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Work-related illnesses

A work-related illness is an illness caused or exacerbated by occupational hazards.

In the working environment, a person may be exposed to various hazards, which are physical, chemical, biological, physiological and psychosocial hazards. Prolonged exposure to these hazards can have an adverse effect on employees’ health and lead to work-related illnesses, which under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) can be:

1. Illnesses caused by work 
2. Occupational diseases

In Estonia, work-related illnesses are diagnosed by an occupational health doctor. Occupational diseases are diagnosed at the Centre of Occupational Diseases and Health of the North Estonia Medical Centre. To be referred to the Center for Occupational Diseases and Occupational Health, you must have a referral from a family doctor or an occupational health doctor or other specialist. In the absence of a referral, you can also turn to paid reception without a referral. The occupational health doctor who diagnosed the occupational disease shall inform the employer and the Labour Inspectorate of the employee’s occupational disease in writing or in a format which can be reproduced in writing no later than within five days after diagnosing the disease. 

Illness caused by work

An illness caused by work is an illness caused by a working environment hazard and not deemed to be an occupational disease. Illnesses caused by work that are diagnosed in due time can be treated and their exacerbation and onset of occupational disease prevented. The occupational health doctor shall notify the Labour Inspectorate of the diagnosis of an illness caused by work, but does not have to notify the employer. However, if the illness prevents the employee from performing their duties the employee has an obligation to inform the employer thereof.

Occupational diseases

An occupational disease is an illness caused by a risk factor in the work environment or the nature of work mentioned in the list of occupational diseases (in Estonian). Occupational diseases are characterised by slow, gradual development. The disease may be so unnoticeable that the person cannot even suspect it. An occupational disease is a long-term illness. It also often happens that one person has several occupational diseases.

The circumstances and causes of an occupational disease are determined by an investigation conducted by the employer, in which the working environment representative or, in the absence thereof, the representative of the employees, must participate with the right to vote. If the employer does not have the necessary knowledge, they must involve a competent expert in the investigation.

The employer has an obligation to investigate all cases of occupational disease. The employer must carry out the investigation of the occupational disease no later than within 20 working days after receiving notice of the occupational disease. The investigation ends with the drawing of a report on the occupational disease. The employer shall submit the report to the Labour Inspectorate and the employee or the person representing their interests within 3 working days after the completion of the investigation. The report specifies the measures taken by the employer to prevent a similar occupational disease. The employer registers cases of occupational diseases and communicates the relevant information to the working environment specialist, the working environment commissioner, the representative of employees, and the working environment council. Attention must be drawn to the fact that the data on the health status of an employee obtained in the course of an investigation of an occupational disease are sensitive personal data which are processed pursuant to the procedure provided for in the Personal Data Protection Act. Records of occupational disease research are kept for 55 years.

Investigation of occupational diseases

The aims of an investigation of an occupational disease are:

  • impartial investigation of the occupational disease in order to establish the circumstances and causes of the occupational disease and any causal links between the nature of the employee’s job or risk factors in their working environment and the occupational disease;
  • verification of compliance with the occupational health and safety requirements established by law, identification of any violations, and adoption of measures to prevent further violations in the working environment;
  • advising of the employer on ensuring the safety of the job or working environment in order to prevent occupational diseases, investigation of the implementation of adopted measures, and prescribing of safeguards to prevent similar cases of occupational diseases in the future.

After the investigator has identified the circumstances relevant to the case, they will prepare an investigation report detailing the circumstances of the case, linking the facts to evidence, indicating the causes of the occupational diseases and any causal links between the accident and the employee’s job or working environment, as well as the position of the Labour Inspectorate regarding the working environment and working arrangements of the employee who contracted the disease, the employer’s activities, and measures which the employer must implement in order to prevent similar cases of occupational diseases in the future. The investigation report will also list any violations of occupational health and safety requirements discovered in the course of the investigation. The investigator will submit copies of the investigation report to the employer and the employee who contracted the disease or the person defending their interests within 3 working days after the signing of the investigation report.

Violations of occupational health and safety requirements identified in the course of an investigation may lead to the issue of a precept or the initiation of misdemeanour proceedings.

Last updated: 01.07.2022