Tuesday, 15 February 2011 17:44

National Level Tripartite and Bipartite Cooperation on Health and Safety

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Cooperation between workers, employers and government in the elaboration and implementation of occupational health and safety measures at the national or regional level is common in a significant number of countries. It is not unusual for interest groups and technical experts also to be involved in this process. Such cooperation is highly developed and has been institutionalized in a number of countries by the establishment of consultative and collaborative organizations. These organizations have normally been widely accepted by all labour market participants as there appears to be a general consensus that health and safety at work is a subject of common concern where dialogue between the social partners, the government and other interested parties is extremely important.

The institutions which have been established to facilitate this cooperation vary significantly in form. One approach is to establish consultative organizations either on an ad hoc or a permanent basis to give advice to the government on questions of occupational safety and health policy. The government is normally not obligated to follow the recommendations offered, but in practice they are difficult to ignore and are frequently taken into consideration in the elaboration of government policy.

The other approach is to have the social partners and other interested parties actively cooperate with the government in public institutions which have been established to implement occupational safety and health policy. Participation by non-governmental actors in public institutions with responsibility for health and safety questions at work is normally undertaken through the representation of employers’ and workers’ organizations and, in some cases, other parties, on the board of directors of the public institution concerned, although sometimes participation extends to the management and even the project level. In most cases these persons are nominated by the government on recommendation of the parties to be represented, although in some cases workers’ and employers’ organizations have the right to directly nominate their representatives to these collaborative institutions. Bodies at the national level (or regional, state or provincial level) are normally complemented by structures or arrangements at the industry, enterprise and plant level.

Advice on Policy and Standard Setting

Probably the most common form of cooperation involves the establishment of consultative organizations to give advice on policy and standard setting. Examples of this can vary between a modest approach, which involves the expenditure of relatively few resources, to more institutionalized approaches, which involve more significant amounts of resources. The United States is an example of a country where a more limited approach has been adopted. At the federal level, the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, established pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, is the principal permanent advisory committee. This committee, according to the Act, is to be composed of representatives of management, labor, occupational safety and health professionals and the public, with a member of the public acting as the chairperson. The committee makes recommendations to the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. In practice, however, this committee has not met frequently. The members of the committee are not compensated and the Secretary of Labor has provided from its budget an executive secretary and other support services as needed. The costs of maintaining this committee in existence are therefore very low, although budgetary constraints now call even this support into question. A permanent committee of a similar character, the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health, was established in July 1971 pursuant to Executive Order 11612 to advise the Secretary of Labour on matters relating to the safety and health of federal workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 also provides for the establishment of ad hoc advisory committees to assist in standard-setting functions. These advisory committees are appointed by the Secretary of Labor and are to consist of no more than 15 members, including one or more persons who are designated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Each standard-setting committee is to include an equal number of representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations. The Secretary of Labor may also appoint one or more representatives of state health and safety agencies, as well as technical experts who could be, for example, representatives of professional organizations of technicians or professionals specializing in occupational health or safety, or of nationally recognized standards-producing organizations. Extensive use has been made of such standard-setting committees, which are sometimes in existence several years to accomplish the work that has been assigned to them. Meetings can be frequent, depending on the nature of the tasks to be performed. Although committee members are normally not paid, they are normally reimbursed for reasonable travel expenses and support services for the activity of these committees have been paid for by the Department of Labor as well in the past. Committees have been constituted to recommend standards with respect to agriculture, asbestos dust, carcinogens, coke oven emissions, cutaneous hazards, hazardous materials labelling, heat stress, marine terminal facilities, noise, longshoring safety and health, shipyard employment standards and steel erection rules, among other things.

Other ad hoc advisory committees of a similar character have been established pursuant to similar legislation which falls under the authority of the Secretary of Labor. For example, a number of standard-setting committees have been established pursuant to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. The costs involved in the establishment of such standard-setting committees, however, are relatively modest and are characterized by relatively low administrative costs, little infrastructure, voluntary participation by outside parties without compensation and dissolution of the committees upon completion of their tasks.

More elaborate institutionalized forms of consultation are, however, found in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, the pre-eminent organization is the Working Environment Council, which was established pursuant to the Working Environmental Council Act 1990. The Council gives its views to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, either when asked or on its own initiative, comments on proposed new acts and decrees and can bring forward its own proposals for new policy or legislation. The Council also gives its views about the advisability of making grants-in-aid for research on working environment issues, about the issuance of exemptions, the formulation of government guidance and the policy of the Labour Inspectorate. The Council is comprised of eight representatives from central employers’ organizations, eight from central workers’ organizations and seven from governmental bodies. Only the representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations have the right to vote, however, and the chairperson of the Council is independent. The Council meets every month. In addition, the Council has approximately 15 different working committees for specific issues and, in addition, ad hoc working groups are established for detailed subjects when the subject matter justifies it. Within the working committees and working groups, external experts play an important role and these working organizations prepare reports and papers which are discussed at Council meetings and often form the basis for positions which are subsequently taken. The recommendations of the Council are comprehensive and are published. Although normally the parties try to achieve a consensus position, separate views can be expressed to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment when employers’ and workers’ representatives cannot find common ground. More than 100 persons are involved in the work of the Council and its subsidiary organizations and thus it is supported by significant financial and administrative resources.

Other less prominent consultative organizations exist in the Netherlands for more specific occupational safety and health issues. These include the Foundation for the Working Environment in Building Construction, the Foundation for Health Care in Agriculture, the Commission for the Prevention of Disasters by Dangerous Substances and the Commission for the Labour Inspectorate and Enforcement Policy.

Examples of other countries which have consultative organizations of a bipartite, tripartite or multipartite character to give recommendations on occupational safety and health policy and standards include: Canada (ad hoc committees on legislative reform and standard setting – federal level; Forum for Action on Workplace Health and Safety – Alberta; Joint Steering Committee on Hazardous Substances in the Workplace – Ontario; Back Injury Prevention Advisory Committee – Newfoundland; Occupational Health and Safety Council – Prince Edward Island; Advisory Council on Workplace Safety and Health – Manitoba; Occupational Health and Safety Council – Saskatchewan; Logging Safety Forum – British Columbia); Denmark (Working Environment Council); France (the Central Council for the Prevention of Occupational Risks and the National Commission of Occupational Health and Safety in Agriculture); Italy (Permanent Consultative Commission for the Prevention of Work Accidents and Occupational Health); Germany (Advisory Board to the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health); and Spain (General Council of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

Policy Implementation

A number of countries have bipartite, tripartite or multipartite organizations which are also active in policy implementation. These collaborative organizations normally are public establishments which incorporate representatives of employers’ and workers’ organizations and in some cases other persons or interest groups, in both policy making and policy implementation. Normally far larger than advisory committees, councils or commissions, these collaborative organizations have responsibility for implementing government policy, frequently manage large budgetary resources and often have significant numbers of personnel.

An example of such an organization is the Health and Safety Commission in Great Britain. The Commission was established pursuant to the provisions of the Health and Safety Act 1974. It has as its mandate to ensure that adequate measures are taken to secure the health, safety and welfare of persons at work; to protect the public against risks to health and safety arising out of work; to control storage and use of explosives, highly flammable materials and other dangerous substances; and to control the emission of noxious or offensive substances from the workplace. It is responsible to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, but also to other Secretaries of State, including those of Trade and Industry, Transport, Environment and Agriculture. The Commission has nine persons, all of whom are appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. It consists of a chairperson, three members appointed after consultation with the principal central employers’ organization, three members appointed after consultation with the principal central workers’ organization and two members appointed after consultation with local authority associations.

The Commission is assisted by a number of subsidiary organizations (figure 1). The most important of these is the Health and Safety Executive, a distinct statutory body which consists of a governing body of three persons appointed by the Commission with the approval of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for carrying out the substantive work of the Commission, including the enforcement of health and safety standards under the Health and Safety Act 1974 and other functions delegated to it by the Commission. Local authorities also perform enforcement functions with respect to certain health and safety legislation as well. In addition, the Commission is assisted in its work by a number of advisory committees which are, depending on the committee, bipartite, tripartite or multipartite in character. These advisory committees are organized both by subject matter and industry. There are advisory committees for each of the following subjects: toxic substances, dangerous pathogens, dangerous substances, genetic modifications, occupational health, releases to the environment, nuclear installations and ionizing radiation. There are also advisory committees for the following industries: agriculture, ceramics, construction, education, foundries, health, petroleum, paper and board, printing, railways, rubber, cotton and textiles. Subject matter committees tend to have between 12 and 18 members plus a chairperson and are multipartite in character, frequently including technical experts as well as representatives of central workers’ and employers’ organizations, government and other interest groups. Industry committees, however, tend to be bipartite, with approximately 12 members drawn in equal numbers from central workers’ and employers’ organizations and with the chairperson being from the government. The resources at the disposition of the Commission and the Health and Safety Executive are substantial. For example, in 1993 these organizations together had approximately 4,538 staff members and a budget of £ 211.8 million.

Figure 1. Health & safety in Great Britain: the main institutions


Other examples of collaborative organizations in this field can be found in Canada. At the federal level, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is Canada’s main resource for information on this topic. The Centre also promotes health and safety in the workplace, facilitates the establishment of high standards of occupational health and safety and assists in the development of programmes and policies to reduce or eliminate occupational hazards. The Centre, created by an act of parliament in 1978, was given a tripartite governing body to ensure its impartiality in occupational health and safety matters, including being an unbiased source of information. Its governing council consists of a chairperson and 12 governors – four representing the federal, provincial and territorial governments; four representing labour; and four representing employers. The Centre manages significant human and financial resources and its total expenditures in 1993 were approximately C$8.3 million.

In some provinces there are also collaborative organizations. In Quebec, two prominent organizations are the Commission for Occupational Health and Safety and the Institute of Occupational Health and Safety Research. The Commission has two functions. The first is to develop and implement occupational health and safety policy, including the establishment of standards and their enforcement; the provision of support for the implementation of prevention programmes, participation mechanisms and health services; and the provision of training, information and research services. The second is to provide payment to workers injured on the job and to manage an insurance fund for this purpose to which employers must contribute. The Commission, which was established by law in 1981 and which succeeded the Commission of Occupational Accidents founded in 1931, has a bipartite board of directors which is composed of seven workers’ representatives, seven representatives of employers and a chairperson. The representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations are chosen from lists supplied by the most representative labour and employer organizations. The Commission manages large human and financial resources and at the end of 1992 had expenditures of C$2,151.7 million and employed 3,013 persons as permanent staff and 652 as casual employees.

Quebec’s Institute of Occupational Health and Safety Research, founded in 1980, has as its mandate to contribute, through scientific research, to the identification and the elimination of sources of workplace hazards, as well as to the readaptation of workers who have suffered workplace injuries. The board of directors of the Institute is the same as that of the Commission for Occupational Health and Safety, notwithstanding that it is an independent institution. The Institute also has a scientific council which has advisory functions and is composed of four representatives of workers’ organizations, four from employers’ organizations, six representatives of the scientific and technical community and the Institute’s Director General. In 1992, the Institute had expenditures of C$17.9 million and approximately 126 employees.

The Ontario Workplace Health and Safety Agency, established in 1990 by amendment of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, also has responsibility for developing and implementing policy and for managing occupational health and safety programmes in Ontario. The governing body of the organization consists of a bipartite board of 18 persons with nine representatives each from workers’ and employers’ organizations. Of these representatives, one representative of labour and one of management serve as joint chief executive officers. The resources of this organization are substantial – total expenditures amounted to C$64.9 million in 1992.

One country with a long tradition of collaborative organizations in the field of occupational safety and health, Sweden, decided to reject this form of organization in 1992 and has subsequently used advisory organizations instead. It should be added that this decision was not confined to occupational safety and health, but included all collaborative organizations of any kind in which representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations played a decision-making role at the national level. The impetus for this change came from the principal employers’ organization, which decided unilaterally to withdraw from participation in collaborative public institutions. The central employers’ organization argued that interest groups should not have political responsibility in terms of managing public institutions, but that the government and parliament should have this political role and responsibility; that the role of the employers’ organization was to represent its members’ interests, and that this role could be in conflict with a duty to serve the interests of the public institutions if the employers’ organization was represented on the governing boards of such institutions; and that participation weakened democracy and the development of public institutions. Although workers’ organizations were not in agreement with the employers’ organizations on these points, the government concluded that collaborative bodies with no representation from the principal employers’ organization were impractical and decided to have representation by workers’ and employers’ organizations as well as other interest groups only on advisory bodies. Hence, organizations in the field of occupational safety and health such as the National Board of Occupational Safety and Health, the National Institute of Occupational Health and the Working Life Fund, which had formerly been collaborative in character in terms of a tripartite or multipartite governing board, were restructured.

Although collaborative organizations in most countries are more rare than advisory organizations, which are quite widespread, the case of Sweden’s rejection of collaborative institutions, at least in the field of occupational safety and health, appears to be an isolated one. Although some collaborative institutions, dealing notably with questions of economic policy, training and employment, were dismantled in Great Britain during the 1980s and 1990s by successive conservative governments, the Health and Safety Commission was not affected. Some have advanced that this is because occupational safety and health is a subject of common concern to employers’ and workers’ organizations as well as the government and other interested parties and therefore there is a strong interest by all parties in finding a consensus in both policy formulation and implementation. Also, in Canada such collaborative institutions have been created at both the federal level and in some provinces precisely because a collaborative approach was deemed more useful in finding a consensus between the labour market parties and because administration of the occupational safety and health laws would appear more impartial and fair to those affected by them.

On a broader level, however, there are two national consultative bodies which are also concerned with occupational safety and health issues as part of their more general mandate to address all important social and economic questions of national importance. In the Netherlands, the Labour Foundation, established in May 1945, is a bipartite organization jointly managed by equal numbers of representatives from central employers’ and workers’ organizations (including farmers) and has a significant role as an advisory body to the Government. Although historically its main function has concerned questions of wage policy, it also expresses its views on other conditions of work. The other national consultative body of importance is the Social and Economic Council, which was founded in 1950 pursuant to the Act on Statutory Trade Associations. The tripartite Council consists of 15 representatives of central employers’ organizations, 15 representatives of central workers’ organizations and 15 independent experts. The employers’ and workers’ representatives are appointed by their organizations and the independent experts are appointed by the Crown. In making its appointments, the Crown also tries to have a balance between the major political parties. The Council is independent of the government and is financed by a mandatory tax on employers. The Council has a multimillion dollar budget and its own Secretariat. The Council normally meets once a month and is assisted by a number of permanent and ad hoc committees, which are frequently also constituted on a tripartite basis. The government is required by law to submit all proposals for social and economic legislation to the Council for its advice and any labour legislation – which would include proposals concerning occupational safety and health – comes before the Council.

It should be added that a number of countries require that workplace health and safety committees should or may be established for enterprises which have more than a certain number of employees. These committees are bipartite in nature and include representatives of the employers and the workers. These committees normally have as their function to investigate and propose all ways and means of actively contributing to measures undertaken to ensure the best possible health and safety conditions in the establishment, a role which can include the promotion and monitoring of health and safety conditions in the enterprise to ensure, among other things, adherence to applicable law and regulations. These joint committees are normally advisory in character. Workplace health and safety committees, for example, are legally required in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.



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