Should every enterprise have a working environment specialist?
Every enterprise, regardless of its size, should have a working environment specialist. The task of a working environment specialist is to organise the enterprise’s occupational health and safety activities in accordance with the requirements of legislation, for example, to conduct a risk assessment or elect working environment representatives.
A larger enterprise usually has one or several full-time working environment specialists, whereas in a small enterprise it is sufficient if one employee performs the tasks of a working environment specialist in addition to his or her other duties. The employer may also perform the duties of a working environment specialist or he or she may use an outside service provider. The employer decides who performs the duties of a working environment specialist or how many working environment specialists the enterprise needs. The number of specialists should be sufficient to organise a safe working environment, considering the size of the enterprise and the number of hazards present in the working environment.
An employer shall give notice of the appointment of a working environment specialist through the working environment database of the Labour Inspectorate or in a format which can be reproduced in writing within ten days as of the appointment, submitting his or her given name and surname, position and contact details.
Even if a working environment specialist is appointed from among the employees, the ultimate responsibility for a safe working environment remains with the employer.
Rights and obligations of a working environment specialist
The task of a working environment specialist is to organise safe working conditions in accordance with the requirements established by legislation. For example, he or she organises a risk assessment of the working environment, in the course of which the risks to the health and safety of employees in the working environment are identified. An action plan to eliminate or mitigate the hazards is prepared based on the risk assessment.
A working environment specialist is also responsible for the daily monitoring of working conditions to ensure safety. If there is a direct risk of harm to the employee’s life and health, the working environment specialist is required to temporarily stop work until the risk is eliminated. Pursuant to the law, an employee is required to follow the working environment specialist’s instructions regarding the working environment. An employer shall ensure that a working environment specialist has all the work equipment he or she needs.
The working environment specialist involves other parties in his or her activities, including employees and their representatives (for example, by asking their opinion regarding hazards present at the place of work or by involving them in the selection of personal protective equipment) and providers of occupational health services (by outsourcing the service of measuring hazards at the working environment or consulting with an occupational psychologist on how to resolve tensions related to work).
An employee who the employer has authorised to perform occupational health and safety responsibilities in the enterprise shall have working environment-related knowledge and skills. In the absence of such an employee, the employer shall use a competent outside specialist. The employer may perform occupational health and safety responsibilities himself or herself if he or she has working environment related knowledge and skills.
There are no requirements related to how the working environment specialist must acquire the skills and knowledge. He or she shall have sufficient knowledge and skills related to the working environment to understand the hazards present in the working environment of the enterprise and organise activities to avoid occupational accidents and occupational diseases.
It is in the interests of the employer to provide training to a working environment specialist so that he or she can organise the enterprise’s working environment activities in accordance with the requirements of the legislation. Not only does this help to prevent claims, especially financial claims, submitted in relation to an occupational accident or occupational disease, but it also helps to prevent these incidents altogether.
In order to be competent, a working environment specialist shall at least:
- be familiar with occupational health and safety legislation;
- be aware of the principles of occupational health and safety management;
- have knowledge of the hazards of the working environment and be able to ascertain which of them are present in the enterprise;
- be aware of the measures taken to reduce the impact of the hazard;
- know what work is being performed and in what conditions in the enterprise;
- be familiar with the safety of work equipment and the safe use of work equipment.