices and machines manufactured in Estonia and the safety and occupational health in wood-processing, construction activities and others.

At the enterprise level, the control of the working environment is provided, according to the Act of Labour Protection (1992), by the safety manager (chief manager - at enterprises with staff over 300 employees), safety representatives elected at workplaces with at least 10 employees, Safety Committee (if there are at least 50 employees) and Health Care Unit (300 employees as a minimum) or by a contracted person.

If the responsibility, commitments and rights concerning the working conditions are not determined, the employer should be responsible.

The follow-up of the hazardous agents on the workplaces by recognised laboratories was provided on 9917 cases; 47% of these did not compile the standards (1996). No health check-up was arranged on 28% of enterprises controlled.

The Technical Inspection under the Ministry of Economic Affairs has the supervision tasks of mines, lifting machines, pressure vessels, chemical industry, explosive processes in grain processing; the Electrical Inspection is responsible for the power supply and electrical equipment. The Centre for the Radiation provides the radiation monitoring and protection. Their data are not recorded in the database of the Labour Inspection nor the control of workplaces coordinated. The Technical Inspection has 5 territorial inpectorates with staff of 72. There is planned to create the Centre, offering different kinds of technical service in charge and being financed partly by State.

2.4 Information and data collection

The main task is to ensure collection, systematization, analysis and dissemination of information on working conditions at workplace in working environment at the regional, national and international level.

For collecting, keeping and updating the information on working environment the following registers and databases should be established:

  • workplace register;
  • inspection register;
  • accidents register, etc.

It is also necessarry to provide linkages with other national registers such as the Estonian Business Register, Estonian Chemicals Register and EstLex, etc.

The national working environment information system and data network should be developed for exchanging information between national and regional level.

For information system on working environment on special unit at the National Labour Inspection should be establised in order to specify its strategy for new approach on proceeding information and make arrangements for training of its users.

It is necessary and important to establish the Telematic Information Network.

2.5 Occupational Health Services

The Occupational Health Service is an expert service working on an advisory basis. It will collaborate with and advise employers and inspection authorities on issues concerning the health of workers.

The objectives of the Occupational Health Service are:

  • to promote health and safety of the employees physically as well as mentally
  • to prevent injuries caused by the working environment, including occupational diseases and disability caused by fighting the impacts of work.

The essential duties of the Occupational Service are:

  • to create a general survey of the working environment;
  • consultative services in connection with the purchase of relevant materials,
  • measurements and consultative services in connection with measurements,
  • health investigations/examinations,
  • education,
  • information,
  • ergonomic guidance.

The Occupational Health Services advises the employer and the internal safety organisation in the individual enterprise, analyses effects in the working environment, and undertakes health surveys. Emphasis should be placed on preventive activities. The Occupational Health Service assists the enterprise in implementing health and safety measures, such as planning of new production and changes in the production system based on ergonomic principles.

There can be two types of Occupational Health Services in Estonia:

  • the internal Occupational Health Service - based at a single major enterprise,
  • joint Occupational Health Service - serving several medium and small-scale hazardous enterprises.

The composition of the staff of the Occupational Health Service is determined by the nature of the current working environmental problems in each individual undertaking so that the services laid down in the guidelines of each Occupational Health Service can be carried into effect.

Depending on what kind of problems have to be solved, people educated within the health sector may be employed, such as physicians, nurses, psychologists, chemists,

as well as technologically oriented persons such as measurement technicians, engineers, experts on working environment, and lab workers.

In addition, the Occupational Health Service co-operates and exchanges information with authorities and institutions, including the Labour Inspections, local social and health authorities, out-patients clinics and medical officers.

2.6 Training and education on occupational health and safety

Training and education on occupational health and safety is one of the most important means in improving the working conditions and working environment.

Training and education in working environment is a part of general human resource development. Appropriate training improves the possibilities both of detecting and analyzing problems and a finding the technical and economic means most suitable for solving the problems.

It should be common will and ambition for formulating strategy for training and education on occupational health and safety, which would cover all target groups, involved to working environment.

The strategy on training and education is subject to discussions at tripartite Working Environment Council in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and is supported by international collaboration with NIVA, SIDA, ILO and PHARE.

The coordination of education and licensing is a response of the Ministry of Social Affairs and is implemented at excisting educational training centres.

The main target groups for training are the employers and their representitives, safety delegates of emploees, labour inspectors, occupational health specialists, managers.

The essential level of the training and education on working environment could be a common part of the curriculum at secondary schools, universities, institutes of medicine and other different institutions involved to a content of work.

Language training for negotiation and communication skills are also necessary for labour inspectors, managers and safety delegates of enterprises.

The existing legislation concerning training of safety specialists is covered by the Instruction on training at the enterprise (1993,1996) and the Act of Labour Protection (1992).

Accordingly to the Yearbook of Estonian Working Environment 1995, 54% of managers at inspected enterprises have been not provided the obligatory preliminary examination or supplementary training on working environment matters. At 34% of inspected enterprises the according duties, rights and responsibilities have not been destinated by instructions for line management.

Main reasons of serious occupational accidents are shortcomings in arrangement of work and workplace. The majority of occupational accidents happened to workers with seniority from 1 to 3 years.

2.7 Research on working environment

The importance of research in the developing of working environment is constantly increasing. The information produced by domestic and international working environment research provides a basis for training and publicity, and for the identification and prevention of risks and hazardous factors, and also for administrative decision-marking in working environment.

The most important part of working environment research is done in the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, the Tartu University and Tallinn Technical University. The problem is that only a few of the research units in the field of occupational health and safety are capable of carrying out long-range multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research work.

The main areas of research are the occupational health and safety situation in general and of different economic activities and the occupational hygiene and medicine.

There are necessary the elaboration of risk assessment methods for the workplaces, as well as of complete ergonomical assessment, and of special research targeted for small-scale enterprises.

The coordination and financing of research activities are to be discussed at tripartite Working Environment Council and Working Environment Fund. The Council of Estonian Fund on Science deals with the financing of research activities incl. Social sciences from the state budget.

2.8 International activities

The importance of international collaboration in the developing on working environment has been continually increasing in recent years. Especially for Estonia, being a small country, close international co-operation and inter-action is of vital importance. As regards working environment, this requires that the regulations concerning working environment in Estonia shall develop in parallel with those of the most important co-operation countries and competitor countries, taking into account national needs and possibilities.

At the same time it is important that attention be paid to international exchange of information and to international developing of research. Endeavours are being made, trough collaboration within international organisations, towards uniform developing of working environment in different countries, in order to secure the basic conditions for the welfare of employees.

The most important of the international organisations dealing with working environment questions in which Estonia participates are the ILO and WHO. The effort within the European Economic Community and European Union Commission toward harmonizing regulations concerning working environment has an effect on develop - ment in countries, including Estonia, which are in a process to integrate with the EU.

The ILO plays a central role in the drafting of international working environment standards. The collaboration with the Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden and Denmark has been and should be an important role in the developing of working environment matters in Estonia.

3. Needs and activities for the developing of the working environment

3.1 Objectives for the development

The development of the society the technology of production changes the occupational structure and the content of work in different occupations, and the nature of the problems of working environment also changes. Taking new techniques into use can eliminate a number of the traditional problems. This calls for efforts aiming at the developing of working conditions and for the continual re-assessment of the objectives.

The target of the developing of the working conditions is:

  • eliminating accidents,
  • prevention of illness having their origins in the work situation and to job security.

The improving of the working environment at the workplace may involve several different factors simultaneously and the selected targets may have to be developed in accordance with the conditions at the workplace.

The prevention of accidents

The improving of the working environment of accident-sectors, jobs and functions concentrates especially on the prevention and diminution of accidents. The attainment of this objective especially requires developed:-

  • work-planning,
  • planning of machines and equipment,
  • fostering of safe behaviour-patterns among the workers.

The promoting of working conditions in high accident-risk sectors

According to the statistics of occupational accidents the most dangerous sectors are:-

  • industry
  • agriculture, forestry, fishing
  • building and construction.

Reducing the number of accidents requires the promoting of safe behaviour of employees and improving training and guidance on job, the planning of the work and control of the safety activities.

Improving the safety of the operation of machines

Reducing the number of accidents involved in the handling of machine and equipment requires taking safety considerations into account in the designing, selection, and operation of machines and equipment. In addition, to developing protection techniques, the training of the employees and the guidance on the job should be made more effective. Young employees must be given extra attention in respect of providing them with relevant information and training.

3.2 Strenghtening of the cooperation within the work place

Good working conditions are achieved if both employers and their employees

are able to work well together . The responsibility for doing so lies with both parties.

A pre-requisite for the success of working environment is internal co-operation within the workplace, serving practical needs, a cooperation including both the employer and the employees, together with their representatives.

In developing workplace co-operation in working environment it is important to clarify the functions, rights and obligations of the different parties. The different parties involved in work life should be consulted in planning for designing the physical working environment.

In practice, any changes to be made in the working environment, weather they concern work procedures, machines, equipment, or premises, should be presented well in advance both to the representatives of the employees and to representatives of the work management.

The central role of the line-organisation of the work in the implementation of working environment in the workplace is to be taken into account. This presupposes studying and setting questions regarding powers and responsibilities. In general, it is necessary that adequate expertise in working environment techniques and in labour inspection principles is available at the work place.

According to our legislation all enterprises employed ten or more employees have obligation to establish internal safety organisation. The core of the internal safety organisations is the safety group, which consists of the foreman / supervisor and the elected safety delegates among the employees.

The tasks of the internal safety organisations are to estimate the individual working environment and create action plans for the problem solving. The internal safety organisation must also check compliance with safety regulations and reports and investigate occupational injuries. The safety group is required to participate in planning, and must be consulted before any final decisions are made by the enterprise concerning health and safety in the department where the group is operating.

The Draft Act of Occupational Health and Safety provides that newly elected members of the safety group must participate in a special safety training course within 3 months of their election. The course gives the participants training in the skills how they can promote a safe and healthy working environment.

3.3 New structure of the Estonian Working Environment System

Elaborated the new Draft Act of Occupation Health and Safety represents the foundation of a modern working environment system, bases on the principles of consensus and tripartism. We expect to establish the new system in which the social partners have a substantial influence on developing in working environment matters.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is the supreme political and administrative authority in the domain of working environment.

Working Environment Department is responsible for the overall co-ordination and management of the activities in the field of occupational health and safety.

Working Environment Council , which work a tripartite and advisory body and deals with the following tasks:

  • matters of principle, such as the policy of occupational health and safety, harmonization and promotion of safety at work, and the improvement of cooperation between social partners in tripartite principles;
  • important projects on the preparation of new legislation, development activities, and on planning, follow-up and evaluation;
  • general guidelines and goals and objectives and allocation of resources in order to promote occupational health and safety.

Working Environment Fund (not yet established) is sub-ordinate to the Working Environment Council. The Fund could deal with information, training and research in the field of working environment, publishes books and booklets, organises courses, conferences, study trips and lectures on the subject of working environment.

Occupational Health Centre performs research, studies and training in the field of working environment and is responsible for the establishment of Occupational Health Services; prepares a budget and hires OHS staff and is responsible for the provision of the office facilities needed, including rooms and equipment.

Occupational Health Service the essential duties are:

  • advising employers when carrying out risk inventories and risk evaluations;
  • assisting the counselling of sick employees;
  • carrying out medical examinations for enterprises;
  • holding consultation hours for employees.

Labour Inspection functions are as follows:

  • checking of enterprises on their compliance with occupational health and safety rules and other regulations with standards:
  • consultations and presenting of information to employers and employees;
  • registration and investigations on causes and circumstances of occupational accidents and diseases;
  • supervision of implementation of preventive measures against occupational accidents and diseases.

Branch Safety Committees assist enterprises in finding solutions for the special branch working environment problems, issues guidelines for the individual branch of trade.

3.4 Need to introduce the Internal Control System

On the basis of international experience it is necessary to introduce the concept of Internal Control System as a new regulation as systematic actions to ensure and document that the activities of the health and safety control are performed in accordance with requirements specified in regulations.

The systematic actions must be described in administrative procedures.

In particular the Internal Control System (ICS) regulation emphasize

two main principles:

  • the obligation of the person responsible for the enterprise to organize systematic measures to ensure that the requirements of the authorities are complied with;
  • the obligation of the person responsible to document the procedures and measures established to provide a sound working environment;

ICS is an organisational means to improve the working environment of the enterprise and implies a continuously obligation for the employer to work systematically to obtain this. Authorities demand a systematic approach, documentation, identification of the employers responsibility and the participation of the workers.

Confidence and co-operation between management and employees, between management and the authorities is a prerequisite to success. Internal Control is primarily the responsibility of the employer, but all employees have also a responsibility - and a right - to take part in the process.

The regulation has to prescribe how the internal control system should be organized. It is method for the enterprises to comply with the new Draft Act of Occupational Health and Safety and shall apply to all activities of the enterprise and all phases of operations.

ICS would help the management to focus as much on safety and health as on other control elements in the company, like production, economy and product quality.

For the introduction of this new system authorities decide to give priority to a system approach, rather than the detailed inspection. Today's inspections are using to

control compliance with laws and regulations in soviet period authorities issued detailed regulations for technical and organisational factors.

The ICS suggests that the authorities will gradually put emphasis on the so-called System Audits. System means that the Labour Inspectorate primarily examines the documentation prepared by the enterprise for its plans for action, organisation and the procedures for monitoring the health and safety.

3.5 Need and scope of guidelines for workplace assessment

It is necessary to draft guidelines according to EU Council Directive 89/391 EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work.

The Guidelines have to contain specific directions for the assessment of safety and health at work - Workplace Assessment. The workplace assessment have to provide the basis for planning and organisation of the work at all levels to ensure safe performance, and is part of the employer's ongoing inspection of health and safety at work. Planning and organisation of work shall furthermore be carried out taking due account of the following principles of prevention:

  • avoiding risks;
  • evaluating the risks which cannot be avoided;
  • combating the risks at source;
  • adapting the work to the individual, especially as regards the design of workplaces, the choice of work equipment and the choice of working and production methods, with a view, in particular, to alleviating monotonous work-rate and to reducing their effect on health,
  • adapting to technical progress,
  • replacing the dangerous by the non-dangerous or the less dangerous,
  • developing a coherent overall prevention policy which covers technology, organisation of work, working conditions, social relationships and the influence of factors related to the working environment,
  • giving collective protective measures over individual protective measures,
  • giving appropriate instructions to the workers.

Persons making a workplace assessment must be able to apply the principles including:

  • identifying safety and health problems,
  • evaluating and prioritising the need for changes,
  • presenting proposals for possible solutions,
  • identifying situations in which assistance from special experts is needed.

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 get a complete picture of potential exposures and dangers at the enterprise.

Typical exposures and dangers are in particular related to:

  • Physical factors: work premises and the surrounding of the workplace, noice, vibration, lighting, etc.
  • Physiological factors: heavy work, repetitive work, work postures, etc.
  • Psychological factors: working hours, time pressure, monotonous work, self-determination/influence, work in isolation, etc.
  • Chemical factors: substances and materials, or working processes generating substances and materials;
  • Biological factors: biological agents, e.g. bacteria, virus, fungi, parasites, etc.
  • Risks of accidents: machines, hand tools, other technical equipment, movement, handling, fire, explosions, etc.

In order to ensure that all aspects of health and safety at work included in the workplace assessment, it is important that the internal safety organisation and the employees participate in the planning and implementation of the workplace assessment.

3.6 Developing of the supervision of the occupational health and safety

Legislative harmonization requires an effective infrastructure. This implies effective management of undertakings, appropriate training of employees and efficient Labour Inspectorate.

The Labour Inspectorate must insure, by all the means at its disposal, that the law is enforced and the required administrative procedures are applied in the field of health and safety at work. The means to achieve this in the field of health and safety, inspection at the workplace are:

  • to verify whether the employer has taken the necessary measures to comply with the legislation and provided the organisation and means to enable him to identify, rectify and prevent deficiencies that might present risks to those at work;
  • to stimulate the employer to protect the health and safety at work of all his employees, as required by the laws, regulations and administrative procedures, and thus to prevent accidents and ill-health;
  • 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;
  • to bring any deficiencies in the existing requirements to the notice of the authorities responsible for overseeing administrative requirements for the inspection of health and safety of persons at work.

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.

3.7 Follow- up of the National Policy on Working Environment

It is the task of the Ministry of Social Affairs to follow-up the implementation of the National Policy on Working Environment. In this, the Ministry makes use of the expertise and approval of the Working Environment Council and estimates of the need for revision of the policy.

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