Occupational safety and health in Central and Eastern Europe

In the field of occupational safety and health, transition and its attendant elements of privatization, industrial restructuring, new forms of work organization, and the breakup of larger state enterprises and the proliferation of small enterprises, has had a direct effect on employment, firm size and industrial relations in Central and Eastern Europe. These in turn have all influenced the way occupational safety and health is considered and solutions are sought.

What is characteristic in Central and Eastern European countries is a common history of a particular system of delivery of occupational health and safety services, administered before transition by the trade unions. This was based mainly on classification and certification of hazardous industries which determined if a worker was entitled to extra pay, early retirement, shorter working hours, and other benefits to counteract the ill-effects of hazardous working conditions.

However, this system is gradually giving way as many countries develop legislation based on the provisions of ILO Conventions and EU Regulations. Many countries are modernizing their labour inspection services to a state system which integrates health and safety responsibilities. The development of a totally different industrial relations system is also having an effect on the way improvements concerning health and safety at work are negotiated. The long tradition of trade union expertise in the area is being joined by employers' associations in tripartite and bipartite decision-making in occupational health and safety.

ILO assistance

A major effort has been directed at advising and training officials of employers' and workers' organizations to be able to initiate or improve their own services. To this end, activities have been undertaken to "sell" occupational health and safety as an important and integral part of decent work, not as something secondary to wages and job security, as is often the case. Employers and their organizations have therefore been targeted on the benefits of improving health and safety at work, as well as on the economic costs of not improving.
The ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team and Country Office for Central and Eastern Europe aims to further these efforts through helping to strengthen national structures dealing with health and safety at work - mainly through the modernization and support of national regulatory frameworks and reform of labour inspection services.