OSH in The Netherlands

Which parties help companies promote safe and healthy work?

Dutch companies

Employers and employees are jointly responsible for safe and healthy work within an organisation. They reach agreements about the working conditions. Large organisations and companies conclude these agreements in consultation between the Works Council and the management board. Each company must employ at least one health and safety officer who is able to implement the measures that focus on health and safety within a company. The director is allowed to hold the position of health and safety officer at small companies that have 25 employees or less. The health and safety officer supports the employer in the performance of policy pertaining to safe and healthy work and is closely involved in drawing up the Risk Assessment and Evaluation (‘RI&E’). Read more about the Risk Assesment at www.rie.nl or on the website of the Online interactive Risk Assesment initiative.

Trade associations

Companies (the management) can apply to their trade association for support. Trade associations are often employer organisations that are able to represent an important part of the industry. An important activity of trade associations is conducting CLA negotiations (a CLA is a collective labour agreement) with employees and lobbying for the interests of the industry or sector in the world of politics and the government.

Trade unions

Employees may become members of a trade union. Trade unions negotiate on behalf of their members with employers or the party designated for this purpose, such as the employers’ organisation from the industry, concerning collective employment conditions, working conditions and in a more general sense concerning the employees’ rights and obligations. This may lead to a collective labour agreement (CLA). A trade union also acts to look after the interests of its members, for example in case of a dismissal or reorganisation, and trade unions can give their members legal assistance and advice concerning labour law and other matters. In a more general sense, a trade union also defends the social standards and values pertaining to people and labour. Trade associations and trade unions also discuss health and safety with each other. They can lay down the agreements they have concluded in the ‘Arbo Catalogue’: a collection of measures and solutions for working conditions in the relevant industry. Companies and employees select the measures and solutions that are relevant for their industry or sector. The Arbo Catalogue includes examples of ‘good practices’, which are ways in which the industry can comply with the rules in a practical manner. The Arbo Catalogue is checked by the Inspectorate SZW: if an employer then applies the measures from the Arbo Catalogue, he/she will know that this at least satisfies the statutory requirements. However, an employer is always allowed to apply a measure other than the one indicated in the Arbo Catalogue, but the employer does have to demonstrate in that case that the measure selected by him/her is just as good as the measure from the Arbo Catalogue.

Central employees’ and employers’ organisations

At the national level, the employees’ organisations (trade unions) work together in 3 federations of trade unions: FNV, CNV and VCP. Federations of trade unions are umbrella employees’ organisations. At the European level they are affiliated with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Employers work together at the national level in employers’ organisations AWVN, VNO-NCW, LTO-Nederland and MKB-Nederland. Trade associations are affiliated with these organisations. These umbrella organisations regularly consult with the government and each other. The experiences of the individual trade associations and trade unions are combined in these umbrella organisations. In addition to looking after the interests of their members, providing and exchanging information about those experiences is a key task of these organisations.

SER and StvdA

The consultations between the social partners and the government at the central level take place within the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) and the Labour Foundation (StvdA). The SER, which includes independent experts appointed by the government (Crown-appointed members) and government representatives in addition to the employers and employees, issues targeted advice to the government. The Labour Foundation is the national platform for consultation between the social partners for promoting good labour relations.

The Government

The Working Conditions Act forms the basis for regulations pertaining to safe and healthy work. This piece of legislation comes under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. It mainly includes a description of the processes for guaranteeing good working conditions. In fact, it comes down to the government determining as many target requirements and limit values for organisations as possible. Those target requirements and limit values determine the boundaries within which employees and employers can conclude their own agreements, which they can lay down in the Arbo Catalogue. The Working Conditions Act is largely based on the European working conditions framework directive. This is how the government creates room for increased customisation within companies and ensures compliance with European legislation. More specific target requirements and limit values are included in the Working Conditions Decree. That Decree is for a large part also an implementation of special European Directives that are based on the framework directive. The limit values and target requirements in the Working Conditions Decree therefore concern standards and values for risks that occur in more than one industry. There are, for example, target requirements for noise, VDU activities, non-ionising radiation and dangerous substances. These agreements also find their way into the Arbo Catalogue. The Agenda Stipulations or Procedural Regulations in the Working Conditions Decree deserve special attention. Agenda Stipulations describe matters in respect of which no target provisions have been set as yet or in respect of which it is impossible to set limit values. An example of this is the ‘psychosocial work stress’. This may manifest itself in the shape of bullying or gossiping and backbiting on the work floor. Employers and employees must ensure that no psychosocial work stress can arise. It is impossible to provide a specific limit value, however, but the Arbo Catalogue can describe methods for the company to counter bullying. The Working Conditions Regulations include the detailed regulations that are derived to a large extent from the annexes to the various European Directives. Read more about the Dutch working conditions legislation >>

The government inspects and enforces

Enforcement of the Working Conditions Act is the responsibility of the Inspectorate SZW (formerly: the Labour Inspectorate). Companies are required to comply with the working conditions legislation (Working Conditions Act, Working Conditions Decree and the Working Conditions Regulations). The Arbo Catalogue can be a useful tool in this connection. The Inspectorate SZW visits companies to inspect whether these companies actually comply with the regulations. If this is not the case, the company may be issued with a warning or an administrative fine or an official report in case of serious matters.

The Government facilitates

The Government (the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment) facilitates companies by organising various projects, which are often targeted at SMEs. Examples of projects include: – Programme Self-regulation safe and healthy workProgramma Sustainable employability In addition, the government provides information, for example via Arboportaal

The Netherlands Focal Point

The Netherlands Focal Point (NL-FOP) represents the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in the Netherlands. NL-FOP contributes actively to further development of occupational safety and health in the Netherlands and in Europe by importing and exporting knowledge, instruments and best practices. Coordination and implementation has been placed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment with TNO, in close consultation with the employers, employees and the government in the tripartite working group European Context, which includes representatives from CNV, MKB-Nederland and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.

Government at European level

The political policy frameworks for governments are created at European level. These policy frameworks concern creating new legislation, the initiation of new legislation and the financing for tenders for national and international policy research and other core activities for the ‘general wellbeing/good’. The European Commission plays a vital role in these activities, as she represents the interests of the European Union as a whole. The Commision proposes new legislation to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and moreover, acts as a watch-dog for correct application of European legislation by member countries.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

The goal of the Agency is to make Europe’s workplaces healthier, safer and more productive, for the wellbeing of businesses, employees and governments. The Agency promotes a culture of risk prevention to improve working conditions in Europe. European agencies are separate European Union bodies and a such a separate legal entity set up to perform specific tasks under EU law. In total there are more than 40 European agencies. EU-OSHA is a decentralized agency, conducting technical, scientific and governancestasks to help those EU institutions make and conduct policy. The agencies also support the cooperation between the EU and the national governments by the bundling of technical and specialistical expertise of both EU institutions as the national organisations. Decentralised agencies are set up for indefinite time and are located at different places throughout the European Union.

Service providers for safety and health at work

An employer can make a choice from a broad range of service providers in the field of safety and health at work. Inter alia for having an RI&E and the rehabilitation process checked, the employer may choose between hiring specialists from a certified working conditions service (this can also be an internal working conditions service) or engaging a certified working conditions expert not employed by a working conditions service (custom scheme: only if this has been arranged via the collective labour agreement or approved by the employee representation). A list of certified working conditions services can be found on the SBCA website. Working conditions services must employ the following disciplines: company doctor, occupational hygienist, higher safety specialist and a work and organisation expert. A company can also have itself assisted with advice concerning various other areas issued by advisors who are not certified. This not an obligation pursuant to the Working Conditions Act. OVAL is an important player. This association, which includes among other working conditions service providers such as reintegration companies, offers information, support and assistance. Moreover, OVAL is the driving force behind the Blik op werk quality mark, which includes quality marks for working conditions services and reintegration services.

Professional associations

There are a considerable number of associations of professionals that are involved in safety and health at work. They are necessary for the exchange of information between colleagues, but they also play a major role in the communication with the government and employers’ and employees’ organisations. Firstly it concerns organisations of registered/certified experts:

The Netherlands Society of Occupational Medicine (via registration)

The Netherlands Society for Occupational Hygiene (NVvA)

Professional Society for Occupational and Organisational experts (BA&O)

The Netherlands Society for Safety Expertise (NVVK)

The latter three organisations are united in the PPM foundation. In addition, the professional organisations work together on working conditions knowledge files. Other professional organisations include:

Professional organisation for OSH advisors (BvAA)

Nurses and Caretakers Netherlands & Occupational Nurses (V&VN)

Dutch Association for Social Work (NVMW)

Dutch Association for company fysiotherapists (NVFB)

Dutch Association for occupational therapy

Human Factors NL (society for ergonomics)

The Dutch Institute for Psychologists

Dutch Association for OSH experts (NVvA)


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