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Amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act

The year 2021 has already brought and will continue to bring amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (hereinafter OHSA) and it is worth keeping in mind the dates of 1 March and 1 September.

However, the main keywords are modernity and the reduction of the administrative burden for employers, and we can point this out in the case of the updated OHSA.

It should be said, however, that for employers who operate in accordance with the OHSA in their working environment and know what needs to be done to look after the health of their employees and have control over the health and safety at work, not much will change and they will stay on the right side of the law.

It is now appropriate to go over the steps taken to modernise the act and how it reduces the administrative burden on employers.

  1. The first keyword is TEIS (work-life information system) and using it, which labour inspectors and, to a lesser extent, employers have already started doing. From now on, employers will have even better opportunities to operate in the TEIS environment.

First, some background information: The Labour Inspectorate has already been using information systems in its work for many years, which have been updated and supplemented, if necessary. This information system contains data about what has taken place in the Estonian working environment, what kind of supervision has been exercised, which information has been shared with employers, social partners, etc. A general term for this information system is the working environment database also used by the OHSA. Today, the Labour Inspectorate uses a new information system (TEIS) and the old information system (ITI).
 Each step is taken closer to the new, leaving aside the old, and the transition will take place gradually as developments are completed to ensure a smooth and unhindered progress. The data composition of the provided systems is established in the statutes of the working environment database. At the OHSA level, the working environment database is therefore used as a common denominator and no new or old information system is distinguished, as there will be no overlap in the systems. However, all legal changes concerning the working environment database are already being made for the development of TEIS.

Coming back to TEIS, however, the new information system will ensure the availability of information, facilitate the communication of entrepreneurs with the state and create new services for entrepreneurs, enabling each party to ensure occupational safety more effectively than before.

As of 1 March, section 134 of the OHSA will be added which deals with matters related to the risk assessment of the working environment. The requirement remains in force that an employer prepares a risk analysis of the working environment, plans activities to prevent risks, informs employees about the risk assessment and, if necessary, updates the assessment. However, a requirement is added that an employer uploads the existing risk assessment to TEIS, forwards it to the Labour Inspectorate in a format that can be reproduced in writing, or uses the opportunity to prepare the risk assessment in TEIS, which will be completed in spring.

The risk assessment tool to be completed in spring will help the employer to assess the risks of the work environment. The risk assessment tool raises the awareness of companies of the working environment and the risks associated with it, and provides employers with the help, decision-making support and feedback they need to improve the working environment in order to create safe and healthy working conditions.

Employers can enter self-service environment via

  1. Next, changes are made to the OHSA that ensure a safe working environment in a situation where both employees and service providers are working in the company at the same time (e.g. persons working under an authorisation contract or a contract for services) or where only service providers operate in the working environment.

The legislation that was valid until 1 March stipulated that only self-employed persons had occupational safety obligations. As an update, a service provider has an obligation to inform its employers of the risks associated with their activities and to ensure that their activities do not endanger employees who work in the same working environment. Similarly, employers must inform the service providers working with their employees about the dangers at the workplace and about the organisation of rescue operations and first aid. Employers also have an obligation to investigate occupational accidents that have occurred with service providers working in the same environment as their employees. As an innovation, the draft obliges two service providers working in the same working environment to exchange information, inform each other of the risks involved in their activities and ensure that their activities do not endanger other employees.

Who is defined as a service provider? By a service provider, we mean a chimney sweeper, a working environment surveyor, a repairman, an electrician, a risk analyst, a window cleaner, a device (tool) installer, a tuner, a repairer, etc. invited to the company. He or she is an independent operator in any field who goes to the working environment of another employer.

  1. Employers also have greater decision-making power over the preparation of the safety instructions because the need for the safety instructions becomes clear from the risk assessment.

The mandatory nature/necessity of the safety instructions must be assessed on the basis of the working environment, the hazards/use of the device, the instructions for use, and the general principle remains that there is a health risk. If the use of work equipment or the performance of work involves a risk of an occupational accident or a risk of developing a work-related illness, safety instructions must also be drawn up for the work equipment or the work to be performed too. However, if there is no risk of damage to health, there is no need to draw up safety instructions.

Thus, it is not necessary to prepare safety instructions for a glove in a bakery, a pen or a caliper in a design office, a stapler in an office. However, it is absolutely necessary to compile a safety manual for a disc cutter, panel saw, working with a monitor, etc.

  1. The term of authority of the employees' representatives (the working environment representative and a representative of the employees of the working environment council) also changes and is decided only by the meeting of employees.

To clarify, whereas in the past the term of authority of the above-mentioned representatives was four years, this is now much more flexible and is only decided by the meeting of employees. For the purposes of the updated law, it may also be decided that the authority is valid indefinitely. In this case, new elections must be held, for example, when the representative resigns or waives the performance of their duties. Also if the employees are no longer satisfied with the representative and recall them.