Occupational health and safety at work in a nutshell

The term “Occupational Health and Safety” (OHS) covers a wide range of issues and rules. Many employers and employees see these areas as a necessary evil and a formality. However, this can change in the event of a serious accident, an inspection by a labour inspectorate or an employment dispute. So how can you prepare yourself so that you as an employer are not caught off guard by these events?

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8 minutes of reading

Chapters of the article

What does occupational health and safety mean?

The workplace should be safe not only for employees, but basically for any individual who is there. This is to be ensured and paid for by the employer and is then the responsibility of the managers in their respective roles. The scope of this legal duty will of course be vastly different when working in an office, a laboratory, working at height or on a construction site, for example. Nevertheless, there are some general principles that should be followed in all these workplaces.

The basic rule of thumb is that if an employer is sufficiently knowledgeable about OHS and employs 25 or fewer employees, he or she can take care of this area himself or herself (in the case of an office operation, anyone can certainly do this). However, if it is a hazardous operation or a workplace with 25 or more employees, there should ideally be a dedicated H&S person.

Risk identification

Every workplace is required by law to identify the risks to employees. Even in the aforementioned office, a fall, a snapped finger or the toppling of an unfixed locker can happen. As part of the risk identification process, the employer should find and minimise just such unsecured lockers or other risks. Those that cannot be completely eliminated should be communicated to the employee in advance.

Risk identification also includes consideration of what equipment employees need to be specially trained to operate, or at least provided with instructions, and what requires the use of protective equipment.

Tip: What does an accident at work mean? What are you entitled to, what is pain and suffering and how is it determined? Is the procedure different if you caused the injury in part by your own breach of duty? And why is your employer allowed to give you notice in connection with a work-related injury? We will answer all this in our article.

For most operations, there are already written documents on this topic, so it is enough to get a similar document, for example from OSH professionals, and compare it with the actual operation at the workplace. It usually contains a description of the risk – i.e. what can happen (e.g. needle sticks, cuts, etc.), the likelihood of the risk and the severity of the consequences and the measures that can be taken. This document should become an integral part of your employer’s agenda.

Do you need to prepare documentation in the field of occupational health and safety?

You can leave it to the professionals. We will check your documentation or prepare it completely turnkey.

Categorization of works

Every job performed in the workplace should be classified into one of four categories. The conditions for categorising work are set out in a government decree, which identifies a total of thirteen risk factors that are assessed on this occasion – these are dust, chemicals, noise, vibration, non-ionising radiation, physical strain, working position, heat strain, cold strain, psychological strain, visual strain, strain, working with biological agents and working in elevated air pressure. The Decree clearly describes the criteria for categorisation.

Each job should be assessed in terms of the different factors and their categories. If, for example, you subsequently assess the risk for a factor at level three, that job is classified as category three, even though all the other factors are assessed at level one.
The assessment should be carried out for each job separately.

The importance of job categorisation includes occupational health examinations, their frequency and frequency of recurrence. If the categorisation results in at least one position in category 2 or higher, this information should be sent to the Regional Health Station responsible for the workplace.

Tip: Wondering what your employer’s obligations to you are? What criteria must your working conditions meet, what do you have to be paid for, and what about holidays? And conversely, what rights does your employer have against you? The answer to these questions can be found in our article on: Employer’s rights and obligations towards the employee.

Provision of protective equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is often confused with work equipment or workwear, but they are not the same thing. For example, a rake, a computer or a paint roller are work equipment.

In contrast, protective equipment is a work helmet, work gloves or a safety harness for working at height. Employers should equip their employees in hazardous work directly with protective equipment and not rely on them to provide it themselves. Nor should they provide them for reimbursement in the event of normal wear and tear (another situation is, for example, loss or destruction caused by misuse).

Work boots or work clothes can be protective equipment, for example, if you use them to protect your employees from the cold. However, if they are uniform shirts for employees in a pizzeria, they are not protective equipment.

Tip: You can find workwear and protective equipment in many professions. However, there are often questions about who is actually obliged to pay for them – the employee or the employer? We will answer what the law says in our article.

Fire protection

In this area, too, the activities carried out fall into one of the following categories:

  • without increased fire risk,
  • with increased fire risk,
  • high fire risk.

However, the criteria should be assessed by a competent person.

Each workplace should be equipped with fire extinguishers, but this is usually provided by the landlord of the building. Nevertheless, it is not a bad idea to check this and, if necessary, agree remedies with the landlord.

In the event of a fire, and other similar situations, the workplace should be equipped with escape route signs (which are usually green) and red fire extinguisher signs.

Tip: Can you have an accident at home? The answer to this question can be found in our article.

Occupational safety training

Regular training (sometimes even practical training) should be provided in both fire protection and occupational safety. Often training, or simply signing a paper stating that it has taken place, is the only activity that takes place in OHS. However, what you probably get away with in an office activity can be a real bummer if your employees are working at a lathe or in a lab, for example.

Training should take place at the latest on the day the employee starts work in the form of induction training and then refresher training at appropriate intervals – especially taking into account the type of work and changes in the work organisation.

Tip: OHS training was covered in one of our blog articles.

OSH records

In the field of OSH, it is worth not underestimating both the duties as such (conducting regular training, assigning protective equipment) and keeping records of these activities. For example, if there is a truly fatal workplace accident, it will be difficult to prove that you agreed with a colleague to use safety glasses and a helmet, and that you trained them, if you have no evidence of any of this and the survivors claim the cost of the funeral and maintenance of any minor children left behind.

As for the records that the employer should keep, these are mainly the accident book and fire book, which are legally required, and the health and safety inspection log (which should include a ‘health and safety inspection’ at least once a year, i.e. a thorough check of everything to do with health and safety). However, the law does not provide for binding forms and therefore electronic forms are allowed.

Medical examinations

The employer should have a contract with the company doctor and every employee should undergo a medical examination at least before starting work. This can also be done by the employee’s district doctor if the work is classified as least demanding. Periodic medical examinations should follow at certain intervals, again determined by the category of work activity and the age of the employee.

Tip: We have covered workplace medical examinations, their division and rules in a separate article.

Who supervises OHS?

Oversight of safe work is carried out by the State Office of Labour Inspection through its inspectorates. It does not pay to ignore the regulations in this area, as the fines can be very high – up to CZK 2 million. Of course, the inspectors take into account the general dangerousness of the operation, so if a breach of duty is discovered in an accounting firm, the inspector can expect a period of time to rectify the defects rather than a fine of CZK 1 million. However, when investigating a fatality in a high-rise work, they would probably not be so forgiving.

Tip: Labour inspections sound really scary for many employers. But it has an important place and in some situations it can not only save money, but even save lives. In our next article, we’ve broken down what a labour inspectorate actually does, what powers it has, and how the inspection itself works.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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