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Everyday health and safety and work

A common right to safe and hygienic working conditions, results right from the Constitution of the Republic of Poland (Art. 66). Employer’s duty is to provide their employees safe and hygienic working conditions, whereas employees’ duty is to obey health and safety at work and performing supervisor’s orders in this respect. General rules, as well as rights and duties concerning both employer and employee are presented in Health and safety at work – what really is that? (Bezpieczeństwo i higiena pracy – co to tak naprawdę jest?). In this article issues concerning accident at work, occupational diseases, trainings, individual protection means will be discussed. Moreover, there will be presented some issues on the rules how health and safety protection services as well as company’s health and safety at work committee function.

Accidents at work

An accident at work is an unpredictable sudden occurrence during actions performed at work. An accident at work is always caused by external reasons, which according to the Supreme Court’s Ruling (the Resolution of 7 judges of the Supreme Court of 11 February 1963, file ref. No. Act III PO 15/62) means that ‘the causative reason (...) for accident at work can be every external factor (that means which does not result from a person’s internal characteristics) able to bring about harmful effects in the existing conditions. In this meaning the external reason can be not only a tool, machines, forces of nature, but also work and actions performed by the injured themselves – e.g. stumble, reaction. The reason in this case is also employee’s excessive effort‘ – states the Supreme Court. The connection between such occurrence and a performed job happens while a job is performed or in connection to performing simple actions, orders or activities by a worker in their employer’s interest and during working hours as well. Furthermore, equivalent to accident at work is an accident which occurs during business trip (understood as every trip of an employee outside the place of work in order to perform actions related to their job), in connection to a job performed in a self-defence formation or fire brigade acting in employment enterprise and while performing actions ordered by organizations acting in employment enterprise. Equal to accident at work is also an accident on employee‘s way to work and during their way back home from work. Nevertheless, accident at work is not an occurrence on the premises of employment enterprise during working hours, if an employee act the way or takes actions which does not result from their employment or are against its purposes (the Supreme Court’s Ruling of 29 September 1978, file ref. No.  II PRN 21/78).

A fatality is not only an accident which results in an injured immediate death, but also when a decease occurs some time after an accident, which in the light of medical knowledge stays in a cause-and-effect relationship with injuries or an ailment caused by an accident. A collective accident is an occurrence when at least two persons are injured. A hard accident at work is an occurrence when an injured person lost their sight, hearing, speech, ability to give birth or suffered other hard physical disability, hard incurable disease or long-lasting disease which is actually a danger for life, permanent mental disease, complete or considerable permanent inability to work, or permanent significant body disfigurement or deformity.

The Article 234 of L.C. imposes on an employer a certain duties related to an accident at work. These are:

  • taking necessary actions eliminating or reducing risk;
  • providing first aid to injured person or persons;
  • establishment of an accident circumstances and reasons;
  • using appropriate precautions to prevent similar accidents in the future;
  • prompt notification of a fatal, hard or collective accident at work as well as every other accident which happened and can be considered an accident at work to a competent district Labour Inspector and prosecuting attorney.

Moreover an employer is obliged to hold a register of accidents at work and bear all costs related to establishment of such occurrence circumstances and reasons.  

Occupational diseases

Not every disease caused by harmful factors in work environment is an occupational disease.             Against popular understanding of that term, occupational disease is strictly a disease which is listed in a special occupational diseases register – an appendix to the regulation of the Council of Ministers referring to this issue (CM Regulation of 18 November 1983 for occupational diseases – Journal of Laws, No. 65, item 294 with later changes), if it is not caused by health harmful factors in work environment. Diseases not listed in the register, if caused by harmful factors present in working environment, in literature are called employee diseases.  If the frequency of their occurrence increases, then after some time they are listed in the official annex and become occupational diseases. The current register includes 20 groups of occupational diseases.

When assessing a harmful factor in work environment we particularly take into consideration: type, degree and time of occupational exposure, way of job performance, direct contact with infectiously sick or materials which come from them, and are factors which cause cancerous, allergic and invasive diseases.

An employer is obliged to promptly notify a competent organ of National Sanitary Inspectorate and a competent district labour inspector every case of occupational disease diagnosis as well as every case of such disease appearance (Art. 235 of L.C.). The same duty refers to a doctor who diagnoses or suspects occupational disease appearance. In case of one of such diseases diagnosis an employer:

  • establish the cause of the occupational disease and the nature and extent of the disease risk, acting in consultation with the competent organ of National Sanitary Inspectorate;
  • start to immediately remove the factors that cause the occupational disease and use other necessary preventive measures;
  • ensure that the doctor’s recommendations are implemented.

Moreover, an employer who noted at least one case of such disease is obliged to hold a register of occupational diseases cases and suspicions of such diseases.

Employer takes responsibility for the appearance of the accidents at work and occupational diseases in their employment enterprise. He is obliged to systematically analyse the causes of occupational diseases and to apply the appropriate preventive measures referring to the results of these analyses. Nevertheless, an employer can get freed from this obligation, on condition that he proves that the reason for the accident was employee’s violation of the rules concerning life and health security.

Benefits for employees who had an accident at work or went down with an occupational disease

An employee who had an accident at work or went down with an occupational disease is entitled to the following benefits of social insurance (Act on benefits of social insurance for accidents at work and occupational diseases – Journal of Laws, No. 199, item 1673 with later changes):

  • sickness benefit;
  • rehabilitation benefit – for an insured person who after the benefit exhaustion is still incapable of performing their work but the further treatment forecasts improvement in their ability to work;
  • compensatory benefit – for an employee whose remuneration has been reduced due to a permanent or long-term health impairment;
  • one-time benefit for an insured person;
  • one-time benefit for a deceased person’s family;
  • pension for work incapacity;
  • training pension – for an insured person who is obliged to change their professional qualifications;
  • family pension – for members of a deceased person’s family;
  • family pension allowance – for a completely orphaned child;
  • nursing allowance;
  • medical costs reimbursement within the scope specified the act.

Moreover, an employee who experienced an accident at work is entitled to a compensation for a loss or a damage of their personal belongings as well as belongings necessary to perform their job (except for cars or financial value).

Training

The employer must not permit an employee to perform their duties if they do not have the appropriate qualifications or required skills to perform this work (Art. 2373 § 1 L.C.). Furthermore, employer must not let their employees work if they are not familiar with the rules and regulations of health and safety at work. That essential minimum knowledge in health and safety at work must be absorbed by an employee in their employment enterprise by an appropriate training organized during working hours at employer’s cost (employers do not have a right – which often happens – shift those costs to employees. There are no regulations specifying the terms of sending employees to different companies and training institutions on their own expense). Training has to take place before admitting an employee to perform their duties and has a form of general and job position training. It should be finalised with a verification test of acquired knowledge and skills.

The general training should be organized to let an employee learn the basic health and safety at work regulations of Labour Code, collective labour agreement and company rules and regulations, company health and safety at work regulations as well as first-aid rules. The job position training has to familiarise employees with potential risk related to their workplaces and professional risk related to the job they perform, protection measures as well as methods of safety at work. An employee confirms the fact of their having done the job position training by their written confirmation on the training card, which is kept in their personal records.

Periodical trainings are to establish and update knowledge and skills in the area of health and safety at work. Periodical trainings of manual workers are carried out not less frequently than once every 3 years, whereas in case of job positions exposed to a large health and life risk - not less frequently than one a year.  As far as other positions are concerned – including managerial and office job positions – not less frequently than once every 5 years.

Details concerning training in the area of health and safety at work regulations are defined by the resolution of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy of 27 July 2004, Journal of Laws no. 180, item 1860 with later changes.  

Personal protection measures. Working clothes and shoes

An employer is obliged to provide an employee with necessary personal protection measures, working clothes and shoes, before they permit an employee to perform their work. Their duty is also to notify their employees how to use those measures (Art. 2376 L.C.). Measures protecting employees from harmful factors in the working environment have to be consistent with definite quality standards. Defective equivalents must not be applied.

Employer is obliged to provide working clothes and shoes free of charge to employees:

  • who perform activities directly related to machines and other technical devices service or work which can cause intensive clothes or shoes soil or pollution with chemical, radioactive or biologically infectious materials;
  • who perform activities which can cause their own clothes damage or a considerable soil;
  • for technological, sanitarian or health and safety at work reasons.

In other cases an employer can specify positions on which employees, by their agreement, are allowed to use their own working clothes and shoes. However, in that case employees are entitled to an adequate equivalent in money.

Health and safety at work service. H&S committee

Duty to establish company’s health and safety at work service refers employers, who hire more than 100 employees. If a company employs less than 100 people, an employer has a right to assign that duty to a specialist from outside the company or an employee performing other duties (Art. 23711 of L.C.). An employer has a right to perform that duty on their own, if they employ up to 10 employees or up to 20 employees, but is classified into a business activity group where the risk category, within the meaning of regulations on social insurance for accidents at work and occupational diseases, is defined as low level. A competent labour inspector can order the employer to establish health and safety at work service or increase the number the service’s workers, in case a company runs a special type of activity.

The health and safety at work service in a company does not possess any power. It is an advisory and supervisory body and is subject directly to the employer. It is entitled to:

  • control health and safety at work and obedience of its regulations at all workplaces;
  • submit recommendations to remove the established risk, damages and inadvertence within health and safety at work to employees managers;
  • submit applications for penalizing employees responsible for negligence and failure within health and safety at work to the employer;
  • immediately stop the machine or device in case an employee or other persons‘ life or health risk was established;
  • remove from work a person employed by work health and safety at work is not allowed to perform;
  • submit to the employer to stop work on the whole premises of the employment enterprise or its part in case an employee or other persons‘ life or health risk was established.

The employment enterprises, which employ more than 250 persons, should establish health and safety at work committee as the advisory and consultative body of the employer, regardless of health and safety at work service. The purpose of the committee is supporting employer in performing their duties as far as health and safety at work is concerned. According to the Article 23711a of L.C., an employer consults with their employees all actions concerning health and safety at work, in particular changes in workplace organisation, implementation of the new technological processes, professional risk assessment, establishment of health and safety at work service, assigning employees means of protection as well as matters concerning trainings. Company’s health and safety at work committee should consist of: employer or their authorised representative, social labour inspector or employees’ representative and an occupational physician, employees of health and safety at work as well as the representatives of trade unions or staff. The committee carries out regular inspections of working conditions, periodical health and safety at work condition assessment, passes judgement on accidents prevention activities and formulates proposals concerning improvement of working conditions.

Sławomir Krenczyk