National OSH Strategy - Belgium

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Introduction

In the European Union, the strategic framework on OSH is used to develop the EU policy on OSH and coordinate the national policies of the Member States. The EU strategic framework identifies key challenges and strategic objectives for health and safety at work and presents actions and instruments to address these in the coming years.

The EU strategic framework (2021 – 2027) addresses the changing needs in worker’s protection brought by the digital and green transitions, new forms of work and the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the framework will continue to address traditional occupational safety and health risks, such as risks of accidents at work, exposure to hazardous chemicals musculoskeletal disorders or mental health problems. The success of the framework depends on its implementation at EU, national, sectoral and enterprise levels.

National strategies are well known as a policy instrument to enhance the effectiveness of an OSH system through the collaborative and smart use of resources. They include approaches such as priority setting, prior action defining and action plans. The Commission calls on Member States to update and draw up their national occupational safety and health strategies in line with this strategic framework - in cooperation with social partners - to ensure that the new measures reach the workplace.

In Belgium, safety, health and well-being at work fall within the competence of the Minister for Employment and its administration, the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue. Occupational safety and health (OSH) at work is covered by the “Law of 4 August 1996 on well-being of workers in the performance of their work” and its royal decrees. The Law and its implementing royal decrees form together the “Code on Well-being at Work” (le Code sur le bien-être au travail).

Basic information on the national OSH strategy

The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027[1] replaces the former National Strategy for Well-Being at Work 2016-2020[2]. The strategy is based on the thorough consultation with the main stakeholders, especially the social partners, professional associations and other stakeholders in the platform of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work (Hoge Raad voor Preventie en Bescherming op het Werk). This plan, which describes the objectives to be achieved in the field of well-being at work in the years to come, has an evolutionary nature and will be discussed annually with the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work. This allows the national action plan to be adjusted to take into account new challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

The action plan is available in French, Dutch and English:

Plan d’action national pour l’amélioration du bien-être des travailleurs lors de l’exécution de leurs travail 2022-2027[3]

Nationaal actieplan ter verbetering van het welzijn van de werknemers bij de uitvoering van hun werk 2022-2027[4]

National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027

The former strategy:

French version: La stratégie nationale belge Bien-être au travail 2016-2020, proposée par le Ministre de l’Emploi: Objectifs stratégiques et opérationnels [5];

Dutch version: Belgische nationale strategie voor welzijn op het werk 2016–2020[6].

Background and the perceived problem

The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 sets the stage for the development of a consistent policy on well-being at work for a period of six years. The plan includes the transposition into Belgian-level law of the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027, and the implementation of the joint priorities document of the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work[7]. With this joint priorities document, the social partners made a significant contribution to the creation of this plan, which should make it possible for all parties to feel closely involved in its implementation.

Main characteristics and objectives of the OSH-strategy (action plan)

The action plan defines the objectives to achieve the well-being at work in the coming six years. The main objectives are incorporated in this action plan, divided in two chapters and several sections

Chapter I - Thematic objectives - sets out a series of objectives aimed at improving the well-being of workers in the performance of their work.

Chapter II - policy supported objectives - describes a number of objectives related to the policy support functions.

Details of action plan

The national action plan was partly developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of this pandemic is still not in sight. Further action is needed to guide employers and workers through these difficult times in the best possible way. This national action plan pays great attention to the prevention of psychosocial risks and musculoskeletal disorders, as well as to the prevention of workers' exposure to hazardous chemical agents. It emphasises the need for a “Vision Zero” for workplace accidents. It also pays specific attention to vulnerable groups of workers, such as domestic workers, and promotes the reintegration of incapacitated workers. In addition, attention is given to changes in the work organisation, such as teleworking.

Axis description

The national action plan consists of two chapters and several sections.

Chapter I covers thematic objectives:

Section 1. Prevention of risks associated with the work

The challenge of the coronavirus pandemic

  • Establishing a structural framework: a generic guide with special prevention measures, taking into account the evolution of the epidemic or pandemic at a given time, has been structurally embedded in the code on well-being at work and should allow for a faster and more proactive response in the event of a (future) epidemic or pandemic by ensuring that employers and workers are better prepared and know what to expect-

Exposure to hazardous chemical agents

  • Establishing binding exposure limit values (free crystalline silicon)
  • Exchange of information and best practices, as is taking place in the context of the «roadmap on carcinogens»
  • Dangerous medicines: Follow the work at the European level on the specific category of hazardous substances.
  • Good air quality: Ensure that the workplace is properly ventilated by opening windows or by having a good mechanical ventilation system with fresh air supply.

Psychosocial risks

  • Mental well-being at work: A federal plan for mental well-being and the fight against stress and all work-related psychosocial risks will be set up with all stakeholders. The media campaign launched in November 2021 and conducted in close cooperation with the FPS Social Security will continue in 2022.
  • Health and care workers: support any sectoral agreement for the reduction of work pressure and will pay specific attention to this group in our actions regarding psychosocial risks
  • Anti-discrimination legislation, the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work
  • Roll out of pilot projects for burnout prevention and pilot projects for innovative work organisation

The prevention of skeletal and muscular disorders

Vision Zero for workplace accidents

  • Update the legislation relating to the use of work equipment
  • Updating of legislation relating to fire prevention.
  • Increase safety at temporary or mobile construction site
  • A project will also be launched to encourage workers to engage in safe behaviour through the nudging technique.
  • Optimise regulations to prevent serious workplace accidents

Protection of domestic workers

  • Establish a regulatory framework with a workable solution for the protection of the well-being at work of domestic workers

Section 2. Specific challenges to well-being at work

Remote working:

  • Clarifying and refining the legal framework for remote working. Remote working has become an important form of work organisation that is now part of socio-economic life.

Reintegration of incapacitated workers:

  • Elaboration of guidance for the improvement of the collective reintegration policy in companies.
  • Investing in a communication and awareness campaign.

A changing world and labour market

  • Following the developments of a changing world very closely by setting up and collaborating in studies and by communicating the results of these studies. It is of utmost importance to be proactive in dealing with the new developments.

Section 3. Well-being policy actors at the enterprise level

The implementation of a well-being policy at the enterprise level involves several actors: the employer, the internal and external health and safety services, the worker representatives and, the worker.

Employers: Support of employers by:

  • Providing risk analysis tools (OiRA) and developing and providing best practices in cooperation with experts and the inspection services.
  • Paying specific attention to small and medium-sized enterprises
  • Supporting employers with new regulations on company visits and policy advice.

Health and safety services:

  • Modernising training of health and safety advisors to adequately address today’s challenges
  • Exploring ways to eliminate the shortage of occupational physicians and company nurses.
  • Improving the functioning of external health and safety services.
  • Providing tools and materials that will support health and safety advisors.

The social dialogue

  • Social partners in the National Labour Council are invited to elaborate a set of minimum rules, to enable the trade union representatives to carry out their mission effectively and correctly.
  • Providing full support to the social dialogue in companies.
  • Considering how worker representatives in the health and safety committees of different employers can cooperate and be consulted in order to prevent and, if necessary, manage issues concerning well-being at work that arise from a lack of coordination in the workplace.

The workers

  • Evaluating the use of workstation sheets in practice and, examine whether the use of such a workstation sheet can/should be extended to all workers, and how this could be done.

Chapter II covers policy supported objectives:

Section 1. Introduction

  • A government policy on well-being at work must be ‘evidence-based’, which means that scientific research is indispensable.
  • The government must be able to determine the most appropriate approach to the specific problems related to well-being at work based on the results of such (solid) scientific research and the practical problems identified in the field by the labour inspectorate and the social partners. This approach consists of a range of possible actions: the development of legislation, of awareness campaigns and of inspection campaigns.

Section 2. Collecting available exposure data

  • Streamline data on occupational risks and working conditions (for example on occupational accidents, illnesses, wellbeing at work, exposure data) including data on psychosocial risks and cardiovascular diseases and bring it together in a centralised database that will be managed by the FPS (Federal Public Services). The database will also include data on psychosocial risks and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Participate in the European Working Conditions Survey conducted by Eurofound and analyse the Belgian data included in this survey.

Section 3. Quality regulations

  • Simplifying and better aligning administrative obligations.
  • Modernising the regulations relating to work equipment, fire safety and temporary or mobile construction sites.
  • Develop forms and models for users in a digital and user-friendly way. Set up possibilities to provide information to the government electronically.

Section 4. Optimising the operation of the administration

  • Making more staff and financial resources available to the Directorate-General for the Humanization of Work to develop the established policy at the regulatory level, facilitate the social dialogue, promote the regulations, and conduct information and awareness campaigns.
  • Bringing inspectors at the Inspectorate for supervision of well-being at work in line with ILO standards.

Section 5. Stakeholder collaboration on well-being at work

  • Employers’ federations and the workers’ organisations are invited to share their expertise with all actors active at the macro level to develop the national action plan and make it concrete.

Section 6. Synergy between well-being at work and other aspects falling within the competence of other authorities

  • Thorough consultation with all authorities involved in the well-being at work, to avoid diverting the people and resources that should be used for occupational safety and health to other objectives.
  • Strengthening the training of all health and safety advisors.

Section 7. European and international cooperation

  • Following and supporting the actions taken at the European level. Participating constructively in the elaboration of the European directives and other instruments that are being developed at EU level.
  • Transposing the directives issued by Europe in relation to occupational health and safety into Belgian law in a timely and correct manner.
  • At the level of the International Labour Organization (ILO), ratification of the conventions relevant to health and safety and their concrete application.

Actors and stakeholders

The implementation of a well-being policy at the enterprise level involves several actors: the employer, the internal and external health and safety services, the worker representatives and the workers.

The Federal Minister for Employment, as well as the federal Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health, the Communities and the Regions authority are involved in the implementation of the strategy.

The strategy is based on thorough consultation with the main stakeholders, especially the social partners, professional associations and other stakeholders in the platform of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work.

The action plan has an evolutionary nature and will be discussed annually with the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work. This allows the national action plan to be adjusted to new challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

Resources and time frame

The action plan does not include detailed information on resources. However, more staff and financial resources will be made available to the Directorate-General for the Humanization of Work to develop the established policy at the regulatory level, facilitate the social dialogue, promote the regulations, and conduct information and awareness campaigns. Additionally, more financial, technical and human resources will be invested for research on the improvement of working conditions (DIRACT-DIOVA) to improve epidemiological knowledge about risk factors in the working environment.

The current National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 covers the period from 2022 - 2027.

Evaluation

The evaluation is not carried out at regular intervals. However, the National Strategy for Well-Being at Work 2008-2012 was evaluated, the reports are online available[8]. On the basis of the evaluation outcomes, policy recommendations were formulated for the preparation of the national strategy for 2013-2020. More recent evaluations could not be detected. However, the action plan has an evolutionary nature and will be discussed annually with the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work. This allows the national action plan to be adjusted to take into account new challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

Ex ante indicators for the years 2021 to 2025

No indicators are mentioned in this action plan.

Relationship to EU Strategic Framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027

The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 was published 24. March 2022 and came into effect May 2022. The action plan incorporates the objectives of the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027. There are relations to all the three key objectives of the European Strategic Framework. The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 is in line with the EU Framework, which, as one of its three key priorities, focuses on increasing preparedness to respond to current and future health crises.

Examples:

Key objective 1 of the EU Framework: setting up a federal plan for mental well-being and the fight against stress and all work-related psychosocial risks, and prevention of skeletal and muscular disorders are dealt with in Section 1. "Prevention of risks associated with the work" of the thematic objective.

Key objective 2 of the EU Framework: Establishing binding exposure limit values, exchange of information and best practices, as is taking place in the context of the «roadmap on carcinogens», anti-discrimination legislation elimination of violence and harassment are mentioned in Section 1. of the thematic objective . Section 2. "Specific challenges to well-being at work" tackles the legal framework for remote working, and the reintegration of incapacitated workers.

Key objective 3 of the EU Framework: The thematic objective in Section 1. "Prevention of risks associated with the work" establishing a generic guide with special prevention measures, taking into account the evolution of the epidemic or pandemic at a given time, that should allow for a faster and more proactive response in the event of a (future) epidemic or pandemic by ensuring that employers and workers are better prepared and know what to expect. Preparedness is explicitly mentioned in the

References

  1. National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027. Available at: [1]
  2. National Strategy for Well-Being at Work 2016-2020. Available at: [2]
  3. Plan d’action national pour l’amélioration du bien-être des travailleurs lors de l’exécution de leurs travail 2022-2027. Available at: [3]
  4. Nationaal actieplan ter verbetering van het welzijn van de werknemers bij de uitvoering van hun werk 2022-2027. Available at: [4]
  5. La stratégie nationale belge Bien-être au travail 2016-2020, proposée par le Ministre de l’Emploi: Objectifs stratégiques et opérationnels. Available at: [5]
  6. Belgische nationale strategie voor welzijn op het werk 2016–2020. Available at: [6]
  7. Note de priorités 2020-2024, Note de priorités commune des partenaires sociaux du conseil supérieur pour la prévention et la protection au travail, Version 02.07.2021, Available at:[7]
  8. Evaluation de la stratégie nationale en matière de bien-être au travail 2008-2012. Available at: [8]

Contributors

e.schmitzfelten