If you open a business with employees in Spain, having an occupational health and safety plan is mandatory.
Employees have the right to effective health and safety protections in the workplace and the employer must implement them. The right of employees to receive information and advice on health and safety is part of this protection.
Employers must look after the health and safety of their employees, but not just to comply with legislation and address risk situations. They must carry out risk assessments, deal with emergencies, provide protective equipment, and ensure employees’ health, including pregnant or breastfeeding women (and ensure that they do not carry out tasks that may put them or their unborn child/children at risk).
In this article, we will dig deeper into the occupational health and safety obligations of Spanish employers.
What Is occupational health and safety?
Occupational health and safety is the systematic planning and implementation of measures in companies, to ensure the hazard-free performance of occupational activities and the long-term preservation of employee’s health.
General obligations for the employer
Employees have a legal right to operate in a secure environment. This leads to the following general obligations for the employer:
- Protect employees from safety risks in the workplace and avoid them wherever possible.
- Assess unavoidable safety risks.
- Give preference to group safety measures over individual measures.
- Keep employees informed about health and safety issues at all times.
There is also a specific obligation for employers to prepare a risk prevention plan, which should specify the organisational structure, procedures and resources needed to prevent safety risks in the workplace.
Employees are defined as persons who voluntarily provide their services in return for remuneration and as part of the organisation and management of another natural or legal person (employer).
Employees are obliged to comply with all legally prescribed health and safety regulations and risk prevention measures and to ensure their safety and that of others.
Workers have the right to leave the workplace if they believe they are in a situation posing an immediate risk or danger to their life or health. If employee representatives agree to a work stoppage, this must be communicated to the company and the labour authority, which may cancel or confirm the stoppage.
Workers have the right to access health and safety information through their representatives.
Workers have the right to participate in decisions on health and safety issues. Where there are more than six workers, this participation shall be through representatives.
Responsibilities of the worker:
- To use machines, tools, hazardous materials, equipment and all work aids correctly.
- Use the tools and protective equipment provided by the employer correctly and by the instructions received.
- Use protective equipment correctly.
- Immediately report any situation that may pose a risk to their health and safety in the opinion of the employee.
- Promote compliance with the obligations set out by the competent authority.
- Cooperate with the employer to ensure a safe working environment that does not endanger the health and safety of workers.
Employers are required to advise employees on matters:
- The introduction of new technologies;
- The organisation and development of occupational health and safety measures;
- The appointment of workers responsible for emergency response activities;
- Informing about procedures and documentation;
- Organization of training activities.
Health and Safety Management
Workplaces must be adapted to the needs of workers, subject to legal obligations regarding health and safety. It is a very serious offence to designate or maintain an employee in conditions that are incompatible with their physical or mental condition.
Health and safety representation
In Spain, health and safety representatives must be present in all companies and workplaces with more than five employees. They are elected by and from amongst the existing worker’s representatives.
They have wide consultation rights and in large companies (50 or more employees) they work together with the employer in health and safety committees.
The number of such prevention officers increases with the number of staff (see table).
|Number of employees||Prevention delegates|
|6 to 49||1|
|50 to 100||2|
|101 to 500||3|
|501 to 1,000||4|
|1,001 to 2,000||5|
|2,001 to 3,000||6|
|3,001 to 4,000||7|
|More than 4,000||8|
In addition, all companies or workplaces with 50 or more employees should have a health and safety committee. It consists of prevention delegates and an equal number of employer representatives.
The health and safety committee also includes union delegate(s) (one or more union representatives in companies with more than 250 employees) and health and safety specialists employed by the company. Both groups may speak at meetings but do not have voting rights. Health and safety specialists are not included as employer representatives.
Health and safety committees have several tasks to perform. Where there is no committee, these are carried out by safety representatives.
These tasks include:
- Contributing to the development, implementation and evaluation of risk prevention measures, including consideration of the choice of measures, external activities of health and safety bodies employed by the company, work organisation, new technologies and protective equipment.
- Promoting initiatives for effective risk prevention.
The Health and Safety Committee’s rights include access to:
- the organisation’s risk prevention measures
- documentation of working conditions and occupational health and safety measures
- analysis of adverse health effects on workers
- annual report and action points proposed by the occupational health and safety specialist
Risk prevention plan
Occupational risk prevention must be integrated into the overall company management system, both in the workplace as a whole and at all hierarchical levels of the company, through the implementation and application of an occupational risk prevention plan.
This prevention plan must include:
- the organisational structure;
- resources required to implement preventive measures in the company under the conditions set out in the regulations.
The main tools for implementing the risk prevention plan are risk assessment and prevention planning.
Specific health and safety obligations
- Employee health surveillance
- Personal protective equipment
- First aid
- Living conditions
- Psychosocial risks
- Workplace violence
Work tasks, conditions and working environments mustn’t negatively affect the health of sensitive risk groups, such as:
- Pregnant workers or workers who have recently given birth;
- Workers who are particularly vulnerable to occupational hazards because of their characteristics or known biological condition, including workers with recognised physical, mental or sensory disabilities;
- Young people under the age of 18, due to lack of experience, immaturity in assessing potential or existing risks, or incomplete development.
Workplace inspections help prevent accidents, injuries and illnesses. By critically examining the workplace, inspections help identify and record hazards to take corrective action.
Health and safety committees can help to plan, conduct, report and monitor inspections. Regular workplace inspections are an important part of the overall health and safety programme and management system if one exists.
The Inspectorate of Labour and Social Security (Inspección de Trabajo y Seguridad Social ITSS) is a national public service with general competence in the field of labour relations and occupational health and safety.
The general task of the ITSS is to supervise and control the application of occupational health and safety regulations. Its specific functions include the following:
- To monitor compliance with occupational health and safety regulations and legal and technical rules affecting working conditions.
- To propose sanctions to the relevant labour authority in the event of non-compliance with occupational health and safety regulations.
- Advise and inform companies and employees on effective compliance with health and safety legislation.
- Prepare reports requested by the social courts in connection with industrial accidents and occupational disease litigation.
- Report fatal and serious accidents to the labour authority.
- Monitor and promote compliance with occupational health and safety obligations in the workplace.
- To order the immediate stoppage of work when the inspector considers that there is a serious and immediate risk to the safety or health of workers.
Every employer is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe workplace. There are many tools, checklists and guidelines to help businesses address hazards and risks in the workplace.