In 2015, working environment consultants started working at the Labour Inspectorate, whose main task is to consult employers on occupational health and safety in the company. The Labour Inspectorate has created a working environment consultant service to provide employers with more personal support and advice. The consulting service is offered all over Estonia, regardless of location. The consulting service is free for companies.
The manager of a small and medium-sized company is exposed to dozens of subjects in their daily work: sales, marketing, accounting, production, customer complaints, personnel work, and much more, which requires special knowledge and skills. In the context of all these problems, issues related to the safety and health of workers may not receive enough attention, but this can be detrimental to both the employee and the employer, for example if the employee suffers an injury at work.
The consulting service is also intended for new companies to help pay attention to occupational health and safety from the very beginning. Unfortunately, even today we see companies that have been operating for many years, but the safety of the working environment has not been addressed.
Issues concerning the working environment are becoming increasingly important in a situation where the labour force in Estonia is shrinking and employers have to make themselves attractive to employees. For example, why should a trained and qualified welder want to work in a company where there is no ventilation and poor conditions when they have the opportunity to go to work in a company where more is invested in the well-being of employees?
What do the consultants do?
The consultants’ main task is to consult employers on occupational health and safety in the company. The consultant advises the employer on setting up a work environment management system, rather than looking for individual violations in the working environment. They can be invited to a general company consultation covering the entire working environment and documentation, as well as to a consultation on a specific area of the working environment (e.g. use of personal protective equipment).
The service of consulting the whole company is offered to small and medium-sized companies. In large companies, the area of consultation must be defined before the visit, such as the organisation of health examinations or mentoring and training. Defining the area of consultation is necessary in order to focus on what is important during the consultation, rather than having to go through all of the topics in a hurry. If it turns out that there are more issues to be discussed, a new consultation can be agreed.
What does the consultant not do?
The working environment consultant does not prepare internal documents or their projects (e.g. risk analysis, safety manual). However, it is possible to review existing documents, such as work environment risk analysis and safety instructions, and discuss what could be better reflected in the documents or given more attention. The consultant also does not provide training for the employees.
When can a consultant not visit a company?
The consultant cannot visit the company where the supervision procedure is taking place (including the procedure for investigating an accident at work or an occupational disease). The Labor Inspectorate wishes to keep the supervision procedure and the consultation service separate in order to avoid later misunderstandings in the interpretation of the results of the simultaneous procedure and consultation.
How is the consultation done?
The consultation of the working environment in the company begins with the introduction of the company’s employees and the consultant. If necessary, it is specified which part of the working environment or which risk factor should be paid special attention to. Then, a tour of the company’s working environment (production workshop, office, cowshed, etc.) is given, during which the consultant gives recommendations for improvement. The advantage of a consultant is the ability to look at the work environment with fresh eyes – they are not used to a cord in the aisle, for example, and will definitely notice it. At the same time, employees who see the cord every day no not even notice it anymore. In addition, consultants are able to notice bottlenecks in the work environment because it is their job and they see a wide range of problems in the work environment. Work environment consultants see different work environments all the time and are therefore able to suggest solutions that may be helpful to the company being consulted.
When the tour in the working environment is completed, the working environment consultant examines the company’s documents (including risk analysis, safety instructions, registration of instructions) and, if necessary, makes recommendations to make them more relevant.
Finally, the identified shortcomings and recommendations for improving the working environment are discussed once again.
After the consultation
Within five working days after the visit, the working environment consultant will send a written summary of the visit to the employer.
If the employer has questions after consulting or wants to review the activities performed, they may contact the consultant again. The role of the consultant is not limited to one visit, but it is possible to cooperate for a longer period of time if desired. For example, we have clients who have invited us to consult again because the work environment specialist has changed and the new specialist wants to get acquainted with the topic quickly.
After consulting the company, the employer is given time to implement the consultant’s recommendations, during which time labour inspectors will not inspect the company. Exceptions are situations that indicate a serious violation of occupational health and safety requirements – these may be evident from a notification or complaint of an accident at work or an occupational disease.
How can you invite a working environment consultant to your company?
If you would like to invite a working environment consultant to your company, send an e-mail to the general address of the Labour Inspectorate email@example.com.
If you have any questions, please contact Rein Reisberg, the working environment consultant (phone 504 8935, firstname.lastname@example.org) or Piret Kaljula, the working environment consultant (phone 529 5020, email@example.com).