What are the employer's obligations under the Working Conditions Act?

What are the employer’s obligations under the Working Conditions Act?

Every employee of a company must be able to work safely and healthily.

The Working Conditions Act (further abbreviated as Arbowet) is part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which consists of rules and guidelines to promote a safe working environment. The Working Conditions Act contains obligations with which employers and employees must comply. These apply to all places where work is performed (so also to associations and foundations and to part-time and flex workers, on-call workers, and people on 0-hour contracts). A company’s employer is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act within the company.

Three levels

Legislation on working conditions is divided into three levels: the Working Conditions Act, the Working Conditions Decree, and the Working Conditions Regulations.

  • The Occupational Health and Safety Act forms the basis and is also a framework law. This means that it does not contain rules on specific risks. Every organization and sector can decide how to implement its health & safety policy and lay it down in a health & safety catalog. However, the Working Conditions Decree and Working Conditions Regulations detail definite rules.
  • The Working Conditions Decree is an elaboration of the Working Conditions Act. It contains the rules employers and employees must comply with to counter occupational risks. It also has specific rules for several sectors and categories of employees.
  • The Health and Safety Order is again a further elaboration of the Health and Safety Decree. It involves detailed regulations. For example, the requirements that work equipment must meet or exactly how an occupational health and safety service must perform its statutory duties. These regulations are also mandatory for employers and employees.

Health and safety catalog

In a health and safety catalog, employer and employee organizations describe joint agreements on how they (will) comply with the government’s target regulations for healthy and safe working. A target regulation is a standard in the law with which companies must comply—for example, the maximum noise level. The catalog describes techniques and ways, good practices, bars, and practical guides for safe and healthy working and can be made at the branch or company level. Employers and employees are responsible for the content and distribution of a health and safety catalog.

Employers’ responsibilities

Below is a list of general responsibilities and obligations for employers included in the legislation. Specific agreements on these responsibilities may vary from one organization and industry to another.

  • Every employer must have an agreement with a health and safety service or company doctor: the primary contract. All workers must have access to a company doctor, and every company must cooperate with a company doctor. In addition, all employees can request a second opinion from a company doctor. The primary contract between the employer and the occupational health and safety service or company doctor stipulates which other occupational health and safety service(s) or company doctor(s) can be consulted to obtain a second opinion.
  • Adapt the design of workplaces, working methods, work equipment used, and work content to the personal characteristics of employees as much as possible. This also applies to employees with structural and functional limitations due to illness, for example.
  • The employer must limit monotonous and pace-bound work as much as possible (‘can reasonably be required).
  • The employer must prevent and mitigate major accidents involving dangerous substances as far as possible, the employer.
  • Workers should receive information and instruction. Information and education may concern the use of work equipment or personal protective equipment, but also how aggression and violence, and sexual harassment are dealt with in a company.
  • The employer must ensure notification and registration of occupational accidents and diseases.
  • The employer is responsible for preventing danger to third parties concerning employee work. Employers can also take out insurance for this purpose.
  • The employer must ensure the development and implementation of a health and safety policy. The health and safety policy is a detailed plan of action describing how companies can eliminate risk factors. With a health and safety policy, you can consistently demonstrate that safe and responsible action is being taken within the company. A health & safety policy includes risk inventory and evaluation (RI&E), sick leave policy, in-house emergency response service (BH)V, prevention officer, and PAGO.
  • The employer must record the company employees’ risks in a risk inventory and evaluation (RI&E). This also states how employees are protected against these risks. Such an inventory says whether health and safety are endangered by, for instance, unstable scaffolding, explosion hazard, a noisy environment, or working too long at a monitor. The RI&E must be submitted to an occupational health and safety service or certified expert for review.
  • Part of the RI&E is a Plan of Action. This sets out what the company is doing about these high-risk situations. This may involve providing personal protective equipment, replacing harmful machinery, and providing good information.
  • Where people work, absenteeism due to illness can also occur. Within the business continuity framework, the employer needs to explain how absence due to illness is dealt with in a sick leave policy. Conducting a sick leave policy is an implicitly defined legal duty for the employer and is explicitly mentioned in the Working Conditions Decree (art. 2.9). According to this article, the arbodienst advises conducting a structured, systematic, and adequate working conditions and sick leave policy. The arbodienst must contribute to its implementation, taking particular account of unique groups of employees.
  • For example, in-house emergency workers (FAFS officers) provide first aid in an accident or fire. The employer must ensure that there are enough FAFS officers. He must also ensure that they can perform their duties properly. There are no special training requirements. The employer can assume the tasks of the in-house emergency response himself. He must appoint at least one employee to replace him in his absence.
  • Employers are obliged to designate one of their employees as a prevention officer. A prevention officer works within a company – usually in addition to their ‘regular’ job – to help prevent accidents and absenteeism. The statutory duties of a prevention officer include: (co-)drawing up and carrying out the RI&E, advising and cooperating closely with the works council/staff representatives on good working conditions policy, and advising and collaborating with the company doctor and other occupational health and safety service providers. The employer may function as a prevention officer if the company has 25 or fewer employees.
  • The employer must allow the employee to undergo a periodic occupational health examination (PAGO). Incidentally, the employee is not obliged to participate in this.

The Netherlands Labour Inspectorate

The Netherlands Labour Inspectorate (NLA) regularly inspects whether employers and employees comply with health and safety rules. Their priority is on work situations that pose serious health risks. In case of violation, the NLA can impose several measures, ranging from a warning to a fine or even stoppage of work.

Importance of health and safety policy

Having and implementing a clearly described health and safety policy is essential. This prevents adverse health effects and contributes to sustainable employability and productivity of employees. If an employee suffers damage due to work, he can hold the company liable and claim compensation. The employer must then be able to prove that it did everything reasonably practicable – in operational and economic terms – to prevent this damage.

Want to know how to apply the Occupational Health and Safety Act within your company? Our employment lawyers are happy to answer your questions. We can analyze your company’s risk factors and advise you on how to reduce them. 

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