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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 Estonia, the main document underlying the field of occupational health and safety is the Occupational Health and Safety Act adopted by the Estonian Parliament – the Riigikogu – based on which several relevant Regulations of the Government of the Republic and the Minister in charge of the policy sector have been developed and enacted (the Act came into force on 26 July 1999). In the occupational health and safety system of Estonia, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications constitutes the executive authority which regulates the entire area, where the Department of Labour Relations and Working Environment is directly involved in occupational health and safety-related policy-making.

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

Basic Information on the national OSH strategy

“Estonia 2035”[1]  is a strategic management tool which enables the coordination of long-term strategic planning and financial management of the country, taking into account the possibilities of public finance. It is a strategy for the uniform management of Estonia’s development that facilitates cooperation between the Riigikogu and the Government of the Republic and strengthens the links between different types of strategic policy documents. The “Estonia 2035” development strategy sets out strategic goals for the state and people of Estonia for the next fifteen years and determines the changes necessary for achieving them The “Estonia 2035” goal “Estonia’s people are smart, active and care about their health” is related with OSH topic

Occupational health and safety activities are regulated in the Welfare Development Plan (WDP) (Heaolu arengukava) 2023 – 2030[2],[3] which is the successor to the previous development plan. The WDP  outlines the main challenges, sets strategic objectives and identifies the changes needed to achieve them between 2023 and 2030. The WDP plan takes into account the targets set in the country's long-term development strategy ‘Estonia 2035’ as well as the global sustainable development goals of the United Nations and the European Union's directions and international commitments. WDP general goal is an Estonia where people are cared for, inequality and poverty is reducing, and a long and high-quality working life is supported for all. WDP have five sub-goal, including labour market and working life goals.

While people’s well-being is also influenced by a person's state of health, the objectives in the area of health are addressed in depth in the National Health Plan 2020–2030 (NHP)[4], which focus also on OSH (prevention of occupational accidents, promotion of mental health etc). NHP is a continuation of the National Health Plan 2009–2020.  NHP 2020-2030 based on the results of its mid-term review, trends in health and mortality in recent years, national practices, key research and analysis, as well as strategic policy documents and discussions with stakeholders. The vision of the NHP 2020-2030 is that the people of Estonia live long and are as healthy as possible throughout their life cycle, and their health and well-being are maintained and supported through public, third and private sector cooperation for the development of the living environment and the health system.

Background and the perceived problem 

In the last decade, life expectancy in Estonia has grown faster than the EU average. At the same time, the growth in the number of healthy life years has slowed down and the difference between men and women is large. Thus, people live longer, but with restrictions due to illness and health, which affects both people's participation in the labour market and society, as well as the increase in the state's health care costs.

Estonia faces serious structural challenges in the labour market – an ageing and shrinking population, skills mismatches, gaps in labour market performance and a high risk of poverty among the unemployed. 

Work affects people’s health. Decreasing work ability prevents the employee from participating in working life actively and for a long time. A decrease in work ability and physical harm related to employment are caused by the risk factors existing in a work environment and their impact on the employee’s health. Work-related health damages cause absence from work, causing expenses for the employee, employer, and society. Lack of awareness about occupational health and safety does not support the protection of the employee’s health in the work environment. Employers and employees do not know enough about occupational health and safety, their rights and obligations, requirements resulting from legislation, or workplace risks. Employers sense the lack of information, the inability to find the necessary materials on their own, and the inability to keep themselves constantly up to date with the changes in the acquis.

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

Welfare Development Plan 2023-2030

The Welfare Development Plan 2023–2030 helps to implement the goals and objectives set in the long-term development strategy "Estonia 2035".

The priority and objectives of the WDP is an Estonia where people are cared for, inequality and poverty are reduced, and a long and high-quality working life for all people is supported. The general goal is divided in 5 sub-goals. Sub-goal 2 “labour market and working life” aims to guarantee a high level of employment and high-quality working conditions which support a long-term market participation. The implementation of the goals requires activities that help ensure employees a long and high-quality working life, prevent the risk of unemployment and shorten periods of unemployment, help to employ employees who are at the risk group and support an effectively management of labour policy. The focus will be:

  • an inclusive labour market that is adaptable, where people move smoothly from one job to another, and where everyone can find a job, regardless of their health, special needs, age, nationality or gender;
  • healthy workers who have the skills needed in the labour market, are happy and participate for a long time in labour market;
  • an entrepreneurs who have good knowledge and skills, they want to shape working relationships in the best way as possible based on the needs of the company and employees.

National Health Plan 2020-2030

The objectives of the NHP 2020-2030 is:

Life expectancy of Estonian people is increasing, the number of healthy life years is increasing, and health inequalities are decreasing:

  • By 2030, the average life expectancy of Estonian people will increase to 78.0 years for men and 84.0 years for women, and the average number of healthy life years will increase to 62.0 years for men and 63.0 years for women.
  • The number of healthy life years is growing faster than life expectancy, people live most of their lives without health restrictions.
  • Health inequalities (between genders, regions and levels of education) are declining. By 2030, the life expectancy in no county should be shorter than the Estonian average by two years, and the average life expectancy of people with a basic education will not fall behind the average life expectancy of people with a higher education by more than eight years.

The “Estonia 2035” development strategy

The objective of "Estonia 2035" is a democratic and safe state that preserves and develops the Estonian nation, language, and culture. “Estonia 2035” takes into account the analysis of the most burning issues in Estonia and the world. The document describes the most important development needs connecting different policy fields in Estonia and sets out five long-term strategic goals accompanied by necessary changes. Their implementation is monitored on the basis of a more detailed action plan each year.

Details of the strategy and activity plan 

Welfare Development Plan (WDP) 2023 - 2030

The WDP activities will contribute, among other things, to the objectives of the European Green Deal and are in line with the EU's Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021−2027.

The main courses of action for improving the working environment and working relationships of employees, maintaining health in the working environment and preventing health damage are:

  • raise awareness among employers and employees about occupational safety and health and industrial relations; 
  • plan and implement preventive actions, taking into account the specificities and needs of workers and employers; 
  • develop a legal framework for industrial relations and safety at work, taking into account the expectations of workers and employers; 
  • develop digital solutions that make it easier for employers to comply with safety requirements;
  • support and advise employers and workers in complying with occupational safety and health requirements and in managing risks in the workplace, taking into account specific occupational hazards and health risks (including mental health, sedentary work, biological and chemical hazards);
  • support flexible ways of working by creating appropriate opportunities for teleworking and flexible working time arrangements;
  • ensure a functioning occupational health management system and improve its quality; 
  • support and recognise opportunities for workers to participate in collective labour relations, support social dialogue and collective bargaining and collective agreements; improve monitoring of the working environment and industrial relations, implementing enforcement mechanisms, in particular by inspecting companies and establishments with a high risk level and a high risk of harm to workers' health; 
  • share good practices on inclusion and collective working conditions, and introduce the need for and benefits of collective labour relations; 
  • reduce the use of incorrect service contracts; 

National Health Plan 2020-2030 (NHP)

The overall goal of NHP 2020-2030 is to increase the life expectancy and the number of years lived healthy by Estonian people and to reduce inequality in health.

The achievement of the goal is planned through three sub-areas: health-supporting options, a health-promoting environment and people-centered health care. The sub-areas are considered as sub-objectives in the development plan. For each sub-objective, the desired result, indicators reflecting changes in the sub-sector, the main problems and solutions are presented.

1st Sub-Objective: Health-promoting options are easily accessible to all Estonians.

The living, working and learning environment (including the products and services offered) and the information field are designed in such a way that, regardless of gender, place of residence, income and level of education, those who support health have simple and primary choices. Understandable and practical information on health promotion is available to everyone in time.

Solution related to the work environment:

  • mental health promotion - it is also important to pay attention to maintaining and promoting mental health in the work environment;
  • injury prevention – prevention of occupational accidents;
  • health promotion: healthy food and physical activity;
  • raising public awareness of communicable diseases.

2nd Sub-Objective: Healthy environment of all Estonian people has become more supportive of health, and information on possible health risks arising from the environment and ways to reduce them is available.

Solution related to the work environment:

  • Improving public awareness and skills in the field of health and environmental safety (use of medicines and chemicals, waste management, occupational safety, understanding the meaning of product labels).
  • Preparedness and the necessary flexibility in governance models and regulations to address and respond to the health effects of climate change
  • Reducing health risks related to outdoor and indoor air (including indoor climate), noise and radiation.
  • encouraging the substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives and the use of best technology.

3rd Sub-Objective: Human-centered health care system

Ensuring high-quality and accessible health services integrated with social services that help reduce premature mortality and support living with chronic illnesses.

Solution related to the work environment:

More attention will be paid to the working conditions of healthcare professionals and other professionals working in the healthcare system and to the prevention of burnout.

“Estonia 2035”

The “Estonia 2035” strategy sets out five long-term strategic goals:

  • Estonia’s people are smart, active and care about their health
  • Estonia’s society is caring, cooperative, and open
  • Estonia’s economy is strong, innovative, and responsible
  • Estonia offers a safe and high-quality living environment that takes into account the needs of all its inhabitants
  • Estonia is an innovative, reliable, and people-centered country

Changes in various areas are needed to maintain Estonia’s basic principles, to achieve the strategic goals and meet the development needs. Necessary changes related to the work environment are:

  • preparing for future work
  • support mental health and reduce mental and physical violence
  • modernise the occupational health system to support health and reduce people’s incapacity for work
  • improve the well-being and social activity of people with special needs and improve the efficiency of the long-term care system

Actors and stakeholders 

The National Health Plan 2020-2030 (NHP) has been approved by the Government in April 2021. NHP has been coordinated with other ministries, Government Office, social partners, cooperation partners and interest groups" The Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) coordinates the application and implementation of the NHP, including the budget. Programmes including budget estimates cover at least one period of the State Budget strategy. The MOSA annually approves programmes with budgets after the adoption of the State Budget by the Riigikogu.

WDP 2023–2023 has been prepared in cooperation with other ministries, social partners, cooperation partners and interest groups and has been approved by the Government of the Republic in February 2023. 

The implementation and delivery of the development plan will be coordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs (in cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication on the topics of labour market and working life; gender equality and equal treatment) through programmes covering at least one period of the national budget strategy. 

According to the State Budget Act, NHP and WDP were submitted by the Government to the Riigikogu for discussion before development plans were approved.

“Estonia 2035” has been approved by the Riigikogu in May 2021. "Estonia 2035” has been coordinated with ministries and was submitted to partner organisations and stakeholders for suggestions. The “Estonia 2035” strategy is carried out mainly via sectoral development plans and programmes in the respective fields.

Resources and timeframe 

Information about the resources is published in the Welfare Development Plan 2023 -2030. The cost of the development plan has been calculated on the basis of the approved national budget strategy for 2023–2026. The total budget calculated for Sub-Objective 2 (labour market and working life) is 4.3 billion euro for the period 2023 – 2030. More detailed cost estimates are prepared each year, together with the programmes, as part of the national budget planning process. The activities of the development plan will be implemented through national budget resources, including the European Structural Funds (ESF+, ERDF, REACT-EU), the Recovery and Resilience Facility and other external funds.

Time frame of the strategies/plans:

  • Welfare Development Plan 2023-2030
  • National Health Plan 2020–2030
  • Estonia 2035

Evaluation/lessons learned 

The Welfare Development Plan will be implemented through annually renewed 4-year programmes based on its sub-goals. The implementation and delivery of the development plan will be coordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs (in cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication on the topics of labour market and working life; gender equality and equal treatment) through programmes covering at least one period of the national budget strategy.

The programmes are approved each year by decree of the ministers responsible for the field, after the Riigikogu has adopted the state budget.

National Health Plan is reviewed regularly. An annual report is prepared on the implementation of the development plan, which provides an overview of the most important progress of the plan. An evaluation regarding the fulfilment of the tasks and the effectiveness of the measures will be prepared in 2025. 

“Estonia 2035”: Once a year, a strategy day is held with key partners and stakeholders, where an overview of the achievement of the strategy’s goals is provided, the best experiences in addressing development needs are shared and proposals for the implementation of the strategy are made. Also, at least once a year, each member of the government shall give a presentation in the Riigikogu, providing an overview of the activities in his or her area of responsibility. The Government Office is responsible for coordinating the preparation, implementation and amendment of the strategy “Estonia 2035” in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance. “Estonia 2035” is carried out mainly via development plans and programmes in the respective fields. 

Ex ante indicators for the years 2023 to 2030 (WDP)

Indicators that are measured in the Welfare Development Plan:

  • Employment rate for people aged 20–64
  • The duration of working life
  • Labour force participation rate among 15–74-year-olds
  • Gender Equality Index (EIGE)
  • The difference between women's and men's average hourly pay, i.e, the gender pay gap

Ex ante indicators for the years 2020 to 2030 (NHP)

Indicators that are measured in the National Health Plan:

  • Life expectancy
  • Healthy life expectancy
  • Gender inequality in health
  • Gender inequality in counties
  • health inequality between level of education

Ex ante indicators of the goal “people” in “Estonia 2035” 

  • healthy life years 
  • participation in the labour market, culture, sports, and volunteer work
  • participation rate in lifelong learning activities among adults (incl. informal learning)

Relationship to EU Strategic Framework 

The national strategy of Estonia has been prepared before EU Framework strategy was launched, however the three plans/programmes tackle many of the challenges mentioned in the EU Strategic Framework.

The Welfare Development Plan 2023 – 2030 was approved February 2023 and is in line with the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027, which focuses on the green, digital and demographic transition and on managing change in the world of work, as well as on the effective prevention of occupational accidents and diseases and increasing preparedness for possible future health crises.

Examples are:

Key objective 1 of the EU Framework (Anticipating and managing change) is covered in the National Health Plan 2020-2030 in 1st Sub-Objective: Health-promoting options are easily accessible to all Estonians, including following solutions:Mental health promotion - it is also important to pay attention to maintaining and promoting mental health in the work environment.

WDP: Raising awareness among employers and employees about occupational safety and health, developing digital solutions that make it easier for employers to comply with safety requirements; developing a legal framework for safety at work, taking into account the expectations of workers and employers; supporting and advising employers and workers in complying with occupational safety and health requirements and in managing risks in the workplace; taking into account specific occupational hazards and health risks (including for example mental health).Estonia 2035 mentions in its Strategic Goal "Estonia’s people are smart, active and care about their health". Necessary changes related to the work environment: supporting mental health and reduce mental and physical violence by expanding various evidence-based prevention and social programmes.

Key objective 2 of the EU Framework (Improving prevention of work-related diseases and accidents) is covered in the National Health Plan 2020-2030 in the 1st Sub-Objective: Health-promoting options are easily accessible to all Estonians, including following solutions: Injury prevention – prevention of occupational accidents; health promotion: healthy food and physical activity. Hazardous substances are tackled in the 2nd Sub-Objective with solution: encouraging the substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives and the use of best technology.

WDP: Improving the working environment and working relationships of employees, maintaining health in the working environment and preventing health damage (for example by supporting and advising employers and workers in complying with occupational safety and health requirements)

Estonia's 2035 strategic goal "Estonia’s people are smart, active and care about their health" deals with the modernization of the occupational health system to support health and reduce people’s incapacity for work (develop innovative and effective occupational health and safety services, increase the awareness of labour market participants about various risk factors (incl. mental health risk factors, work bullying, and harassment)).

Key objective 3 of the EU Framework (Increasing preparedness – responding rapidly to threats). Preparedness is mentioned in the National Health Plan 2020-2030 in the 2nd Sub-objective, but not related to pandemics, but to climate changes: preparedness and the necessary flexibility in governance models and regulations to address and respond to the health effects of climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic is tackled in the Healthy Environment Program 2021-2024[5], one of three programs designed to achieve the goals of the National Health Plan 2020-2030.

WDP: support and advise employers and workers in complying with occupational safety and health requirements and in managing risks in the workplace, taking into account specific occupational hazards and health risks (including mental health, sedentary work, biological and chemical hazards), ensure a functioning occupational health management system and improve its quality.
 


[1] “Estonia 2035” (Website, engl. version). Available at: https://valitsus.ee/en/estonia-2035-development-strategy/strategy/strategic-goals

[2] Sotsiaalministeerium, Heaolu arengukava 2023 - 2030. Available at: Heaolu arengukava 2023-2030 | Sotsiaalministeerium (sm.ee)

Welfare Development Plan 2023 – 2030 (Heaolu arengukava 2023-2030.) original version. Available at https://www.sm.ee/heaolu-arengukava-2023-2030

[3] Welfare Development Plan 2023 – 2030 (Heaolu arengukava 2023-2030) (english version) Available at: https://www.sm.ee/media/3110/download

[4] National Health Plan 2020-2030 (engl. version). Available at: https://www.sm.ee/media/3054/download 

National Health Plan 2020-2030 (original). Available at: https://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Tervishoid/rta_05.05.pdf

[5] Tervis toetava keskkonna programm 2021-2024. Available at: https://sm.ee/media/1904/download

Welfare Development Plan 2023 – 2030 (Heaolu arengukava 2023-2030) (english version) Available at: https://www.sm.ee/media/3110/download

 

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