Occupational health and safety in the Dutch Working Conditions Act

The Dutch working conditions legislation provides general provisions for employers and employees related to occupational health and safety. On January 24 the Dutch Senate adopted the amended Working Conditions Act. The Act will take effect on July 1, 2017.

The Environment, Health & Safety team of Philips Engineering Solutions interviewed occupational health and safety expert Elsbeth Vogel-Jaartsveld who provides insights into the most important changes for employers.

Could you tell us more about your current role in Philips and your link with occupational health and safety?

I currently work for Philips as the Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Manager Benelux. In this role I am responsible for the coordination of EHS topics, preparing EHS policy and creating a new Health and Safety organizational structure in the Netherlands. Before this, I worked as an EHS jurist at Philips Engineering Solutions for 16 years. In 2016 I finished an education in occupational and health psychology.”

How will the changes in the Dutch Working Conditions Act affect occupational health and safety?

“The amended Working Conditions Act aims to put more emphasis on prevention in the employer’s business. This has several implications, but I find three of them especially interesting.

First of all, the Works Council will be granted the right of consent with respect to the appointment of the prevention officer. Besides this, through the new Working Conditions Act, the Council will gain influence on the prevention officer’s position in the organization. This means that the Works Council receives a legal basis to directly, instead of indirectly, influence the prevention officer’s position within the company.

Secondly, I expect a clearer and more central role of prevention officers in companies. Their main task will be to cooperate with the Works Council and the company doctor while supporting the employer in adhering to its legal obligations. In this way, the prevention officer is very well placed to strengthen the preventative approach towards occupational health and safety within the company.

A third major implication is that company doctors will have a larger role in prevention. Company doctors should be given access to work environments and production locations at all time in order to inspect working conditions. In the same time, employees receive the right to consult the company doctor about work-related health and safety issues, even before turning ill. In practice, this means that company doctors will get more insight into the occupational risks before they materialize giving the company another opportunity to focus on prevention.”

Looking at the amended Working Conditions Act, what’s your advice for employers?

“Companies should be well aware of the renewed role of the Works Council, prevention officers, and company doctors, and proactively manage each of these relationships and strengthen its prevention policies.

I would also advise companies to focus not only on prevention of workplace accidents but also on the prevention of occupational illnesses ensuing from long-term exposure to unhealthy working conditions. This is all the more important because the working life tends to get longer and longer these days.”

Need help establishing or implementing occupational health and safety programs?

The Environment, Health & Safety team offers a variety of EHS expertise and prevention programs. We can help you implement occupational health and safety programs, tailored to your needs. Our Behavior Based Safety Consulting service, for instance, evaluates how behavioral aspects of occupational health and safety could be embedded in your company’s policies.