Changes in organising occupational health and safety

2022 - 12 - 16
Article by: Karina Paatsi, Heili Haabu

The coming year will bring changes to the organisation of employee occupational health. In the future, the role of occupational health physicians will increase significantly, with companies required to engage them more closely in the organisation of occupational health. In addition, the new legislation will bring more clarity to the organisation of remote work-related occupational health.

Working with occupational health physicians and organising employee medical examinations

In the future, companies will have to engage occupational health physicians more in organising occupational health. According to the amended Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer must submit a risk analysis of the work environment to an occupational health physician and allow them to visit the work environment, as well as procure an analysis of the company’s occupational health situation from an occupational health physician at least once every three years. Occupational health physicians will make suggestions to employers about improving working conditions and promoting the health of employees, and advise employers on adjusting the working environment and working conditions to promote the health of employees. The employer must implement the suggestions of the occupational health physician, unless this entails disproportionately high costs. The suggestions of the occupational health physician must be included in the risk analysis action plan.

In addition to increasing the role of occupational health physicians in ensuring safety in the working environment, the amendments will expand the list of risk factors in the working environment and types of work that require the medical examination of employees. The list will include work involving repetitive movements, as this is one of the most frequent causes of work-related illness that regular medical examinations can prevent.

As a small relief for employers, the following exception is provided for the medical examination of employees who have recently moved between jobs. An employee who has undergone a medical examination at another employer in the last six months, with respect to the same risk factors in the work environment and the same type of work, does not need an immediate re-examination at the new employer. In such cases, employees can be required to undergo their next medical examination at the time specified in their last medical examination report.

Remote work

Until recently, it has been unclear whether and to what extent employers are responsible for the remote work environment and to what extent this responsibility can be shared with employees. Amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act coming into effect on 1 January 2023 provide some clarity on this. They stipulate that even with remote work, the employer must carry out a risk assessment of the working environment and instruct the employee in terms of occupational health, including ways of mitigating the risks of the working environment and creating a safe working environment. The provisions on remote work also specify that the employer must provide the employee with suitable work equipment, organise their medical examinations and investigate occupational accidents and diseases. The remote workplace is furnished as agreed between the employer and the employee. When it comes to other obligations arising from the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer must assess whether and how these can be fulfilled, considering the specifics of remote work. Employees have an additional obligation to ensure the safety of their working environment, based on the employer’s instructions. Having fulfilled the occupational health and safety obligations towards the remote employee, the employer is released from liability for occupational health and safety violations in the remote work environment.