Worker participation - Poland
Małgorzata Pęciłło ,CIOP-PIB
The article focuses on the concept of involvement of workers in occupational safety and health in Poland at both a national and company levels from a legal point of view. The last studies show that legal requirements and awareness of top management in the field of OSH are chief factors influencing development of workers’ participation in OSH in Polish companies 
The Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs is chief of the social dialogue in Poland (at a national level). The Commission and its tripartite sectoral teams touch incidentally different aspects of occupational safety and health . The overall information on the social dialogue in Poland can be found in OSH system at national level - Poland.
An overview of methods of worker participation can be found in Methods and effects of worker participation and Occupational safety and health management systems and workers’ participation.
Regulatory framework for worker participation in OSH
At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 of ILO Convention C-155 . Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R-164  describes more specific rights and possibilities for employees and their representatives with respect to worker participation. Recommendation R-129 contains general recommendations on communications between employers and workers .
The European Directive 2002/14/EC  establishes a general legal framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community. The directive makes it a requirement for employers to inform and consult employees via the workers’ representatives in the company, in three specific areas:
- the recent and probable development of the undertaking's or the establishment's activities and economic situation;
- the situation, structure and probable development of employment and any anticipatory measures envisaged;
- decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations.
However the main legal source for workers’ participation in OSH on a European level is the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC . The directive establishes the obligation of employers to adequately inform (art. 10) and to consult his/her employees and their representatives (art.11) by allowing them “to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work”, thus including their right to make proposals and to a balanced participation. Finally, the directive sets an obligation on the employer to adequately train, at their own expense, his/her employees (art. 12) and their representatives, with regular repeals in order to take into account the technological and organizational changes and to the insurgence or changes of new risks.
The Polish Labour Code  implementing the Framework Directives contain provisions on workers’ consultation and employers’ duties in this field.
Employees’ participation in OSH
National, regional and sectoral levels
At a national level, the supervision of working conditions and activities of the National Labour Inspectorate is conducted by the Labour Protection Council of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland (Rada Ochrony Pracy, ROP). It is an authority designed by the Lower Chamber of the Polish Parliament (Sejm). The Council consists of representatives of government, employers and employees, members of parliament and experts dealing with occupational safety and health. The term of office of the Council is 4 years. Its most important tasks include: supervising the National Labour Inspectorate’s activities, issuing opinions on drafts of legal acts relating to labour protection, and assessing labour protection issues at a national level . The Commission is also a forum for exchange knowledge and expertise in the field of OSH. Recommendations developed by the Commission relate to different topics (like EU OSH strategy, OSH in different sectors, schools etc) and are addressed to different ministries (e.g. Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of Health, Ministry of National Education) as well as to different institutions dealing with OSH issues like the Social Insurance Institution or the Central Statistical Office. OSH-related issues at national, regional or sectoral levels can be also touched by the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs and its regional Commissions of Social Dialogue and its Tripartite Branch Units .
According to Art. 23711a of the Labour Code  an employer is obliged to consult with employees or their representatives on all matters related to their safety and health at work, and particularly concerning:
- changes of work organization,
- introducing new tools, machines and technological processes, chemical substances that may affect employees’ safety and health,
- assessment of occupational risks and providing information on these risks,
- establishing OSH services or appointing a competent person dealing with OSH-related tasks,
- designating workers responsible for first aid measures as well as fire-fighting and evacuation of workers,
- personal protective equipment and working clothes and shoes,
- training employees in occupational safety and health.
Employees or their representatives can make proposals for elimination or reduction of occupational risks. Moreover, in case of considerable threat to health and life of employees, upon duly motivated employees’ or their representatives’ request, inspectors of the National Labour Inspectorate  can inspect workplaces in a company.
An employer is obliged to ensure appropriate conditions to meet the duty to consult. All consultations should be provided during working hours and employers or their representatives retain the right to obtain remuneration for the time spent on the consultations. The employees or their representatives cannot bear any negative consequences of their participation in the consultations.
There are two types of consultations in OSH that can be provided in Polish companies:
- directly, when all employees are involved in the process,
- indirectly (Table 1): via OSH representatives and an OSH Committee for Safety and Health at Work that is in companies with more than 250 employees; moreover, in companies with trade unions, a social labour inspector is elected.
Table 1. The ways of indirect participation in Polish companies
|Companies with trade unions||Companies without trade unions|
|Companies employing up to 250 workers||Social labour inspector OSH representative||OSH representative|
|Companies employing more than 250 workers||Social labour inspector OSH Committee OSH representative||OSH representative|
The OSH representatives of the employees only play a consultation role and they are elected by members of trade unions if they operate in the company, if not, they are elected by employees in accordance with adequate procedures established in the company. According to the last studies conducted in Polish companies, 37.5% of the companies’ OSH representatives are appointed by trade unions, 25% are elected by members of trade unions and for 37.5% of the companies studied OSH representatives are elected by all employees. An OSH representative in most cases is a member of a trade union .
It is noteworthy to mention that work councils that are shop-floor organisations representing employees in companies play an incidental role in OSH or they do not play any role in this field at all .
Findings of the last research  conducted in Poland in 2012 show that indirect participation is much more popular in Polish enterprises than direct ones. The most popular ways of consultation in OSH used in companies are OSH committee meetings (almost in 50% of the companies studied) and meetings between representatives of employers with OSH representatives of employees (almost 30%). (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Methods of OSH consultations used in companies in Poland in 2012
Source: Krzyśków B., The role of trade unions in improving working conditions, unpublished report 2012
The level of indirect OSH participation in Poland at an enterprise level in comparison with other European countries is rather low. Proportions of indirect OSH worker participation in combination with high management commitment to health and safety amounts to less than 20%, while for all of Europe it is above 25%, and for example Scandinavian countries have levels between 40% to more than 70%. The level of the participation is higher in companies employing 20-49 workers than in companies employing 10-19 workers and amounts to about 20% and 10% respectively .
The Labour Code also provides for the establishment of OSH Services that advise an employer in OSH and control OSH conditions in companies employing more than 100 people.
Committee for Safety and Health at Work
According to Art. 23712 and 23713 of the Labour Code  an employer who employs more than 250 employees is obliged to establish a Committee for Safety and Health at Work. However, it happens that the Committee is also established in smaller companies .
It is a consulting and advisory body. The employer should ensure appropriate support and expertise, necessary for fulfilling the tasks of the Committee.
The OSH Committee composes an equal number of:
- employer’s representatives, including OSH service members and a physician responsible for the preventive health care of the employees, and
- employees’ representatives, including a social labour inspector.
The Committee is headed by the employer or a person delegated by them. The deputy head of the committee is the social labour inspector or another representative of the staff.
The Committee has the following duties:
- performing periodic reviews of working conditions and assessments of OSH performance,
- issuing opinions about the measures undertaken by the employer in order to prevent work accidents and occupational diseases,
- developing proposals of actions directed at improving working conditions,
- cooperating with the employer to meet their duties on OSH.
When performing its tasks, the Committee shall use expert reports or opinions of specialists from outside the workplace, as agreed with the employer and at the employer's expense.
Meetings of the Committee shall be held during working hours, at least once every quarter. An employee shall retain his/her right to remuneration for the time not spent at work in connection with his/her participation in Committee.
Trade Unions and Social Labour Inspection
Role of Trade Unions in OSH
According to the Act of 23 May 1991 trade unions: exercise social control over observance of the legislation on labor protection and participate in enforcement of OSH regulations . In particular, trade unions can influence OSH in companies by:
- collective agreements or other agreements with the employer
- election or selection of employees OSH representatives (including the representatives in the OSH Committee)
- election and managing social labour inspection,
- analysing information on working conditions provided by the employer and making proposals
- promoting OSH-related matters
The level of union membership in Poland is rather low (15%) and it is getting lower each year . However, the role of trade unions in OSH participation is still strong. In companies with trade unions, more often different forms of direct workers participation are implemented than in companies without trade unions (Figure 2) 
Figure 2. Implementing different forms of direct participation in Polish companies with and without trade unions
Source: Pawłowska Z., Implementing employee participation in occupational safety and health management. Unpublished research report, CIOP-PIB, 2008 
The strength of participation in Polish companies is also higher when the trade unions operate in the company (Figure 3) .
Figure 3. Strength of participation in Polish companies with and without trade unions
Source: Pawłowska Z., Implementing employee participation in occupational safety and health management. Unpublished research report, CIOP-PIB, 2008 
Social Labour Inspection
Social labour inspection is a social service provided by employees with the aim to ensure safety and health at work and the protection of employee rights. In practice, the social labour inspector is a person holding employees’ trust and respect so he plays a crucial role in the communication between the employees and an employer in the company in the field of OSH. He can also influence the employees’ behaviour and their attitude toward safety; thus his presence in the company can contribute, to a large extent, to modifying unsafe employee behaviour.
According to legal requirements, a social labour inspection can be established in any enterprise with an operating trade union, which is the only precondition for its establishment. Its competence is regulated by the Social Labour Inspection Act of 1983 . It states that the social labour inspection is managed by the work trade union organisations, but it represents all employees in an enterprise regardless of whether or not they belong to the trade unions. According to the law, an employer is obliged:
- to ensure appropriate conditions which enable social inspectors to fulfill their tasks
- to cover costs related to activities of social labour inspectors.
Organisation and structure
The structure of the inspection in each company depends on company trade unions. Generally there are the following types of social inspections, depending on the structure of the company concerned:
- company social labour inspector
- departmental social labour inspectors
- group social labour inspectors.
Company trade union organisations are the exclusive organisers of elections for social labour inspectors. Inspectors must be an employee of the company. Depending on the decision of company trade unions a social labour inspector can be:
- a trade union member who has no managerial position in the company or
- an employee who is not a trade union member.
In most cases (90%) a social labour inspector is a member of the trade union .
A candidate for social labour inspector should have the necessary knowledge about social labour inspection activities and sufficient work experience:
- a company inspector should have at least five years of work experience in the industry in which the company operates and at least two years of work experience in the company itself,
- a departmental or group labour inspector is required to have worked for two years in the relevant industry and one year in the company.
However these conditions are applied flexibly among others in newly established enterprises otherwise there would be no social labour inspectors in such enterprises .
Elections of social labour inspectors are conducted directly or indirectly, depending on the workforce size:
- company and departmental inspectors in companies or departments with up to 300 employees are elected by a general meeting of the company or department;
- in companies or departments employing more than 300 employees, company and departmental labour inspectors are elected by assemblies of lower-level labour inspectors;
- group labour inspectors are elected by a general assembly of the employees of organisational units.
According to the law in force the employees’ decision about the election of social labour inspectors is final and cannot be questioned by any external body. He can be removed only on the basis of a decision taken by company trade union organisations, or by at least one fifth of the relevant employees. Once elected, inspectors have a term of office of four years .
Rights and rules
Social labour inspectors are entitled to enter, at any time, the company's facilities in order to conduct monitoring and control activities with regard to technical safety and the legal protection of workers. Social labour inspectors also have the right to:
- inspections of company’s premises, machines and technological processes,
- participation in investigations of occupational accidents and work-related diseases and verification whether appropriate preventative measures are being taken,
- participation in social inspections of working conditions,
- giving opinions on plans for improvement of working conditions and occupational rehabilitation as well as monitoring their implementation,
- influencing observance of health and safety requirements by employee’s,
- promoting involvement of all employees in OSH-related activities.
- Pawłowska, Z., System zarządzania bezpieczeństwem i higieną pracy – wpływ na partycypację bezpośrednią. Bezpieczeństwo Pracy, 1/2009, pp. 13-15. Available at: 
- Social dialogue (no date). Home page. Retrieved on 14 February 2013, from: 
- ILO Convention concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the working environment C155, 1981. Available at: 
- ILO Recommendation concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the Working Environment R 164, 1981. Available at: 
- ILO Recommendation concerning communications between management and workers within the undertaking R 129, 1967. Available at: 
- Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation, OJ L 080, 23.03.2002, p. 0029 – 0034. Available at: 
- Framework Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work, OJ L 183, 29.6.1989, p. 1–8. Available at: 
- Labour Code, Journal of Laws of 1974 No 24, item 141 with further amendments. Available at:
- Labour Protection Council of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland (no date). Home page. Retrieved on 14 February 2013, from: 
- Act of 13 April 2007 on National Labour Inspectorate. Available at: 
- Krzyśków, B., The role of trade unions in improving working conditions, unpublished report, CIOP-PIB, 2012
- EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER): Managing safety and health at work, European Risk Observatory Report, 2010. Available at: 
- Act of 23 May 1991 on trade unions, Journal of Laws of 1991, No 55, item 234 with further amendments. Available at: 
- Public Opinion Research Centre (no date). Home page. Retrieved on 14 February 2013, from: 
- Pawłowska, Z., Implementing employee participation in occupational safety and health management, unpublished research report, CIOP-PIB, 2008
- Act of 24 June 1983 on Social Labour Inspectorate, Journal of Laws of 1983, No 35, item 163 with further amendments. Available at: [http:isap.sejm.gov.pl/Download?id=WDU19830350163&type=3]
- Towalski, R. Social labour inspection examined, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Available at: 
Links for further reading
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER): Managing safety and health at work, European Risk Observatory Report, 2010. Available at: 
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), 2012, Available at:
EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2012-13 – Working together for risk prevention, 2012, Available at: 
Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety at work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, 2010. Available at (retrieved 25 November 2012): 
Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Social dialogue and working conditions, 2011. Available at (retrieved 25 November 2012): 
Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Workplace employee representation in Europe, 2012. Available at (retrieved 25 November 2012): 
Krzyśków, B., Partycypacja pracownicza w dziedzinie bezpieczeństwa i higieny pracy – aspekty prawne, Bezpieczeństwo pracy, 1/2007, pp. 5-7. Available at: 
Towalski, R. Social labour inspection examined, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Available at: