Overview of policies, strategies and programmes in relation to the occupational health and safety of older workers - Bulgaria

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Initiatives from government/ government-affiliated organisations

There are no special national strategies and programmes related to the occupational health and safety of older workers. Most of the policies and measures at national, regional and local level for older employees are employment driven and only indirectly relate to the working conditions of older workers. The unemployed individuals aged over 50 and people with disabilities are among the main target groups of the active labour market policy realised through the National Action Plan for employment, elaborated each year.

The following section presents an inventory of the national policies that may, directly or indirectly, have an impact on the health and safety of older workers:

Occupational health and safety

The National Strategy for Health and Safety at Work 2008-2012[1], is in line with the EU Strategy for Health and Safety at Work goals. The Strategy aims at reducing on-the-job accidents and providing a working environment supportive of good health and well-being at work, to allow for retention at work until old age and provide personal satisfaction with the work done. Most of the priorities, provisions and measures in the Strategy apply to all workers regardless of age. However, the Strategy considers the challenge of population ageing and acknowledges that specific measures for improving health and safety at work for both the young people and people aged 55-64 years are very important for extending working lives.

The Strategy also prioritises the elaboration and implementation of sector programmes, covering the following areas: prevention of health hazards by increasing the effectiveness of monitoring; measures for rehabilitation and reintegration of employed who are forced to change or lost their jobs as a result of accidents at work; alignment with social and demographic change. It is considered that “An adequate policy of safety and health at work at sector/branch level can help meet the challenges of demographic change of the workforce, mainly with better adaptation on the job to the individual needs and better application of ergonomic principles to the concept of workplaces and organization of work. Regardless of the fact that the needs of an ageing active population should be met, the situation of the younger workers should not be overlooked, particularly those who are vulnerable to risks at work”. The aim of the National Programme on Safety and Health at Work 2013[2] is prevention of work-related illnesses, diseases, occupational diseases and accidents at work. The overall concept of the programme is aimed at “prevention before rehabilitation and rehabilitation before early leaving the labour market”. According to the Programme, statistics show that musculoskeletal disorders are one of the main concerns of employees and psychosocial risks associated with work are emerging as a growing problem. Adding to these findings the ageing of the workforce, there is a risk the deteriorating working environment to become an obstacle to achieving higher employment and economic growth. Therefore, through holistic approach to the prevention of occupational risks the workers and employers need to be convinced of the enormous benefits of a good working environment. However none of these documents pays special attention to specific issues related to the OSH of older employees.

The General Labour inspectorate (GLI) is not carrying out any specific activities targeted at older workers. Regarding general activities which are of relevance to older workers, it is implementing a project ‘Prevention for Safety and Health at Work’ in the framework of the Operational Programme Human Resource Development 2008-2013, co-funded by the European Social Fund ( ESF), which aims at improving of the working conditions, occupational and health status of the workforce in enterprises. The Agency for people with disabilities provides financing for: projects for ensuring accessible workplaces for people with disabilities; for health and safety measures and adaptation of the workplaces; and for special equipment. Eligible for such financing are employers that hire people with disabilities.

The National Fund ‘Working Conditions’ resources are allocated for: projects for improving working conditions in enterprises; diagnostics of the occupational diseases; OSH training.

Employment

The Updated Employment Strategy 2013-2020[3]38 also contain strategic priorities and goals which directly and indirectly relate to active aging and improvement of the OSH for aging workers. The older employees are considered as a priority target group of the policies and measures in the National action plan for employment 2013. In these documents increasing employment levels and prolonging people’s working lives are important objectives. The policies and measures under the heading ‘Activation of unemployed from vulnerable groups for integration in the labour market’ include “developing and improving incentives for individuals and businesses for extension of working life and postponing exit from the labour market, promotion of age diversity in enterprises through appropriate measures, wider implementation of flexible forms of employment to ensure a smooth transition from work to retirement, dissemination of the experience and good practice of employers, using the possibilities of preventive medicine for the preservation and maintenance of good work ability and adaptation of working conditions, etc”[4].

According to the Employment Promotion Act employers who hire unemployed from 50 to 64 who have acquired professional pension for early retirement may receive subsidy for wages and social security contributions. Subsidised employment and vocational training is provided also for unemployed aged 50+, and for disabled people registered in the labour offices.

Demography

In 2012, Bulgarian government adopted two important strategic documents with a horizon of 2030 outlining guidelines for developing horizontal policies on demographic issues and adjusting sector policies to demographic changes.

The Updated National Demographic Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria (2012-2030)[5] prioritizes the need to overcoming the negative consequences of population ageing and improving the human capital quality, achieving social cohesion and creating equal opportunities for valuable social and productive life for all, but this is a general strategy which has no specific links to OSH.

The National Conception for Promotion of Active Ageing (2012-2030)[6] identifies specific areas for action aimed at promoting and prolonging active working life in good health, including age management policies, adaptation of the working environment to the needs of older employees, overcoming negative attitudes to hiring aged individuals, etc.

Human resources

A number of schemes targeting older persons in the 55-to-64 age bracket are implemented within the Operational Programme ‘Human Resource Development’ 2007-2013 (OP HRD) co-financed by the European Social Fund and the national budget. The measures under OP HRD allow the involvement of employed persons aged 55 or more. Examples of OSH-related schemes developed under this programme include:

  • ‘Safe Work’ scheme, the first wave of which was implemented in 2012. About 240 companies took advantage of this scheme aiming to modernise equipment and to improve working conditions for all workers. More than 1100 applications have been submitted for the second wave of the scheme. There is no public information about the overall results.
  • The scheme ‘Social innovation in enterprises’, implemented in 2011-2013 targets older employees in the broader context of working conditions. The scheme aims at increasing productivity and adaptability of employees aged 55+. It aims to help implement innovative strategies for human resource development in enterprises, to stimulate the introduction of various flexible forms of employment (flexible working time, job rotation, etc.). It includes measures to ensure sustainable employment for persons over 55 years, while using their expertise to conduct workplace training and capacity building of young employees in enterprises. The scheme supports improvement of OSH and building of social welfare facilities (canteens, facilities for child care, rest rooms) in companies.

In 2012, due to increased interest the government increased the financing of activities related to social infrastructure of the companies. The planned outcomes included: on the job training for 20,000 workers, training of trainers for at least 250 workers over 55+, 21,200 workers included in flexible employment (job rotation, flexible working time, etc.) As yet, there is no official assessment of the results.

Initiatives from social partners

In general, the OSH of older employees has not featured prominently on the agenda of social partners. In their programme documents they do consider the challenge of population aging for the labour market and social security systems, but do not propose any initiatives related to improving OSH for the older workers. Their priorities include general improvement of health and safety at work and of the legislative OSH framework[7].

The Economic and Social Council of Republic of Bulgaria (ESC – see Section 1.2) has been more and more active in discussing and proposing measures on active aging[8]. In its Opinion ‘Active ageing and solidarity between generations’ the ESC proposed to follow an integrated approach to population aging and to consider measures and policies in few main areas (including encouraging employment, adjusting workplaces to the specific capacities and needs of older workers, promotion of health prevention and healthy life style, better age management at the workplace, etc.) However, up to now these proposals have not resulted in concrete activities.

Initiatives from other organisations/projects

No other initiatives and projects related to health and safety of older workers and sustainable working lives have been identified. However in the last years some NGOs have implemented projects with EU funding focusing on increasing employability of older workers and maintaining them in the active life, namely through lifelong learning[9].

References

  1. Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Strategy on safety and health at work 2008 – 2012, 2008. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/organisations/bulgarian-strategy-on-safety-and-health-at-work-shw-2008-2012 (Accessed December 2014)
  2. Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, National programme for health and safety at work - 2013 (in Bulgarian). Available at: http://www.mlsp.government.bg/bg/docs/NP-%D0%91%D0%97%D0%A0-2013-final.doc (Accessed December 2014)
  3. Updated Employment strategy of Bulgaria 2013 - 2020. (in Bulgarian). Available at: http://www.bia-bg.com/uploads/files/events/STRATEGY_ZAETOST_actualisation-03.2013.pdf (Accessed December 2014)
  4. Updated employment strategy 2013-2020, October 2013, p. 29. Available at: http://www.mlsp.government.bg/bg/docs/stratzaetost.doc#_toc340666047 (accessed December 2014)
  5. Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, National conception for promotion of active aging, 2012. Available at: http://www.strategy.bg/PublicConsultations/View.aspx?lang=bg-BG&Id=575 (Accessed December 2014)
  6. National conception for promotion of active aging 2012-2030. (in Bulgarian). Available at: http://www.strategy.bg/PublicConsultations/View.aspx?lang=bg-BG&Id=575 (Accessed December 2014)
  7. Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, Programme ‘For New Growth, Quality Employment, Decent Incomes and Social Security 2012-2017, adopted by the 7th Congress, 2012; Confederation of Labour Podkrepa, Resolution on Ensuring Health and Safety at Work, adopted by the 8th Congress, 2011, available at: http://www.podkrepa.org/content/menu_22.php (Accessed December 2014)
  8. Economic and Social Council of the Republic of Bulgaria, Resolution on demographic challenges to Bulgaria within the Europe 2020 Strategy, Sofia, 2011; Economic and Social Council of the Republic of Bulgaria, Opinion on “Healthy and safe working conditions – socio-economic issues”, 25 January 2007, and Opinion on “Active ageing and solidarity between generations”, 2012. Available at: http://www.esc.bg/en/activities/opinions (Accessed December 2014)
  9. Preventing exclusion of senior workers: New roles for adult education providers (NEWROLE), Association Integra , http://association.integra.bg/en/projects/newrole.php (Accessed December 2014)