National OSH Strategy - Estonia

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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 Estonia, the main document underlying the field of occupational health and safety is the Occupational Health and Safety Act adopted by the Estonian Parliament – the Riigikogu – based on which several relevant Regulations of the Government of the Republic and the Minister of Social Affairs have been developed and enacted (the Act came into force on 26 July 1999). In the occupational health and safety system of Estonia, the Ministry of Social Affairs constitutes the executive authority which regulates the entire area, whereas two of its structural units (the Working Life Development Department and the Health Care Department) are directly involved in occupational health and safety-related policy-making.

Basic Information

The National Health Plan 2020–2030 (NHP)[1] is a continuation of the National Health Plan 2009–2020. NHP 2020-2030 was based on the results of its mid-term review, trends in health and mortality in recent years, national practices, key research and analysis, as well as strategic policy documents and discussions with stakeholders and stakeholders. An important goal of the NHP 2020-2030 is to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases, including mental, behavioural, or developmental disorders, in order to ensure sustainable development, and to protect workers' health, maintain their ability to work and prevent them from leaving the labour market due to health problems.

“Estonia 2035”[2] is a strategic management tool which enables the coordination of long-term strategic planning and financial management of the country, taking into account the possibilities of public finance. It is a strategy for the uniform management of Estonia’s development that facilitates cooperation between the Riigikogu and the Government of the Republic and strengthens the links between different types of strategic policy documents. The “Estonia 2035” development strategy sets out strategic goals for the state and people of Estonia for the next fifteen years and determines the changes necessary for achieving them.

Occupational health and safety activities are regulated in the Welfare Development Plan (Heaolu arengukava 2016-2023 - original version[3]. English version: Welfare Development Plan 2016–2023 (WDP)[4]

Former National Health Plan 2009-2020 (NHP) (available in English)

Background and the perceived problem

In the last decade, life expectancy in Estonia has grown faster than the EU average. At the same time, the growth in the number of healthy life years has slowed down and the difference between men and women is large. Thus, people live longer, but with restrictions due to illness and health, which affects both people's participation in the labour market and society, as well as the increase in the state's health care costs.

Work affects people’s health. Decreasing work ability prevents the employee from participating in working life actively and for a long time. A decrease in work ability and physical harm related to employment are caused by the risk factors existing in a work environment and their impact on the employee’s health. Work-related health damages cause absence from work, causing expenses for the employee, employer, and society. Lack of awareness about occupational health and safety does not support the protection of the employee’s health in the work environment. Employers and employees do not know enough about occupational health and safety, their rights and obligations, requirements resulting from legislation, or workplace risks. Employers sense the lack of information, the inability to find the necessary materials on their own, and the inability to keep themselves constantly up to date with the changes in the acquis.

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

Welfare Development Plan 2016–2023

The priority of the Development Plan is to support participation in the workforce and a long-term working life. One of the main objectives of the Welfare Development Plan is high employment rate and a high-quality working life. The related sub-objective (Sub-objective No.) is: “Correlation between the demand and supply of the workforce ensures a high level of employment, and high-quality working conditions support long-term participation in working life”. This sub-objective also covers all the relevant occupational health and safety policy instruments.

The related measure in the implementation plan: “Maintaining employees' work ability, keeping them in the labour market, and bringing people with reduced work ability into the labour market.”

National Health Plan 2020-2030

The vision of the NHP 2020-2030 is:

Life expectancy of Estonian people is increasing, the number of healthy life years is increasing, and health inequalities are decreasing:

  • By 2030, the average life expectancy of Estonian people will increase to 78.0 years for men and 84.0 years for women, and the average number of healthy life years will increase to 62.0 years for men and 63.0 years for women.
  • The number of healthy life years is growing faster than life expectancy, people live most of their lives without health restrictions.
  • Health inequalities (between genders, regions and levels of education) are declining

The “Estonia 2035” development strategy

The objective of "Estonia 2035" is a democratic and safe state that preserves and develops the Estonian nation, language, and culture. “Estonia 2035” takes into account the analysis of the most burning issues in Estonia and the world. The document describes the most important development needs connecting different policy fields in Estonia and sets out five long-term strategic goals accompanied by necessary changes. Their implementation is monitored on the basis of a more detailed action plan each year.

Details of the strategy and activity plan

Welfare Development Plan 2016-2023

Two general objectives have been established for the implementation of the Welfare Development Plan.

  1. High employment rate and a high quality of working life
  2. Reducing social inequalities and poverty, gender equality, and greater social inclusion

Four sub-objectives have been established in the Welfare Development Plan for the achievement of the general objectives. The relation to safety and health at work can be found in sub-objective 1: "Correlation between the demand and supply of the workforce ensures a high level of employment, and high quality of working conditions support long-term participation in working life".

The sub-objective focuses on supporting people’s participation in working life: maintaining employees’ work ability, keeping them in the labour market, and bringing people with reduced work ability into the labour market.

The main policy instruments related to occupational health and safety are:

  • to the quality of working life and to support the social inclusion of labour market parties, the system of rules regulating the collective establishment of working conditions must be updated to be compatible with changed socio-economic circumstances and to create an appropriate (legal) environment for the establishment of collective employment relationships.
  • to keep the elderly employed, it is important to develop measures for preventing unemployment, such as ensuring the sustainability of work ability, promoting supplemental and re-training, and reacting to redundancies.
  • the capacity of working life participants must be increased for the implementation of rules for working environment, including for coping with new working environment risks, and for the prevention of the employee’s loss of ability to work;
  • the monitoring of the work environments shall be enhanced to identify and eliminate violations related to the work environment;
  • the legal framework regulating the working environment must be made clearer and compatible with the changing labour market situation and economy;
  • monitoring, outreach, and counselling activities must be made more efficient;
  • employers must be supported in improving working environments and conditions and in preventing employees’ loss of work ability, including reducing the employer’s occupational health and safety management burden;
  • greater attention shall be paid to shaping the work safety culture for the participants in working life, including compiling a risk analysis, assessment of new risks, and to the safety in using flexible forms of work;
  • the possibility of developing a compensation system for an incapacity for work shall be analysed to motivate preventing work interruptions and to encourage returning to work, including analysing the principles of the occupational health system and for compensating incapacity for work due to the employee’s health damage in order to enable early intervention.

National Health Plan 2020-2030 (NHP)

The overall goal of NHP 2020-2030 is to increase the life expectancy and the number of years lived healthy by Estonian people and to reduce inequality in health.

The achievement of the goal is planned through three sub-areas: health-supporting options, a health-promoting environment and people-centered health care. The sub-areas are considered as sub-objectives in the development plan. For each sub-objective, the desired result, indicators reflecting changes in the sub-sector, the main problems and solutions are presented.

Sub-Objective 6: Health-promoting options are easily accessible to all Estonians.

The living, working and learning environment (including the products and services offered) and the information field are designed in such a way that, regardless of gender, place of residence, income and level of education, those who support health have simple and primary choices. Understandable and practical information on health promotion is available to everyone in time.

Solution related to the work environment:

6.2.1_Mental health promotion - it is also important to pay attention to maintaining and promoting mental health in the work environment.

6.2.2_Injury prevention – prevention of occupational accidents

6.2.4_ Health promotion: healthy food and physical activity

6.2.5_ Raising public awareness of communicable diseases

Sub-Objective 7: Healthy environment of all Estonian people has become more supportive of health, and information on possible health risks arising from the environment and ways to reduce them is available.

Solution related to the work environment:

7.1_Improving public awareness and skills in the field of health and environmental safety (medicines and use of chemicals, waste management, occupational safety, understanding the meaning of product labels): noise, radiation.

7.1_Preparedness and the necessary flexibility in governance models and regulations to address and respond to the health effects of climate change

7.2.3_encouraging the substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives and the use of best technology.

Sub-Objective 8: Human-centered health care system

Ensuring high-quality and accessible health services integrated with social services that help reduce premature mortality and support living with chronic illnesses

Solution related to the work environment:

8.2.2_More attention will be paid to the working conditions of healthcare professionals and other professionals working in the healthcare system and to the prevention of burnout.

“Estonia 2035”

The “Estonia 2035” strategy sets out five long-term strategic goals:

  • Estonia’s people are smart, active and care about their health
  • Estonia’s society is caring, cooperative, and open
  • Estonia’s economy is strong, innovative, and responsible
  • Estonia offers a safe and high-quality living environment that takes into account the needs of all its inhabitants
  • Estonia is an innovative, reliable, and people-centered country

Changes in various areas are needed to maintain Estonia’s basic principles, to achieve the strategic goals and meet the development needs. Necessary changes related to the work environment are:

  • preparing for future work
  • support mental health and reduce mental and physical violence
  • modernise the occupational health system to support health and reduce people’s incapacity for work
  • improve the well-being and social activity of people with special needs and improve the efficiency of the long-term care system

Actors and stakeholders

The strategies are implemented by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour Inspectorate.

Resources and timeframe

Information about the resources is published in the Welfare Development Plan 2016-2021. The total budget for Sub-Objective 1 was 1,938.4 € for the priod 2016-2020

Time frame of the strategies/plans:

  • Welfare Development Plan 2016–2023
  • National Health Plan 2020–2030
  • Estonia 2035

Evaluation/lessons learned

Welfare Development Plan is reviewed regularly – to provide an overview of the achievement of the objectives of the Development Plan, a report on its fulfilment is compiled each year. A performance report on the implementation of measures and activities is compiled.

National Health Plan is reviewed regularly. An annual report is prepared on the implementation of the development plan, which provides an overview of the most important progress oft the plan. An evaluation regarding the fulfilment of the tasks and the effectiveness of the measures will be prepared in 2025.

“Estonia 2035”: Once a year, a strategy day is held with key partners and stakeholders, where an overview of the achievement of the strategy’s goals is provided, the best experiences in addressing development needs are shared and proposals for the implementation of the strategy are made.

Ex ante indicators for the years 2016 to 2023 (WDP)

Indicators that are measured in the Welfare Development Plan:

  • Employment rate for people aged 20–64
  • The duration of working life
  • The number of sick days related to work accidents per each accident

Ex ante indicators for the years 2020 to 2030 (NHP)

Indicators that are measured in the National Health Plan:

  • Healthy life expectancy
  • Standardised early mortality rate
  • Number of years of life lost due to premature mortality and morbidity due to the environment, including the working environment

Ex ante indicators “Estonia 2035”

  • healthy life years left
  • participation in the labour market, culture, sports, and volunteer work
  • participation rate in lifelong learning activities among adults (incl. informal learning)

Relationship to EU Strategic Framework

The national strategy of Estonia has been prepared before EU Framework strategy was launched, however the three plans/programmes tackle many of the challenges mentioned in the EU Strategic Framework.

Examples are:

Key objective 1 of the EU Framework is covered in the National Health Plan 2020-2030 in Sub-Objective 6: Health-promoting options are easily accessible to all Estonians, including following solutions:

6.2.1_Mental health promotion - it is also important to pay attention to maintaining and promoting mental health in the work environment.

Estonia 2035 mentions in its Strategic Goal "Estonia’s people are smart, active and care about their health" necessary changes related to the work environment: supporting mental health and reduce mental and physical violence

Key objective 2 of the EU Framework is covered in the National Health Plan 2020-2030 in Sub-Objective 6: Health-promoting options are easily accessible to all Estonians, including following solutions

6.2.2_Injury prevention – prevention of occupational accidents, 6.2.4_ Health promotion: healthy food and physical activity. Hazardous substances are tacled in Sub-Objective 7 with solution 7.2.3_"encouraging the substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives and the use of best technology"

Estonia's 2035 strategic goal "Estonia’s people are smart, active and care about their health" deals with the prevention of harassment in the workplace (necessary change: Helping to prevent and reduce bullying at school or work, harassment in the workplace and other communities)

Key objective 3 of the EU Framework preparedness is mentioned in Sub-objective 7, but not related to pandemics, but to climate changes. 7.1_Preparedness and the necessary flexibility in governance models and regulations to address and respond to the health effects of climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic is tackled in the Healthy Environment Program 2021-2024[5], one of three programs designed to achieve the goals of the National Health Plan 2020-2030.


  1. National Health Plan 2020-2030. Available at: [1]
  2. “Estonia 2035”. Available at: [2]
  3. Sotsiaalministeerium, Heaolu arengukava 2016-2023. Available at: [3]
  4. Welfare Development Plan 2016–2023 (WDP). Available at:[4]
  5. Tervist toetava keskkonna programm 2021-2024. Available at:[5]

Contributors

Palmer, e.schmitzfelten