Occupational Health and Safety Act

Occupational safety obligations of employer are getting a bit easier

Kristel Tiits Kristel Tiits

Amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act that came into force on 1 January 2019 will lead to a decrease in the administrative burden on employers. The terms for organising occupational health checks will be changed, provision of instruction to employees will become more flexible and the procedure for registering occupational safety instructions will also become simpler.

Employers will have more ways to motivate employees to practise safe working methods and use the required personal protective devices. Fines for employees who violate the rules will also increase.

Changes in performing occupational health checks

From now on, employers have a significantly longer period to schedule a medical examination for their employees. It may be scheduled for any time during the probationary period (within four months of being hired), not only during the first month of employment. It is important to emphasise that the employer must determine in the working environment risk analysis whether the employee needs to undergo a medical examination – if the risk analysis shows that the employee is exposed to hazards or if they may affect his or her health, the employee must undergo a medical examination.

As an exception, an employee must always undergo a medical examination before being exposed to a hazard in the workplace – in other words, before they start working in a work environment with risks and risk factors such as biological hazards, carcinogens, mutagens, exposure to lead and lead compounds and asbestos dust. In addition, the obligation to schedule a medical examination remains in place for employees working night shifts before they start working nights.

Regardless of the outcome of the risk analysis, it is compulsory to arrange a medical examination for employees working at night and employees who are exposed to lead, lead compounds or asbestos dust.

Providing instruction to employees

As a result of the changes, employers have more flexibility and decision-making power as to how and to what extent to provide instruction to employees. Categories of instruction are no longer defined in legislation – they used to be primary, introductory and in-service instruction. Now, instruction is divided into theoretical and practical instruction. In the course of practical instruction, employers arrange for practical training for employees, taking into account the peculiarities, complexity and hazards of the work. The objective of training is to teach safe techniques. Employers must be sure that before starting work, the employee has learnt safe techniques for working and that he or she can use them in practice.

The procedure for registering instruction will also become simpler. Now the employer registers the dates on which the instruction or training takes place and the content of the instruction or training in writing or a form reproducible in writing. This significantly lowers the administrative burden on employers and there is no obligation to keep a comprehensive diary on administering instruction. Instead, the necessary data (date and content of the instruction) are registered. The requirement of form also became more lenient – the employer can register the instruction and the employee confirm it in a form reproducible in writing, such as by email.

Possibility to agree on a contractual penalty

In the past, employers did not have ways of influencing employees other than issuing warnings as provided for in the Employment Contracts Act, followed by termination of employment upon a second violation. But now, if an employee fails to comply with the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act or violates these deliberately, causing a risk of an on-the-job accident or in the worst case, an actual accident, the employer can agree on a contractual penalty as a preventive measure as a way of disciplining the employee.

If a contractual penalty is agreed on, the restrictions in legislation still apply. For example, the penalty may not be greater than the employee’s average monthly salary and the employer must have provided instruction to the employee. Note also that the contractual penalty must apply both ways. Once an agreement on the contractual penalty is in place, the employee can also demand a contractual penalty from the employer if the company failed to provide supervision to the employee or furnish the employee with personal safety equipment.

The employer’s administrative burden is decreased

The amendments scrap the employer’s obligation to notify the Labour Inspectorate that the company is starting or changing the business activity. Because the relevant information is publicly available via the Commercial Register, there is no need or justified purpose to submit the same information again.

In addition, employers are not required to file reports to the Labour Inspectorate on every on-the-job accident but rather only if the accident results in temporary incapacity for work, severe bodily injury or the death of the employee. In case of death, the employer must also notify the police. Naturally, this does not mean an employer does not have to deal with investigating a less severe on-the-job accident – the goal of the investigation is ultimately to keep similar accidents from recurring in future – but there is no longer a formal obligation to file a report regarding such an on-the-job accident.

Increased fines

Fines have increased for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Labour Inspectorate can now impose fines of up to 32,000 euros. The goal of the larger monetary punishments is to motivate employers to comply with the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Based on your company’s business activity, we advise reviewing to what extent legislative amendments affect your activities. If you have any questions, contact kristel.tiits@ee.gt.com.

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