OSH in the Netherlands
Which parties help companies promote safe and healthy work?
Employers and employees are jointly responsible for safe and healthy work within an organisation. They reach agreements about the working conditions. Large organisations and companies conclude these agreements in consultation between the Works Council and the management board.
Each company must employ at least one health and safety officer who is able to implement the measures that focus on health and safety within a company. The director is allowed to hold the position of health and safety officer at small companies that have 25 employees or less.
The health and safety officer supports the employer in the performance of policy pertaining to safe and healthy work and is closely involved in drawing up the Risk Assessment and Evaluation (‘RI&E’). Read more about the Risk Assesment at www.rie.nl or on the website of the Online interactive Risk Assesment initiative.
Companies (the management) can apply to their trade association for support. Trade associations are often employer organisations that are able to represent an important part of the industry. An important activity of trade associations is conducting CLA negotiations (a CLA is a collective labour agreement) with employees and lobbying for the interests of the industry or sector in the world of politics and the government.
Employees may become members of a trade union. Trade unions negotiate on behalf of their members with employers or the party designated for this purpose, such as the employers’ organisation from the industry, concerning collective employment conditions, working conditions and in a more general sense concerning the employees’ rights and obligations. This may lead to a collective labour agreement (CLA). A trade union also acts to look after the interests of its members, for example in case of a dismissal or reorganisation, and trade unions can give their members legal assistance and advice concerning labour law and other matters. In a more general sense, a trade union also defends the social standards and values pertaining to people and labour.
Trade associations and trade unions also discuss health and safety with each other. They can lay down the agreements they have concluded in the ‘Arbo Catalogue’: a collection of measures and solutions for working conditions in the relevant industry. Companies and employees select the measures and solutions that are relevant for their industry or sector. The Arbo Catalogue includes examples of ‘good practices’, which are ways in which the industry can comply with the rules in a practical manner. The Arbo Catalogue is checked by the Netherlands Labour Authority (NLA): if an employer then applies the measures from the Arbo Catalogue, he/she will know that this at least satisfies the statutory requirements. However, an employer is always allowed to apply a measure other than the one indicated in the Arbo Catalogue, but the employer does have to demonstrate in that case that the measure selected by him/her is just as good as the measure from the Arbo Catalogue.
These umbrella organisations regularly consult with the government and each other. The experiences of the individual trade associations and trade unions are combined in these umbrella organisations. In addition to looking after the interests of their members, providing and exchanging information about those experiences is a key task of these organisations.
Employers can insure themselves against many things, for example by means of sick leave insurance, fire insurance or liability insurance. This insurance means that the insurer pays an amount to the employer when the employee falls ill. This is actually covering the risk of having to continue to pay an employee’s salary in case of illness. This type of insurer is also referred to as a non-life insurer. They work together in the Dutch Association of Insurers trade association. These insurers may impose requirements in their policy conditions as regards the working conditions or the safety of their policy holders (companies). They may demand for example that in case of fire insurance fire prevention measures are implemented, for example in the form of a sprinkler installation.
Employers are required to take out health insurance. Employers can offer their employees group health insurance. Employers or industries conclude such group health insurance with healthcare insurers. These healthcare insurers have united in the Association of Dutch Health Insurers. Health insurance may include provisions that can help employees to stop smoking or that promote healthy living for example.
SER and StvdA
The consultations between the social partners and the government at the central level take place within the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) and the Labour Foundation (StvdA). The SER, which includes independent experts appointed by the government (Crown-appointed members) and government representatives in addition to the employers and employees, issues targeted advice to the government. The Labour Foundation is the national platform for consultation between the social partners for promoting good labour relations.
An employer can make a choice from a broad range of service providers in the field of safety and health at work. Inter alia for having an RI&E and the rehabilitation process checked, the employer may choose between hiring specialists from a certified working conditions service (this can also be an internal working conditions service) or engaging a certified working conditions expert not employed by a working conditions service (custom scheme: only if this has been arranged via the collective labour agreement or approved by the employee representation). A list of certified working conditions services can be found on the SBCA website. Working conditions services must employ the following disciplines: company doctor, occupational hygienist, higher safety specialist and a work and organisation expert. A company can also have itself assisted with advice concerning various other areas issued by advisors who are not certified. This not an obligation pursuant to the Working Conditions Act.
OVAL is an important player. This association, which includes among other working conditions service providers such as reintegration companies, offers information, support and assistance. Moreover, OVAL is the driving force behind the Blik op werk quality mark, which includes quality marks for working conditions services and reintegration services.
There are a considerable number of associations of professionals that are involved in safety and health at work. They are necessary for the exchange of information between colleagues, but they also play a major role in the communication with the government and employers’ and employees’ organisations. Firstly it concerns organisations of registered/certified experts:
- The Netherlands Society of Occupational Medicine (via registration)
- The Netherlands Society for Occupational Hygiene (NVvA)
- Professional Society for Occupational and Organisational experts (BA&O)
- The Netherlands Society for Safety Expertise (NVVK)
The latter three organisations are united in the PPM foundation. In addition, the professional organisations work together on working conditions knowledge files.
Other professional organisations include:
- Professional organisation for OSH advisors (BvAA)
- Nurses and Caretakers Netherlands & Occupational Nurses (V&VN)
- Dutch Association for Social Work (NVMW)
- Dutch Association for company fysiotherapists (NVFB)
- Dutch Association for occupational therapy
- Human Factors NL (society for ergonomics)
- The Dutch Institute for Psychologists
- Dutch Association for OSH experts (NVvA)
Publishers and educators
Commercial publishers play an important role in the distribution of knowledge concerning matters related to working conditions. In addition to filling and sharing online and print media, they also organise meetings, conventions and sometimes training courses.
- SDU Uitgevers (such as Safety!)
- B+B Vakmedianet B.V. (such as Arbo-online, Arbo)
- Gelling Publishing
There are also various organisations that provide training courses about health and safety at work. For example for health and safety officers, company emergency response team members and members of the Works Council.
Knowledge institutes are available to all parties:
Many universities in the Netherlands perform research in the area of working conditions. Sometimes at their own initiative, but also often in cooperation with or even on the instructions of the government or the business community.
TNO is an innovation enterprise for companies, governments and social organisations. Delivers contract research and specialist advice.
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) performs research, issues advice to and supports the government where it concerns the health of people and the living environment. They also perform research with respect to working conditions and share relevant information inter alia via ‘loket gezond leven’ (window healthy living).
- Netherlands Centre for Occupational Diseases (NCvB)
The NCvB is the national knowledge institute for working conditions professionals, employers’ and employees’ organisations, government agencies and policymakers. The NCvB forms part of the University of Amsterdam. The mission of the NCvB is to promote the quality of prevention, (early) diagnostics, treatment and assistance with respect to occupational diseases and labour-related afflictions. The Centre does this by registering occupational diseases, maintaining a website, giving education and training courses, lectures and by applying clinical occupational medicine.
- Research Center for Insurance Medicine
The Research Center for Insurance Medicine (KCVG) is a joint initiative of the Coronel Institute of Occupational Health, the Division of Clinical Methods and Public Health, Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam (AMC), the Department of Social Medicine, University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), the Department of Social Medicine, EMGO Institute, VU University Medical Center (VUmc), and the Social Medical Affairs Division (SMZ) of the Dutch Employee Insurance Schemes Implementing Body (UWV). The purpose of the Research Centre is to promote the quality and scientific support of insurance medicine by developing and evaluating methods, guidelines, tools and interventions.
- The Health Council of the Netherlands
The Health Council is an independent scientific advisory body for government and parliament on public health and research on health(care). Healthy labour conditions is one of its focus areas. The Health Council helps Ministries with the development of policies by delivering scientific support. The Health Council of the Netherlands maps – both assigned as independently – the state of the art of science in its field and it considers well the collection and assessment of scientific data from a policy point of view.
There are also knowledge networks within which knowledge concerning safety and health at work is shared:
- NSvP Knowledge Network Sustainable Employability (NKDI)
- National Forum for Sustainable Employability (NPDI)
- Zero Accidents Netwerk
- STECR Platform Re-integratie
It is common practice in the business community to apply standards to certain products, processes and systems. Companies agree in that connection what standard they will observe when manufacturing a product for example. You can go one step further by requesting an independent body to assess whether the product complies with a certain standard. This process is known as certification. These independent organisations are also referred to with the term certification and inspection institutions (CII). In turn, the CIIs can be assessed by an independent Accreditation institute.
Dutch working conditions legislation does not actually apply standards or, at any rate, they are not mentioned expressly. However, a statutory certification system has been made mandatory for certain persons, activities or products. NEN, CEN and/or ISO standards do indeed play a role in that connection.
Examples of certification systems required by law are those for crane drivers (persons), for asbestos inventory and removal (activities) and for machines (products via CE marking).
The following three parties play an important role in that certification required by law:
- Dutch Accreditation Council (RvA)
The primary task of the RvA consists of accrediting certification and inspection institutions: laboratories, inspection institutions, certifications institutes and verification institutes, and keeping them accredited. Such in order to ensure that the confidence in the quality of statutory certificates concerning products, persons and services is actually justified.
- Management foundations such as the Foundation for the Management of the Accreditation of Working Conditions Services (SBCA). Within the SBCA (a management foundation), trade unions, working conditions services and employers’ organisations jointly determine the certification scheme for working conditions services with which working conditions services must comply.
- Certification and inspection institutions (CIIs) CIIs assess products, persons, services and management systems on the basis of certification schemes that are laid down in law. The natural or legal person receives a statutory certificate if the CII issues a positive judgement. CIIs also have their own association: the VOC.
Well-known developers of standards include:
The Netherlands Standardization Institute NEN is a national knowledge centre that provides services for the development of standards and limit values, also in the area of labour and safety. NEN ensures that these standards can be found in a clear and easy manner. NEN cooperates with European(CEN, CENELEC and ETSI) and international (ISO, IEC and ITU) partners.
Standardisation is arranged in a European context by the Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN). This committee was formed in 1961 by the standardisation agencies (such as NEN, ISO, etc.) within the Member States of the European Union in order to realise uniform standards and values within the EU.
The International Organisation for Standardization ISO is a worldwide private network of national standardisation institutes from 157 countries. The ISO lays down international standards that ensure that companies, governments and citizens throughout the world can assume well-defined definitions of their methods and techniques.
The Working Conditions Act forms the basis for regulations pertaining to safe and healthy work. This piece of legislation comes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. It mainly includes a description of the processes for guaranteeing good working conditions. In fact, it comes down to the government determining as many target requirements and limit values for organisations as possible. Those target requirements and limit values determine the boundaries within which employees and employers can conclude their own agreements, which they can lay down in the Arbo Catalogue. The Working Conditions Act is largely based on the European working conditions framework directive. This is how the government creates room for increased customisation within companies and ensures compliance with European legislation.
More specific target requirements and limit values are included in the Working Conditions Decree. That Decree is for a large part also an implementation of special European Directives that are based on the framework directive. The limit values and target requirements in the Working Conditions Decree therefore concern standards and values for risks that occur in more than one industry. There are, for example, target requirements for noise, VDU activities, non-ionising radiation and dangerous substances. These agreements also find their way into the Arbo Catalogue.
The Agenda Stipulations or Procedural Regulations in the Working Conditions Decree deserve special attention. Agenda Stipulations describe matters in respect of which no target provisions have been set as yet or in respect of which it is impossible to set limit values. An example of this is the ‘psychosocial work stress’. This may manifest itself in the shape of bullying or gossiping and backbiting on the work floor. Employers and employees must ensure that no psychosocial work stress can arise. It is impossible to provide a specific limit value, however, but the Arbo Catalogue can describe methods for the company to counter bullying.
The Working Conditions Regulations include the detailed regulations that are derived to a large extent from the annexes to the various European Directives.
The government inspects and enforces
Enforcement of the Working Conditions Act is the responsibility of the Netherlands Labour Authority (NLA). Companies are required to comply with the working conditions legislation (Working Conditions Act, Working Conditions Decree and the Working Conditions Regulations). The Arbo Catalogue can be a useful tool in this connection. The NLA visits companies to inspect whether these companies actually comply with the regulations. If this is not the case, the company may be issued with a warning or an administrative fine or an official report in case of serious matters.
The government facilitates
The Government (the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment) facilitates companies by organising various projects, which are often targeted at SMEs. Examples of projects include:
In addition, the government provides information, for example via Arboportaal
The political policy frameworks for governments are created at European level. These policy frameworks concern creating new legislation, the initiation of new legislation and the financing for tenders for national and international policy research and other core activities for the ‘general wellbeing/good’. The European Commission plays a vital role in these activities, as she represents the interests of the European Union as a whole. The Commision proposes new legislation to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and moreover, acts as a watch-dog for correct application of European legislation by member countries.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)
The goal of the Agency is to make Europe’s workplaces healthier, safer and more productive, for the wellbeing of businesses, employees and governments. The Agency promotes a culture of risk prevention to improve working conditions in Europe. European agencies are separate European Union bodies and a such a separate legal entity set up to perform specific tasks under EU law. In total there are more than 40 European agencies. EU-OSHA is a decentralized agency, conducting technical, scientific and governancestasks to help those EU institutions make and conduct policy. The agencies also support the cooperation between the EU and the national governments by the bundling of technical and specialistical expertise of both EU institutions as the national organisations. Decentralised agencies are set up for indefinite time and are located at different places throughout the European Union.
The Netherlands Focal Point
The Netherlands Focal Point (NL-FOP) represents the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in the Netherlands. NL-FOP contributes actively to further development of occupational safety and health in the Netherlands and in Europe by importing and exporting knowledge, instruments and best practices.
Coordination and implementation has been placed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment with TNO, in close consultation with the employers, employees and the government in the tripartite working group European Context, which includes representatives from CNV, MKB-Nederland and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.