Labor Relations Issue: Occupational Health and Safety

Abstract

The problem of occupational health and safety is of high significance from both ethical and practical perspectives. Hence, on the one hand, employees have a right to receive consistent protection of their lives and health during work time. On the other hand, employers are interested in high productivity and efficient performance that can be ensured under good working conditions.

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The paper at hand targets to provide a complex review of the occupational health and safety problem. Thus, it discusses the problem’s background, the key principles of health and safety insurance, and the relevant laws and regulations. A particular focus is put on the main points of concern that are particularly problematic to address.

Introduction

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an efficient enterprise performance is mainly determined by the positive relations between an employee and the employer. Therefore, companies are highly interested in ensuring healthy and safe workplaces. Hence, occupational health and safety (OHS) are mainly targeted to promote and maintain workers’ well-being in their occupations. It also aims to protect them from work-related risks and improve the general working conditions that might have a negative effect on the workers’ health (International Labour Organization, 2016).

It should be noted that the government is likewise interested in promoting OHS. Thus, it is assumed that unhealthy working conditions are likely to impede the employees’ productivity and, thus, impact the general economic growth in a negative manner. As a consequence, this problem is addressed particularly actively in different states, including the EU. The Union makes considerable efforts aimed at promoting occupational health and safety within the member countries.

Thus, for example, the European Commission has already designed a Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020 that targets to ensure that the essential safety norms and standards are timely implemented, and the potential risks are foreseen in advance. It is expected that this strategy will become a detailed guideline for the EU companies and employers (European Commission, 2014).

Background

The problem of OHS has always been an important point of concern for both employers and employees. Hence, Reese (2008) notes that some basic principles of workplace safety were addressed by the Egyptians and Romans living in 100 BC (p. 2). It shows that this problem is an inseparable part of the organizations’ performance as it determines its efficiency largely. The beginning of the twentieth century marked the appearance of various laws and legislation aimed at protecting the workers’ health and promoting their right for safe workplaces. Hence, in 1916, the workers’ health-related compensation was legally registered for the first time. In the framework of the relevant legislation, employers were proclaimed responsible for ensuring healthy and safe working conditions.

Since that time, numerous committees and organizations targeted to promote a healthy workplace have appeared. One such organization is ILO that has already adopted more than 40 standards and codes that promote the establishment of healthy working practices (International Labour Organization, 2016).

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The Key Principles of OHS

The OHS promotion relies upon a series of principles. First and foremost, it implies that all employees have a right to working under healthy and safe conditions. Otherwise stated, the working conditions should not hazard their health and lives and should offer the possibilities of the workers’ professional realization.

Secondly, OHS implies the establishment of the relevant policies. Hence, such policies should be implemented at all levels, including governmental and enterprise levels. It is also expected that these policies are communicated to both employers and employees.

Another principle resides in establishing a national OHS system and OHS program. In other words, it is proposed that each country should design such an OHS system that would serve a consistent framework for building appropriate working conditions. The design of the OHS program should be carried out with the participation of the key stakeholders.

It is also considered important that OHS policies target not only workers’ protection but the incidents’ prevention as well. In addition, these two processes should be continuous – the OHS policy should be renovated and improved on a regular basis. In order to ensure consistent improvement, it is recommended to collect the relevant data and involve high-qualified specialists for its analysis.

One of the OHS principles also implies the establishment of special OHS services that will be generally accessible so that any worker can address this service and require assistance in protecting his or her rights. The basic rights that each worker possesses notwithstanding the character of the occupation are a right for compensation, curative services, and rehabilitation.

It should be pointed out that education and training compose the basis of the OHS approach. Thence, it is assumed that OHS cannot be established unless the key stakeholders do not realize the importance of OHS and the ways of its promotion. The stakeholders should likewise have a clear idea of their OHS responsibilities.

Finally, the last OHS principle implies that working conditions should be regularly checked by the relevant authorities, such as inspectors, on their meeting the OHS-related laws and regulations (Alli, 2008).

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OHS Rights and Responsibilities

There are three main groups of OHS rights and responsibilities that should be considered in the framework of OHS activity. First and foremost, it is the rights of the employees. Generally speaking, they imply the workers’ rights for their lives and health protection at the workplace that is included in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More specifically, every employee has a right to be warned about potential threats, informed about the methods of risk prevention, and a right to stop working in emergency cases.

The next group comprises the responsibilities of employers. This means they are obliged to perform the essential activities to prevent health-related risks at work. They are likewise expected to promote OHS through special training and independent audits. The former element is of particular importance as employees should know how to behave in case of work-related injuries and emergencies.

The third group implies the duties of governments. Hence, in the framework of the OHS promotion, it is assumed that the government should provide the relevant legislative basis that will regulate the employer’s OHS activity. In addition, the government should ensure that the special authorities examine the workplace health and safety on its meeting the set standards regularly (Alli, 2008).

OHS Framework

Speaking about OHS, it is essential to mention The Promotional Framework for Occupational Health and Safety and the associated recommendations. Within this framework, the promotion activity can be carried out through three dimensions: the prevention of health-related injuries, workplace health promotion, and the establishment of the relevant regulations. It is likewise recommended to employ the three tools to ensure positive outcomes: a national OHS policy, a national OHS system, and a national OHS program (Alli, 2008).

The formulation of a national OHS policy is a multi-stage process that should rely upon several principles. First and foremost, the policy should imply the participation of all the affected parties: workers, employers, and the government. Secondly, its principles should coincide with those proclaimed by the national development program. The policy is expected to promote the employers’ rights and describe the ways of their promotion. Moreover, the national OHS policy is supposed to review the core informational sources that need to be addressed to ensure effective OHS training. Finally, this policy should be reviewed and improved regularly. Generally speaking, such policy targets to point out the most critical problems and solutions and indicate key priorities.

The national OHS system, in its turn, consists of the five main elements. First and foremost, it includes all the relevant laws and regulations or the so-called OHS tool basis. Secondly, it describes the legislative responsibilities of all the parties and the control mechanisms. It should also comprise the information regarding the training provision: the format, the essential information sources, potential research, etc. Furthermore, it is expected to review the mechanisms of data collection and analysis. Finally, it should provide a clear idea of the improvement techniques.

The composition of a national OHS program is another multi-stage process. It essentially implies a series of steps. The first step is the common agreement to establish the national OHS policy. The next step is to define the available collaboration mechanisms. Then, it is essential to prepare the national profile that will report the key OHS-related data. After that, it is necessary to analyze the national OHS system and point out its strengths and weaknesses. As long as the priorities are identified, a detailed action plan needs to be worked out. The further steps imply the launch of the national OHS program and its regular review and improvement.

Related Statistics

Although a theoretic review shows that there is a consistent basis for establishing high OHS standards within an enterprise, statistics illustrate that the problem of health-related incidents is still acute. First and foremost, it should be pointed out that the situation is constantly changing.

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Thus, in 2009, 8.6% of EU workers report experiencing work-related health problems. This number might be explained by the fact that many respondents claim that they are exposed to various risk factors at their workplaces. The number of those who report experiencing work-related accidents is lower – according to the provided statistics, it makes only 3.6% (Norre, 2009).

More recent statistics show that the situation is improving. Therefore, the current research has revealed that the number of non-fatal workplace accidents is gradually decreasing within the EU. Hence, for instance, the number of non-fatal work-related accidents in 2012 was below 2,500 million, while a year earlier, this variable would make about three hundred more. The number of fatal work-related accidents is significantly smaller.

Hence, only one accident out of seven hundred would turn out to be fatal in 2012. It should also be noted that the incidence rate varies in different member countries. Thus, according to the provided statistics, the highest incidence is viewed in such countries as Latvia, Malta, and Luxemburg. Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and Greece would, on the contrary, show the lowest incidence rates (Eurostat, 2015).

Another interesting piece of statistics that should be essentially overviewed is the European Working Conditions Survey. According to the research, the major part of the EU residents claims to be informed of the work-related risks. The major part of the respondents likewise claims that they are satisfied with the working conditions provided by their employers. The survey has also revealed that the average working time has been continuously reducing throughout the past decade. Meanwhile, the number of people that report being exposed to poisonous chemicals or infectious materials at the workplace has increased by 2% since 2010 (Eurofund, 2015). Therefore, it might be concluded that despite the generally positive flow, some areas of OHS still need to be improved.

Related Laws and Regulations

The main legislative basis of the OHS in EU is The OSH Framework Directive that was adopted in 1989. The adoption of the Directive Framework implied a series of innovations. First and foremost, it provided a detailed characterization of the “working conditions” term in accordance with the ILO Convention. Secondly, it proclaimed the establishment of equal working conditions regardless of their occupation. In addition, it defined the employers’ obligations in terms of OHS provision.

Moreover, it put a particular emphasis on risk assessment and prevention as the main determinants of a successful OHS promotion. Finally, it defined the importance of new safety management approaches (OSHA, 2016).

Another basic element of the EU legislation in terms of OHS is Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. According to this Article, the Union is obliged to support such initiatives of the member states as the improvement of the working environment and working conditions, the provision of social security and protection, the provision of the relevant information and safety guidelines, the equality establishment, to name but a few. It should be noted that the described provision is to be applied to OHS exclusively; hence, they do not relate to the working pay and associations (EUR-LEX, 2016).

It should be pointed out that the described Article serves to be the basis for the composition of additional directives. Hence, for instance, additional directives might address the specification of such aspects as particular tasks, hazards, workplace sectors, working populations, and other work-related elements (OSHA, 2016).

OHS Disputes

The resolution of OHS disputes requires a consistent framework. Hence, it is first and foremost, critical to define the affected parties. As a rule, the stakeholders involved in OHS issues are workers, employers, or a designated workgroup. Employers have a right to involve their representatives to promote their interests. The representative should possess the relevant qualifications to advocate the employer’s rights.

In case of any work-related incident, the affected parties should act in accordance with the relevant regulations. The company’s strategy might contain the essential resolution procedure. In case the strategy fails to provide such a procedure, the parties should use the procedure described by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

An agreed procedure is an optimal solution that facilitates the resolution of OHS disputes. In the framework of this procedure, the parties are supposed to define a step-by-step action plan that can be carried out within the existing circumstances. The resolution procedure normally implies several stages. The first stage is issue reporting. Hence, in case any affected party is eager to start an OHS dispute, he or she should essentially report the issue to the corporate HSR. The next stage is the issue resolution. At this stage, it is critical to determine several points such as the number of affected workers, the possible solutions, the expected timeframe, and the employer’s representative. The results of the parties’ agreement should be necessarily reported to the corporate HSR.

In case the parties fail to come to the agreement they can involve the so-called Work Safe Inspector that will try to regulate the problem in accordance with the relevant legislative base (WorkSafe, 2012).

Points of Concern

The major point of concern associated with OHS promotion is the fact that it is rather problematic to evaluate the incidence of work-related diseases and injuries accurately. This difficulty can be explained by a series of factors. First and foremost, many companies neglect the incident reporting procedure. As a result, the Health and Safety Community is ignorant of a large scope of work-related problems. Secondly, many employees do not inform their physicians about the fact that their diseases might be related to poor working conditions. As a consequence, these diseases are not included in the OHS statistics.

Another point of concern is the difficulties associated with OHS promotion. These are limited financial resources and low awareness of the problem’s resolution. The latter problem is particularly critical as it impedes both the health promotion and the disease prevention processes. Hence, poorly trained employees are ignorant of the measures that should be taken in order to avoid work-related accidents, while poorly educated employers do not know how to create safe working conditions.

As a result, many workplace conditions do not meet the set standards. Hence, they might be located in unsafe buildings, poorly ventilated, or inaccessible to the relevant inspectors. Many enterprises also use old machinery that increases health-related workplace risks.

The described points of concern are the most common problems that can be viewed in modern society. Meanwhile, it should be pointed out that the problems vary in accordance with different regions and types of enterprises.

Labor and Management Viewpoints

The management approaches have been reshaping in response to the appearance of the new OHS risks. At present, many companies include safety and health management practices in their corporate strategies. Hence, for instance, the Bridgestone Group reports that it has designed a consistent health and safety management method that allows avoiding the most critical risks associated with OHS.

In the framework of this management approach, it is proposed to put a particular emphasis on four types of activities: maintaining the workplace order, identifying the potential hazards beforehand, assessing the most critical risks, and pursuing a consistent safety policy (CSR, 2014).

Conclusion

OHS is the problem that needs to be addressed by all the affected parties: employers, workers, and the government. The insurance of good working conditions is beneficial for all of them. Hence, workers are more likely to show effective performance under safe and healthy conditions; therefore, employers are more likely to receive larger revenues.

Statistics show that the situation has been gradually improving throughout the past decades. Therefore, it might be concluded that corporate management shows its awareness of the need to address the problem of OHS in a timely manner. Managers realize the beneficial side of low injury incidents and try to ensure appropriate working conditions.

Reference List

Alli, B.O. (2008). Fundamental Principals of Occupation Health and Safety. Geneva, International Labor Office.

CSR. (2014). Enhancing workplace safety and health, and employee health management. Web.

EUR-Lex. (2016). CONSOLIDATED VERSION OF THE TREATY ON EUROPEAN UNION. Web.

Eurofund. (2015). 6th EWCS – Infographic. Web.

European Commission. (2014). Health and safety at work: Strategic Framework sets out EU objectives for 2014-2020. Web.

Eurostat. (2015). Accidents at work statistics. Web.

International Labour Organization. (2016). Health and safety at work: Strategic Framework sets out EU objectives for 2014-2020. Web.

Norre, B. (2009). Population and social conditions. Web.

OSHA. (2016). The OSH Framework Directive. Web.

Reese, CD. (2008). Occupational Health and Safety Management: A Practical Approach. Boca Raton, Florida, CRC Press.

WorkSafe. (2012). Resolving occupational health and safety issues. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2020, November 8). Labor Relations Issue: Occupational Health and Safety. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/labor-relations-issue-occupational-health-and-safety/

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Labor Relations Issue: Occupational Health and Safety." November 8, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/labor-relations-issue-occupational-health-and-safety/.

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