Safety at work: the key roles in a targeted safety policy

Safety in the workplace is a shared responsibility. But what exactly does the law say about that? Who can or should play a role in prevention within your organisation? Hélène Thierry, prevention adviser at Mensura, gives an overview of the key players when it comes to safety at work.

Since the beginning of 2000 and the entry into force of the Welfare Act, it has been crystal clear: safety at work is a shared responsibility. Who does what?

The employer: project leader

Within an organisation, three roles exist side by side: the employer, the employee and – an essential link between the two – the manager. “The employer is the conductor: they give the measure and take care of the instruments,” says Hélène Thierry.  “But the employer also has an exemplary role; otherwise, the safety project is doomed to fail. A boss who lays down clear safety rules, but walks around the workplace without safety shoes, is likely to miss the target.”

The manager: monitors the application

“The manager has various levers at their disposal to ensure that preventive measures are applied,” continues Hélène Thierry. “There are three important ones, of which supervision is the least attractive: attention to compliance with safety rules. Suppose an employee doesn’t wear their personal protective equipment. If the manager acts as if they haven’t seen anything, they are ignoring the safety policy. If, on the other hand, they engage in a conversation with the employee, they can identify and resolve possible individual objections.”

The second responsibility? Taking plenty of time to consider the best approach to safety in new situations, and if in doubt, contact the prevention service. And thirdly, make sure – in cooperation with HR – that every newcomer is fully aware of the prevention policy. “That’s important, even if they have 30 years of experience. After all, each company is different. With the Mensura Check-In Tool, each new colleague receives convenient and comprehensive safety and health advice during the welcome procedure, based on an individual questionnaire.”

Employees and risk awareness

“Employees are expected to take no risks and follow instructions. If in doubt, they should check with their manager. Some employees struggle with this: especially young employees and temporary employees, but also experienced colleagues who have been exposed to these risks for a long time.”

Communication is often the key. “A common source of work-related accidents is a discrepancy between regulations and reality. Employees sometimes adjust their working methods to solve practical problems, but do not change the safety instructions accordingly. By communicating the how and why of a change, employees and managers can work out a safe solution, if necessary with the help of the prevention service.”

Internal prevention service: an advisory role

“This service, compulsory in companies with at least 20 employees, advises the employer to strive for a working environment free of work-related accidents, occupational illnesses, and burnouts,” explains Hélène Thierry. “Actual actions are a good indicator of the company’s maturity in terms of prevention. In too many cases, the prevention service is satisfied with just carrying out risk analyses. But in an increasing number of SMEs, the internal prevention service works closely with the manager(s) to set up professional safety procedures. At best, the internal prevention service behaves like a coach on the job site.”

It has taken a long time, but since the Welfare Act of 4 August 1996, attitudes within organisations have changed. Shifting all responsibility for safety at work to the internal prevention service is a thing of the past.

Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work: a valuable platform – under certain conditions

“This joint body, compulsory as from 50 employees, can help to put prevention issues on the table and bring together the views of employees’ and employers’ representatives. This can really help improve safety in the workplace, provided that the employer knows the legislation and is able to steer the discussions in the right direction, and if the trade unions participate in it constructively. Then a CPPW is enormously valuable for investigating accident analyses, for example.”

Confidential adviser, firefighting, first aid: in the front line

“Some employees take on a first-line role in addition to their work. Confidential advisers are ready to help colleagues who experience violence at work – before the psychosocial prevention adviser intervenes with a more formal procedure. Colleagues who are part of the firefighting team are not firefighters, but they are trained to extinguish an outbreak of fire, evacuate the premises, and be alert to circumstances that may ignite a fire or impede evacuation. The same goes for first aid providers, who are trained to be on the front line in the event of an accident.”

External prevention and protection service: complementary to the internal service

“The External Service for Prevention and Protection at Work (ESPPW) comes to the aid of organisations that do not have certain legally required skills or are experiencing problems for which specific skills are required. The activities can be summarised in two themes. On the one hand, there is the medical supervision of the employees, which has been compulsory since the end of the 1960s. This is the world of occupational medicine and individual prevention. On the other hand, there is the collective prevention, laid down in the Welfare Act. Prevention advisers, psychologists, ergonomists, occupational hygienists, and other experts detect and address collective risks.”

A large number of other external actors

The overview would not be complete without mentioning other external actors who may influence decisions on prevention:

  • Legal insurers insure organisations in case of occupational accidents. The insurance premium paid by the employer largely depends on the frequency and seriousness of previous occupational accidents.
  • Fire brigades and fire insurers may require certain improvements before a hotel, service store, production site, etc. can open.  
  • The FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue checks whether employers comply with social regulations and the Welfare Act. The service also gives advice. 
  • Organisations use external technical inspection services (ETIS) to inspect technical installations. They are also a source of professional advice. 
  • Consultants advise companies who, for example, wish to obtain quality certification voluntarily.