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How to choose a health and safety representative

21 January 2017

The amendment of the Occupational Health and Safety Act made in July 2016 affected also the issue of electing a health and safety representative.

With its coming into force, the amendment significantly expanded the range of employers who will have to familiarise themselves with the institution of health and safety representative.

With the entry of the provision into force, all employers where the number of employees covered by the Labour Code reaches 20 people must chose a health and safety representative. Before the amendment, this number was 50.

Within six months of the date of entry into force, that is, 8 July 2016, employers must hold health and safety representative elections where the number of staff requires this or where a health and safety representative has not been elected yet.

The health and safety representative is entitled to make sure that the conditions related to a safe performance of work that has no health risks are enforced at the workplace, including, in particular:

  • inspect the safety of work stations, work equipment and personal protective equipment;
  • measures for the protection of health and prevention of accidents at work and occupational diseases are undertaken;
  • employees are prepared and have the knowledge about how to carry out their work in a safe manner that contains no hazards to the health.

In the context of these tasks, the health and safety representative

  • may enter - within the their operational area and during working hours - the work stations, and can request information about the workers who are working there;
  • can participate in the preparation of those decisions to be taken by the employer which may affect workers' health and safety, including the employment of professionals in accordance with the requirements, the planning and organization of occupational safety and health training, and decisions on the establishment of new work stations as well;
  • may request information from the employer on all issues that affect the safe performance of work that does not entail health hazards;
  • may express his or her opinion and initiate that the employer take the necessary action;
  • can take part in the investigation of work accidents and, if initiated by the authorised person, take part in the examination of the circumstances of an instance of occupational disease;
  • may, where appropriate, address a competent authority responsible for health and safety issues;
  • during official inspections, may communicate his or her observations to the inspector.

The representative or representatives are elected from among the employees to represent their rights and interests related to a safe performance of work that does not entail any health risks. The relevant provisions of the Labour Code and those of the Occupational Health and Safety Act regulate exactly who can be elected for the position to be held for five years.

Those employees with legal capacity who have been employed for at least six months by the given employer, are not members of the senior staff and work on the given site can become health and safety representatives.

That employee who exercises employer's rights, is a relative of the executive manager, is a member of the election committee or who in the framework of an employment relationship performs health and safety tasks for the employer on behalf of the employer, as a main activity, cannot be elected a health and safety representative.

The number of health and safety representatives is differentiated according to the number of employees employed by the employer. For instance, if the number of employees at the time of the election does not exceed 100 people - properly applying the provisions of the Labour Code with relevance to the members of the works council and the works trustee - three persons can be elected.

If the number of health and safety representatives reaches three people, they can establish a health and safety committee at that workplace. If a committee is established, the health and safety representative’s rights shall be exercised by the committee in its own name. In order to ensure safe working conditions which contain no danger to health, the health and safety representative (or committee) and the employer must cooperate in exercising the rights and in performance of the obligations.

If initiated by the committee, the employer or an authorised and empowered agent of the employer must take part in the committee’s meetings.

In addition to organising the election of the representative, it is important that the employer ensures the necessary operating conditions and the relevant professional standards for the elected health and safety representative, as otherwise the health and safety authority can impose a health and safety fine.

For the performance of his or her duties, the health and safety representative is entitled to time off work equivalent to a minimum of 10% of their work time per month. Within one year after the election, an opportunity must be ensured for the representative to participate in at least a16-hour basic training, after which he or she shall take part in at least an 8-hour further training each year.  The training costs must be borne by the employer and the training of the representative can take place only during regular working hours.