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Tuesday, 15 March 2011 22:44

Health and Safety Regulations: The Netherlands Experience

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Implementation of the EC directive Minimum Regulations for Health and Safety on Temporary and Mobile Building Sites typifies the legal regulations emanating from the Netherlands and from the European Union. Their aim is to improve working conditions, to combat disability and to reduce sickness absenteeism. In the Netherlands, these regulations for the construction industry are expressed in the Arbouw Resolution, Chapter 2, Section 5.

As is often the case, the legislation seems to be following the social changes that began in 1986, when organizations of employers and employees joined to establish the Arbouw Foundation to provide services for construction companies in civil engineering and utility construction, earth works, roadbuilding and water construction and the completion sectors of the industry. Thus, the new regulations are scarcely a problem for the responsible companies already committed to implement health and safety considerations. The fact that these principles are often very difficult to put into practice, however, has led to non-observance and unfair competition and, consequently, the need for legal regulations.

Legal Regulations

The legal regulations focus on preventive measures before the construction project is started and while it is in progress. This will yield the greatest long-term benefit.

The Health and Safety Act stipulates that evaluations of risks must address not only those arising from materials, preparations, tools, equipment and so on, but also those involving special groups of workers (e.g., pregnant women, young and elderly workers and those with disabilities).

Employers are obliged to have written risk evaluations and inventories produced by certified experts, who may be employees or external contractors. The document must include recommendations for eliminating or limiting the risks and must also stipulate phases of the work when qualified specialists will be required. Some construction companies have developed their own approach to the evaluation, the General Business Investigation and Risk Inventory and Evaluation (ABRIE), which has become the prototype for the industry.

The Health and Safety Act obliges employers to offer a periodic health examination to their employees. The purpose is to identify health problems that may make certain jobs especially hazardous for some workers unless certain precautions are taken. This requirement echoes the various collective labour agreements in the construction industry which for years have required employers to provide employees with comprehensive occupational health care, including periodic medical examinations. The Arbouw Foundation has contracted with the Federation of Occupational Health and Safety Care Centres for the provision of these services. Over the years, a wealth of valuable information has been accumulated which has contributed to enhancement of the quality of the risk inventories and evaluations.

Absenteeism Policy

The Health and Safety Act also requires employers to have an absenteeism policy which includes a stipulation that experts in this field be retained to monitor and counsel disabled employees.

Joint Responsibility

Many health and safety risks can be traced to inadequacies in the building and organization choices or to poor planning of the work when setting up a project. To obviate this, the employers, employees and the government agreed in 1989 on a working conditions covenant. Among other things, it specified cooperation between clients and contractors and between contractors and subcontractors. This has resulted in a code of conduct which serves as a model for the implementation of the European directive on temporary and mobile building sites.

As part of the covenant, Arbouw formulated limits for exposure to hazardous substances and materials, along with guidelines for the application in various construction operations.

Under the leadership of Arbouw, the FNV Building Workers and Wood Workers Union, the FNV Industry Union and the Mineral Wool Association, Benelux, agreed to a contract that called for the development of glass wool and mineral wool products with less dust emission, development of the safest possible production methods for glass wool and mineral wool, formulation and promotion of working methods for the safest use of these products and performance of the research necessary to establish safe exposure limits to them. The exposure limit for respirable fibres was set at 2/cm3 although a limit of 1/cm3 was regarded as feasible. They also agreed to eliminate the use of raw and secondary materials that are health risks, using as criteria the exposure limits formulated by Arbouw. Performance under this agreement will be monitored until it expires on 1 January 1999.

Construction Process Quality

The implementation of the EC directive does not stand in isolation but is an integral part of company health and safety policies, along with quality and environmental policies. Health and safety policy is critical part of the quality policy of the companies. The laws and regulations will be enforceable only if the employers and employees of the construction industry have played a role in their development. The government has dictated the development of a model health and safety plan that is practicable and can be enforced to prevent unfair competition from companies that ignore or subvert it.

 

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Read 1887 times Last modified on Thursday, 19 May 2011 21:52