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This article contains information about workers’ participation in occupational safety and health issues in Estonia. This article goes beyond the concept of involvement of workers in management processes [1] and broadens its scope to information and consultation, mainly with regard to OSH-related matters. An overview of methods of worker participation can be found in articles on “Methods and effects of worker participation" and “Occupational safety and health management systems and workers’ participation".

In Estonia, the Ministry of Social Affairs is the responsible body for occupational safety and health. The policies, strategies, and development programmes for occupational health and safety are discussed in the Advisory Committee of Working Environment, in which in addition to the representatives of the Ministry, sit the representatives from the trade unions and the employers' associations. [2]

Regulatory framework for worker participation

Employee participation is referred to in Council Directive 2001/86/EC [3] and complements the Statute on the European Company with regard to the involvement of employees. Several models of participation by agreement are possible, the most important is the board-level representation of employees. If there is no arrangement, a set of standard rules on worker involvement becomes applicable.

Information and consultation

At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are detailed in Article 19 of ILO Convention C-155 [4]. Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R-164[5] describes more specific rights and possibilities for employees and their representatives with respect to worker participation. Recommendation R-129 contains general recommendations on communication between employers and workers[6].

The European Directive 2002/14/EC[7] establishes a general legal framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community. The main legal source for worker information and consultation on OSH on a European level is the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC[8]. Worker participation is a fundamental part of the OSH management framework promoted in this directive.

Occupational Health and Safety Act[9], the so-called framework law, is the most essential piece of occupational health and safety legislation in force in Estonia. It lays down the occupational health and safety requirements for workers, rights and responsibilities for employers and employees` health in establishing and ensuring safe work environment and organization of occupational health and safety at enterprise and national level. More than twenty regulations have been adopted under the OSH Act, determining specific requirements for workplaces, work equipment and different work operations. The regulations comprise requirements of the Directives of the European Council on account of which the requirements in force in Estonia are similar to those in force in other EU countries.

In the occupational health and safety system of Estonia, the Ministry of Social Affairs constitutes the executive authority which regulates the entire area, whereas two of its structural units (the Working Life Development Department and the Health Department) are directly involved in occupational health and safety-related policy-making. [2]

OSH and worker participation

In Estonia the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC [1] is the basis for the Occupational Safety and Health Act[2]. The OSH Act regulates worker participation in § 17 (working environment representative) and in § 18 (working environment council). The implementation of the Estonian OSH legislation is controlled by the Labour Inspectorate (Tööinspektsioon)[10].

At the workplace level, the legislation sets the minimum level of occupational safety and health at work. In addition to the minimum level required by the law, for example, companies may provide additional safety training and network with other companies in order to improve occupational safety. In Estonia, company size has an influence on employees’ OSH information level, consultation and training. Larger companies have more resources to expand on OSH training. The new businesses normally consist of small companies [11].

Cross-industry level

In Estonia, there are currently no cross-industry agreements on OSH in the same way than for example the Belgian industries have agreed on OSH activities [12], [13].

The Estonian Trade Union Confederation

The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL) comprises 19 branch unions. The EAKL operates to ensure that the principle of social justice is respected in society. The EAKL represents employees’ interests in collective agreements and protects employees’ rights in employment relations, consults employers on developing a sustainable labour market and the government on developing a socially sustainable economic model. Once every four years, the highest decision-making body of the Confederation - the Congress – gathers to take the most important decisions. The EAKL participates actively in the formation of legislation and policies in order to guarantee the social security of employees and a healthy working environment in Estonia.[14] Between the Congresses, the role of Congress is implemented out by the Executive Committee, which usually meets three times a year. The Executive Committee comprises the representatives of the member unions of the Confederation for a four-year term [15].

The Estonian Employers’ Confederation

The Estonian Employers’ Confederation (Tööandjate Keskliit) represents the largest number of employers among local employers' organisations and covers all economic sectors of Estonia. Within the European social model, the Confederation represents the joint interests of all economic sectors at both state and international levels and in dealings with state authorities and employee organisations. One of the priorities of the Confederation is to reduce labour shortage and labour force shortage, create new jobs by way of promoting flexible forms of working, and reduce the number of obligations imposed on entrepreneurs. [16]

National level actors

In Estonia the tripartite collaboration at national level is handled through the “Advisory Committee on Working Environment", however the Committee has not been working regularly in the recent years, and it now works only on an ad-hoc basis. It seems that the interest on national level is focused exclusively on issues such employment policy, wages and working time, rather than on OSH matters [13][17]

The National Labour Inspectorate

The Estonian Labour Inspectorate is a government agency operating under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Affairs. The role of the Labour Inspectorate (Tööinspektsioon) has changed in the recent years, and its focus has shifted from basic inspections of facilities and work practices more to activities aimed at raising the awareness of employers and employees on OSH matters. [3]

The Labour Inspectorate’s main functions are to:

  • Arrange for the exercise of state supervision in the working environment over compliance with the requirements of legislation regulating occupational health and safety and labour relations and apply enforcement by the state on the bases and to the extent prescribed by law;
  • Exercise market supervision over safety of the personal protective equipment (PPE) in use in the working environment and over ensuring its protective properties at manufacturing and sale;
  • Exercise supervision over investigations of occupational accidents and diseases and over the implementation of measures for the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases;
  • Investigate fatal and in case of need serious occupational accidents and diseases and analyse their causes;
  • Collect statistics of accidents at work and make analysis appropriate;
  • Exercise supervision over the use of genetically modified microorganisms in a closed environment to the extent prescribed by law;
  • Take decisions in cases prescribed by law on giving or withholding approval;
  • Carry out administrative proceeding; approve administrative acts and rules;
  • Carry out extrajudicial proceeding of misdemeanour to the extent prescribed by law;
  • Commence criminal proceedings and carry out urgent investigative actions;
  • Carry out and resolve petitions from persons about working environment issues;
  • Resolve individual labour disputes pursuant to procedure prescribed by law.[3]

The Labour Inspectorate collects and disseminates best practices of work environment, which could serve as good examples to enterprises that aim to improve their work environment. In addition, the Labour Inspectorate arranges free information events for Estonian workers on OSH issues.

The Health Board

In 2010, three Estonian governmental health authorities – Health Protection Inspectorate, Health Care Board and Chemicals Notification Centre – were united into a joint authority, the Health Board (Terviseamet). The Estonian Health Board’s role in the field of occupational health is to:

  • Participate in the preparation of occupational health programmes and organize their implementation;
  • Analyse information concerning occupational illnesses and illness related to work of employees;
  • Organize refresher courses to occupational health specialists;
  • Register occupational health service providers. [18]

The Health Board participates in an indirect way in the negotiations with social partners and workplaces (i.e. enterprises) by cooperating with different societies of occupational health specialists. For example, the Health Board is cooperating with the national occupational health physicians’ society, the ergonomists society, etc. In addition, the Board organizes work environment research projects to evaluate occupational health services, typically on company level. These evaluations are done in cooperation with employers (enterprises). [12], [11]

The National Institute for Health Development

The National Institute for Health Development’s (NIHD mission is to promote the health of the Estonian population and enhance the overall quality of life through knowledge-based development and applied research activities. The main activities of the NIHD are research, development and implementation of activities in the health and social sectors.[19]

The National Institute for Health Development co-operates with the social partners and workplaces (i.e. enterprises) by coordinating a network of workplace health promotion. The Institute has an active role in working with the enterprises through its role as a network coordinator. [12]

OSH portal in Estonia

The four Estonian authorities, who work with occupational safety and health matters (the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health Board, the National Institute for Health Development, and the Labour Inspectorate), have put their strength together and established a new OSH (web) Portal in Estonia. The Portal aims to be a competent and timely overview on work environment, occupational health, and work relations to the Estonian workers. By increasing awareness, through actions such as establishing this portal, the authorities hope to prevent the potential safety and health problems in work life and increase the workers’ participation in OSH matters.[20]

Sectoral level

Tripartism in occupational health and safety in Estonia involves the participation of authorities and employers' and employees' organisations in preparing statutory instruments, monitoring implementation and developing activities. In addition to the social partners, also the co-operation and co-ordination among authorities are of importance, because many subjects concern several sectors of administration. [21]

Governmental policies promoting health and safety at work display tripartite involvement when setting priorities and public leadership in implementation. Tripartite involvement includes policy setting, for example establishing tripartite OSH committees. [11]. However, social partners may make sectoral and bilateral agreements in company level [11], though typically OSH issues are not included in these agreements, only pay and working- and rest time conditions [4].

Company level

Currently Estonian workers and employers need more information on what are their rights and responsibilities in providing safe and healthy work environment. More awareness is also needed on how both the workers and the businesses benefit from good occupational safety and health practices. [22], [13]

However, in Estonia micro-companies and small companies tend to be recently established; they have from the beginning complied with the new OSH regulations, compared to larger and typically older companies who are encountering difficulties in achieving the new OSH standards and changing their attidudes to OSH matters, although perhaps larger companies have more financial and personal resources to develop OSH matters. [11], [13]

At the time of writing this article, there is no research or comprehensive data on the contents of the company level agreements on OSH in Estonian enterprises, and therefore it is not possible to indicate to what extent health and safety issues are being implemented in company level collective agreements. [13] , [23]

Working environment council

In an enterprise with at least 50 employees, a working environment council is required to be set up; this done at the initiative of the employer, and it is required to comprise an equal number of representatives designated by the employer and representatives elected by the employees. The council should have at least four members, and the term of their authority lasts up to four years.

A work environment council is an internal institution, where issues related to occupational health and safety of the workplace are discussed. The work environment council elects the chairperson from among its members, and the council adopts resolutions by consensus. [24]. A work environment council is not only required in private companies, but also in organisations of the Estonian public administration [25].

A working environment council should:

    1. Regularly analyse working conditions in the enterprise, identify and document developing problems, make proposals to the employer for the resolution thereof, and monitor the implementation of adopted resolutions;
    2. Participate in the preparation of an occupational health and safety development plan of an enterprise, and in the preparation of plans for the reconstruction or repair of the enterprise, and for technological innovations in the enterprise, and of other plans;
    3. Examine the results of internal control of the working environment in the enterprise and, if necessary, make proposals for the elimination of deficiencies;
    4. Analyse occupational accidents, occupational diseases and other work-related illnesses, and monitor the implementation of measures for the appropriate prevention by the employer;
    5. Assist in the creation of suitable working conditions and work organisation for female employees, minors and disabled employees.

A working environment council is required to inform the local office of the Labour Inspectorate in writing of its activities during the period of the past 12 months by no later than 1 December each year. [9], [24] Reporting practices do not always meet the requirements and they still need some modifications in order to be effective. [26]. Despite of the requirement to establish working environment council, there still are companies that have failed to fulfil this requirement[27].

In order to make worker participation effective in practice in Estonia, it is necessary to raise the awareness of workers and employers on all occupational safety and health (OSH) issues, i.e. to motivate the workers and employers to participate. All OSH topics (including psychosocial problems) should be handled in the working environment councils. [9]

An employer is by law required to release a member of the work environment council from the duties of his or her principal job during the time when the council member performs his/her duties as a member of the work environment council. The member of the work environment council continues to receive his or her regular wages during this period. A member of the work environment council who represents employees has the guarantees prescribed in the Republic of Estonia Employment Contracts Act [28] or the Public Service Act [29], a collective agreement or the employment contract. The conditions for release from the duties of a principal job are prescribed in a collective agreement or some other written contract between the employer and employees. The period of release from duties of a principal job must not be less than one hour a week. If a member of the work environment council also acts as a work environment representative, the performance of the duties of both jobs is totalled.[9]

An employer arranges for the training and in-service training of members of the work environment council at the employer’s expense and during working hours. During training and in-service training, the employees continue to receive their regular salary. [9]

Direct participation of workers in connection with well-being

Workers’ involvement in OSH management in Estonia needs to be increased. In enlightened workplaces this increased involvement is well organised, but generally OSH management in Estonian companies is decided primarily by the managing board, with a work environment specialist usually also being involved. Though worker participation in OSH matters should be increased in Estonia, the current economic crisis situation has brought about uncertainty on employment and many people are holding back demands for increased worker participation in safety and health issues in fear of losing their job. [24]

Working environment representatives and working environment councils are mainly more active in larger enterprises. Sometimes difficulties are faced in the election of the named bodies, because not enough employees show interest in being named as candidates in these elections.[26]

Nevertheless, workers’ awareness about OSH issues is increasing in Estonia. The increase is mostly due to consulting and training activities by the Labour Inspectorate and for several national awareness campaign activities providing occupational safety and health information and guidance to working people. However, there are, of course, Estonian companies excelling in involving workers in OSH matters and providing good examples to the other enterprises. The Estonian Labour Inspectorate collects and distributes information on these best practices in the work environment. [24]

Legislation provides for collective agreements at three levels: national, industry and company/organisation [29]. Most collective agreements in Estonia are concluded at the company level, and this is the predominant level of collective bargaining. The issues considered in collective bargaining include OSH-issues, as well as issues of working time, working conditions and the working environment. However, at the moment there are no exact information on the number of agreements in company level or extent of the content on OSH matters. Where a collective agreement is made in company leve, it becomes legally binding – in other words, the undersigned parties have an obligation to follow the agreement and to refrain from strikes or lockouts. [13], [23]


[1] Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2012). Home page. Retrieved on 7 December 2012, from:

[2] Soziaal Ministeerium. Home page. Retrieved on 2 April 2013, from:

[3] Council Directive 2001/86/EC of 8 October 2001 supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees, OJ L 294, 10.11.2001, p. 0022 – 0032. Available at:

[4] ILO Convention concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the working environment C155,1981. Available at:

[5] ILO Recommendation concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the Working Environment R 164,1981. Available at:

[6] ILO Recommendation concerning communications between management and workers within the undertaking R 129, 1967. Available at:

[7] Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation, OJ L 080 , 23.03.2002, p. 0029 – 0034. Available at:

[8] Framework Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work, OJ L 183, 29.6.1989, p. 1–8. Available at:

[9] OSH act

[10] Tööinspektsioon. Home page. Retrieved 2 April 2013, from:

[11] Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and Safety at Work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, 2010. Available at:

[12] Liisa2013

[13] ewco10

[14] Estonian Trade Union Confederation. Home page. Retrieved 28 March 2013, from:

[15] Wikipedia (2013). Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions. Retrieved 25 April 2013, from:

[16] Tööandje Keskliit. Home page. Retrieved 04 June 2013, from:

[17] Estonia, in: “Contract to assess the potential impact of emerging trends and risks on labour inspectorate methodologies in the domain of occupational health and safety (the NERCLIS project)", VC/2009/0571, Volume 2, Annex I – Country Reports Summaries, Cardiff University, October 2011, pp. 77-88. Available at:

[18] Terviseamet Health Board. Home page. Retrieved 4 April 2013, from:

[19] Tervise Arengu Instituut, National Institute for Health Development. Home page. Retrieved 4 April 2013, from:

[20] Tööelu. Home page (in Estonian) Retrieved 4 April 2013, from:

[21] EU-OSHA (2013). National Policy on Working Environment. Retrieved 25 April 2013, from:

[22] Personal communication with Liisa Pert, Chief Specialist of Working Life Development Department, Ministry of Social Affairs, on 15 March 2013.

[23] Eurofound – European Industrial Relation Observatory on-line (2013). Estonia: Industrial relations profile. Retrieved 25 April 2013, from:

[24] Personal communication with Kristel Plangi, Development Specialist of the Labour Inspectorate, on17 March 2013.

[25] Email correspondence from Liisa Pert, Chief Specialist of Working Life Development Department Ministry of Social Affairs on 8 April 2013.

[26] Personal communication with Eve Päärendson, Director of International Relations, Estonian Employers Confederation, on 9 April 2013.

[27] Eurofound – European Working Conditions Observatory (2010). Estonia: EWCO comparative analytical report on Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety. Retrieved 25 April 2013, from:

[28] Employment Contracts Act (2008). Retrieved 25 April 2013, from:

[29] Public Service Act (1995), Retrieved 25 April 2013, from:

Further reading

Alas, R., ‘The impact of employee participation on job satisfaction during change process’, Problems and perspectives in Management, Volume 5, Issue 4, 2007. Available at: (2013). Estonia – Key facts. Retrieved on 12 April 2013, from:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER): Managing safety and health at work, European Risk Observatory Report, 2010. Available at:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), 2012, Available at:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2012-13 – Working together for risk prevention, 2012, Available at:

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety at work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, 2010. Available at :

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Social dialogue and working conditions, 2011. Available at:

Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Workplace employee representation in Europe, 2012. Available at :

ETUI - European Trade Union Institute, The impact of safety representatives on occupational health, A European perspective, Report 107, 2009. Available at:

Kallaste, E., Jaakson, K., Employee participation: Case study of Estonian companies, Estonian Employers’ Confederation and PRAXIS Center for Policy Studies, 2005. Available at:

Ministry of Social Affairs (Sotsiaal Ministeerium), Employment and Working Life in Estonia 2010-2011, Series of the Ministry of Social Affairs, No 2/2012. Available at:

Sotsiaaliministeerium, Tööelu barometer 2005 – Elanikkonna uuringu aruanne, 2005. Available at: (2013). Estonia – Collective bargaining. Retrieved on 12 April 2013, from: (2013). Estonia – Workplace representative. Retrieved on 12 April 2013, from: (2013). Estonia – Board level participation. Retrieved on 12 April 2013, from:

Eironline – European industrial relations observatory online (22-12-2005). Study examines employee participation in enterprise. Retrieved on 12 April 2013, from:

Eironline – European industrial relations observatory (24-07-2013). Employee financial participation in the new Member States – Estonia. Retrieved on 12 April 2013, from:

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Pia Perttula

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

Taina Paakkonen