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Introduction

National strategies are vital policy instruments to enhance the effectiveness of an OSH system by defining the key priorities and actions for improving workers’ health and safety.

The Commission called on the Member States to update and draw up their national OSH strategies in line with the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027 - in cooperation with social partners - to ensure that the new measures are applied on the ground.

In Belgium, safety, health and well-being at work fall within the competence of the Minister for Employment and its administration, the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue. Occupational safety and health (OSH) at work is covered by the “Law of 4 August 1996 on well-being of workers in the performance of their work" and its royal decrees. The implementing royal decrees form together the “Code on Well-being at Work" (le Code sur le bien-être au travail).

More information on the various OSH systems can be found in the relevant OSHwiki articles on national OSH systems.

Basic information on the national OSH strategy

The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027[1]  builds on the former National Strategy for Well-Being at Work 2016-2020[2] by updating its objectives and by giving it a new structure. The strategy is based on the thorough consultation with the main stakeholders, especially the social partners  represented in the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work (Hoge Raad voor Preventie en Bescherming op het Werk). It is also based on the scientific input from other stakeholders such as prevention advisors and the inspection services. This plan, which describes the objectives to be achieved in the field of well-being at work in the years to come, has an evolutionary nature and will be discussed annually with the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work. This allows the national action plan to be adjusted to take into account new challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

The action plan is available in French, Dutch and English:

Plan d’action national pour l’amélioration du bien-être des travailleurs lors de l’exécution de leurs travail 2022-2027[3]

Nationaal actieplan ter verbetering van het welzijn van de werknemers bij de uitvoering van hun werk 2022-2027[4]

National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027

The former strategy:

French version: La stratégie nationale belge Bien-être au travail 2016-2020, proposée par le Ministre de l’Emploi: Objectifs stratégiques et opérationnels [5];

Dutch version: Belgische nationale strategie voor welzijn op het werk 2016–2020[6].

Background and the perceived problem

The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 sets the stage for the development of a consistent policy on well-being at work for a period of six years. The plan includes the transposition on the Belgian level of the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027, and the implementation of the joint priorities document of the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work[7]. With this joint priorities document, the social partners made a significant contribution to the creation of this plan, which should make it possible for all parties to feel closely involved in its implementation.

Main characteristics and objectives of the OSH-strategy (action plan)

The action plan defines the objectives to achieve the well-being at work in the coming six yearsand is divided into two chapters. The first chapter discusses the content topics that must be addressed to improve well-being at work for all workers. In the second chapter, the framework necessary at the scientific, administrative and legal levels to make this well-being policy a reality is discussed in detail (these are the policy supporting functions)

Details of action plan

The national action plan was partly developed during the COVID-19 pandemic which was and is an important challenge for the labour market. Therefore, further action is needed to guide employers and workers through these difficult times in the best possible way. This national action plan pays great attention to the prevention of psychosocial risks and musculoskeletal disorders, as well as to the prevention of workers' exposure to hazardous chemical agents. It emphasises the need for a “Vision Zero” strategy for workplace accidents. It also pays specific attention to vulnerable groups of workers, such as domestic workers, and promotes the reintegration of disabled workers. In addition, attention is given to changes in the work organisation, such as teleworking. The role of the different stakeholders in the companies as well as on the political level is also an important item.

Axis description

The national action plan consists of two chapters. Each of them contains several sections.

Chapter I covers thematic objectives:

Section 1. Prevention of risks associated with the work

The challenge of the coronavirus pandemic

  • A generic guide with special prevention measures, taking into account the evolution of the epidemic or pandemic at a given time, has been structurally embedded in the code on well-being at work and should allow for a faster and more proactive response in the event of a (future) epidemic or pandemic by ensuring that employers and workers are better prepared and know what to expect.

Exposure to hazardous chemical agents

  • Establishing binding exposure limit values in line with the European directives (free crystalline silicon).
  • The development of strategies that make it possible to measure the exposure of workers at the workplace to hazardous chemical agents.
  • Exchange of information and best practices, as is taking place in the context of the «roadmap on carcinogens».
  •  Follow the work at the European level on hazardous medical products.
  • Good air quality: Ensure that the workplace is properly ventilated by opening windows or by having a good mechanical ventilation system with fresh air supply.

Psychosocial risks

  • Mental well-being at work: A federal plan for mental well-being and the fight against stress and all work-related psychosocial risks will be set up with all stakeholders. This includes i.a. a media campaign, awareness raising actions and financial support for pilot projects that raise the expertise in the companies on this matter.
  • Health and care workers: the plan supports any sectoral agreement for the reduction of work pressure and will pay specific attention to this group in the actions regarding psychosocial risks.
  • Follow up of the Belgian legislation on psychosocial risks and its synergies with the anti-discrimination legislation.
  • Support the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work in line with the ILO-convention n° 190.
  • Roll out of pilot projects for burnout prevention and pilot projects for innovative work organisation.

The prevention of musculoskeletal disorders

Vision Zero for workplace accidents

  • Update the legislation relating to the use of work equipment.
  • Update the legislation relating to fire prevention.
  • Increase safety at temporary or mobile construction site.
  • A project will also be launched to encourage workers to engage in safe behaviour through the nudging technique.
  • Optimise regulations to prevent serious workplace accidents.

Protection of domestic workers

  • Establish a regulatory framework with a practicable solution for the protection of the well-being at work of domestic workers

Section 2. Specific challenges to well-being at work

Teleworking:

  • Teleworking has become an important form of work organisation that cannot be ignored in socio-economic life. So it is important to clarify and refine the legal framework of this type of work.

Reintegration of disabled workers:

  • Specify the legislation in line with the opinion of the social partners.
  • Elaboration of guidance for the improvement a collective reintegration policy in companies.
  • Investing in a communication and awareness campaign.

A changing world and labour market

  • Following the developments of a changing world very closely by setting up and collaborating in studies and by communicating the results of these studies to all relevant stakeholders, because it  is of utmost importance to be proactive in dealing with these new developments.

Section 3. Well-being policy actors at the enterprise level

The implementation of a well-being policy at the enterprise level involves several actors: the employer, the internal and external  services for prevention and protection at work, the worker representatives and, the worker.

Employers: Support of employers by:

  • Providing risk analysis tools (OiRA) and developing and providing best practices in cooperation with experts and the inspection services.
  • Paying specific attention to small and medium-sized enterprises
  • Supporting employers with new regulations on company visits and policy advice.

Prevention services:

  • Modernising the training of  preventionadvisors to adequately address today’s challenges.
  • Exploring ways to eliminate the shortage of occupational physicians and company nurses.
  • Improving the functioning of external prevention services.
  • Providing tools and materials that will support prevention advisors.

The social dialogue

  • Social partners in the National Labour Council are invited to elaborate a set of minimum rules, to enable the trade union representatives to carry out their mission effectively and correctly, when they are entrusted with the missions of the committee for prevention and protection at work.
  • Providing full support to the social dialogue in companies.
  • Considering how worker representatives in the committees for prevention and protection of different employers can cooperate and be consulted in order to prevent and, if necessary, manage issues concerning well-being at work that arise from a lack of coordination in the workplace when several workers from different employers are present at this workplace at the same time.

The workers

  • Evaluating the use in practice of the workstation sheets in the temporary employment sector  and, examine whether the use of such a workstation sheet can/should be extended to all workers, and how this could be done.

Chapter II covers policy supporting objectives:

Section 1. Introduction

A government policy on well-being at work must be ‘evidence-based’, which means that scientific research is indispensable.

The government must be able to determine the most appropriate approach to the specific problems related to well-being at work based on the results of such (solid) scientific research and the practical problems identified in the field by the labour inspectorate and the social partners. This approach consists of a range of possible actions: the development of legislation, of awareness campaigns and of inspection campaigns.

Section 2. Collecting available exposure data

  • Streamline data on occupational risks and working conditions (for example on occupational accidents, illnesses, wellbeing at work, exposure data) including data on psychosocial risks and cardiovascular diseases and bring it together in a centralised database that will be managed by the Federal Public Service Employment, Work and Social Dialogue.
  • Participate in the European Working Conditions Survey conducted by Eurofound and analyse the Belgian data included in this survey.

Section 3. Quality regulations

  • Simplifying and better aligning administrative obligations.
  • Modernising the regulations relating to work equipment, fire safety and temporary or mobile construction sites.
  • Develop forms and models for users in a digital and user-friendly way. Set up possibilities to provide information to the government electronically.

Section 4. Optimising the operation of the administration

  • Making more staff and financial resources available to the Directorate-General for the Humanization of Work to develop the established policy at the regulatory level, facilitate the social dialogue, promote the regulations, conduct information and awareness campaigns and facilitate the research in this domain.
  • Bringing the number of inspectors at the Inspectorate for supervision of well-being at work in line with ILO standards.

Section 5. Stakeholder collaboration on well-being at work

Employers’ federations, the workers’ organisations and the prevention advisors are invited to share their expertise with all actors active at the macro level to develop the national action plan and implement it.

Section 6. Synergy between well-being at work and other aspects falling within the competence of other authorities

  • Thorough consultation with all federal and regional authorities whose competences interfere with   well-being at work, is necessary to avoid diverting the people and resources that should be used for occupational safety and health to other objectives.
  • Concertation with the regional ministers of education in order to strengthen the training of all  prevention advisors.

Section 7. European and international cooperation

  • Following and supporting the actions taken at the European level. Participating constructively in the elaboration of the European directives and other instruments that are being developed at EU level.
  • Transposing the directives issued by Europe in relation to occupational health and safety into Belgian law in a timely and correct manner.
  • At the level of the International Labour Organization (ILO), ratification of the conventions relevant to health and safety and their concrete application.

Actors and stakeholders

The implementation of a well-being policy at the enterprise level involves several actors: the employer, the internal and external prevention services, the worker representatives and the workers.

The Federal Minister for Employment, as well as the federal Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health, the Communities and the Regions authority are involved in the implementation of the strategy.

The strategy is based on thorough consultation with the main stakeholders, especially the social partners, of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work.

The action plan has an evolutionary nature and will be discussed annually with the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work. This allows the national action plan to be adjusted to new challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

Resources and time frame

The action plan does not include detailed information on resources. However, more staff and financial resources will be made available, within the limits of the budget, to the Directorate-General for the Humanization of Work to develop the established policy at the regulatory level, facilitate the social dialogue, promote the regulations, and conduct information and awareness campaigns. Additionally, more financial, technical and human resources will be invested for research on the improvement of working conditions (DIRACT-DIOVA) to improve epidemiological knowledge about risk factors in the working environment. Special attention is also being given to the Labour Inspection.

The current National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 covers the period from 2022 - 2027.

Evaluation

The National Strategy for Well-Being at Work 2008-2012 was evaluated, the reports are online available[8]. On the basis of the evaluation outcomes, policy recommendations were formulated for the preparation of the national strategy for 2013-2020. A report on the implementation of the national strategy 2013-2020 was submitted to the High Council for Prevention and Protection at work., The action plan 2022 – 2027 has an evolutionary nature and will be discussed annually with the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work, on the basis of a report that will contain the implemented actions and their results. This allows the national action plan to be adjusted to take into account new challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

Ex ante indicators for the years 2021 to 2025

No indicators are mentioned in this action plan.

Relationship to EU Strategic Framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027

The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 was published 24. March 2022 and came into effect May 2022. The action plan incorporates the objectives of the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027. There are relations to all the three key objectives of the European Strategic Framework. The National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027 is in line with the EU Framework, which, as one of its three key priorities, focuses on increasing preparedness to respond to current and future health crises.

Examples:

Key objective 1 of the EU Framework: setting up a federal plan for mental well-being and the fight against stress and all work-related psychosocial risks, and prevention of skeletal and muscular disorders are dealt with in Section 1. "Prevention of risks associated with the work" of the thematic objective.

Key objective 2 of the EU Framework: Establishing binding exposure limit values, exchange of information and best practices, as is taking place in the context of the «roadmap on carcinogens», anti-discrimination legislation elimination of violence and harassment are mentioned in Section 1. of the thematic objective . Section 2. "Specific challenges to well-being at work" tackles the legal framework for teleworking, and the reintegration of disabled workers.

Key objective 3 of the EU Framework: The thematic objective in Section 1. "Prevention of risks associated with the work" establishing a generic guide with special prevention measures, taking into account the evolution of the epidemic or pandemic at a given time, that should allow for a faster and more proactive response in the event of a (future) epidemic or pandemic by ensuring that employers and workers are better prepared and know what to expect. Preparedness is explicitly mentioned in the EU Framework.

References

[1] National action plan to improve the well-being of workers in the performance of their work for 2022-2027. Available at: https://werk.belgie.be/nl/publicaties/national-action-plan-improve-well-being-workers-performance-their-work-2022-2027

[2] National Strategy for Well-Being at Work 2016-2020. Available at: https://employment.belgium.be/sites/default/files/content/documents/Welzijn%20op%20het%20werk/EN/nat_strategie_EN.pdf

[3] Plan d’action national pour l’amélioration du bien-être des travailleurs lors de l’exécution de leurs travail 2022-2027. Available at: https://emploi.belgique.be/sites/default/files/content/publications/PlandactionnationalBienetreautravail.pdf

[4] Nationaal actieplan ter verbetering van het welzijn van de werknemers bij de uitvoering van hun werk 2022-2027. Available at: https://werk.belgie.be/sites/default/files/content/news/NationaalActieplanWelzijnophetwerk.pdf

[5] La stratégie nationale belge Bien-être au travail 2016-2020, proposée par le Ministre de l’Emploi: Objectifs stratégiques et opérationnels. Available at: https://emploi.belgique.be/fr/themes/bien-etre-au-travail#toc_heading_4

[6] Belgische nationale strategie voor welzijn op het werk 2016–2020. Available at: https://werk.belgie.be/nl/themas/welzijn-op-het-werk#toc_heading_4

[7] Note de priorités 2020-2024, Note de priorités commune des partenaires sociaux du conseil supérieur pour la prévention et la protection au travail, Version 02.07.2021, Available at:https://emploi.belgique.be/sites/default/files/content/documents/Bien-%C3%AAtre%20au%20travail/Avis%20Conseil%20Sup%C3%A9rieur/D219_NoteDePriorit%C3%A9s_20210702.pdf

[8] Evaluation de la stratégie nationale en matière de bien-être au travail 2008-2012. Available at: https://emploi.belgique.be/fr/projets-de-recherche/2013-evaluation-de-la-strategie-nationale-en-matiere-de-bien-etre-au-travail

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