Health and safety at work

In Belgium, the employer must take measures to ensure the health and safety of employees at work.

General principles for welfare policy

The Law on the welfare of workers at work places a general obligation on employers to take the necessary measures to promote the welfare of their workers at work. To meet this obligation, they must observe the prevention principles taken from the Framework Directive on Safety and Health. 

General obligations:

  • avoiding risks;
  • evaluating the risks that cannot be avoided;
  • fight the risks at their source;
  • replacing what is dangerous with what is not or less dangerous;
  • prioritising collective protective measures over individual protective measures;
  • adapting the work to the individual, especially the design of work places, the choice of work equipment and the choice of working and production methods. This in light of making monotonous work and work at a predetermined work-rate more bearable and to reduce the effect on health.

These are supplemented or specified by the following principles:

  • reducing the risks as far as possible, taking account of technical progress;
  • reducing the risks of serious injury by prioritising material measures over any other measure;
  • providing employees with information and instructions appropriate to their needs;
  • developing a coherent overall approach to prevention and welfare policy;
  • determining the means to be used for the welfare policy and defining the powers and responsibilities of those charged with applying it.

A key principle here is risk analysis, which examines the risks a worker could be exposed to.

Once these risks have been identified, they must be evaluated and, where necessary, measures must be taken to avoid them, remove them at source, or reduce them. In these cases the emphasis is on influencing the risk itself. 

There are also more general preventive measures, such as choosing collective protective equipment over individual equipment. It is always important to influence the actual conditions themselves. Risks must be reduced, but there is no such thing as zero risk. Measures will be required to train and inform workers about the residual risks.

This policy must also be integrated into the overall management of the business. This requires employers to re-evaluate the policy for the welfare of their workers regularly and to specify the objectives, means and responsibilities for prevention.

They must enlist an internal or external service for prevention and protection at work to identify possible risks to workers. This service must evaluate the risks and organise medical surveillance for the workers.

The general principles for the risk analysis, the rules for prevention, the obligations of the management hierarchy, the rules for worker information and training and the measures to be taken in emergencies are described in the code on welfare at work.

It is therefore the employer's responsibility to ensure that the business implements a welfare policy. All employers are responsible for developing a consistent approach to prevention by establishing a dynamic risk management system. They must define the general policy and instruct supervisory staff on how to implement it. They have full and final responsibility for this.

For more information about employers’ responsibilities for the health and safety of their workers, please see the FPS for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (In French).

Risk analysis

It is important for the risk analysis to be based on a global and interactive analysis of all professional risks in a business. One of the greatest difficulties of risk analysis is the many possible risks involved in businesses: safety (fire, electricity, working at height, slipping, falling, etc.) hazardous chemicals, biological and physical agents, psychosocial risks, musculoskeletal disorders, etc.

Although there are many risk analysis methods, there is no obligation to use one in preference to another; however there is an obligation to achieve results in terms of prevention. There is no obligation to use particular means, but there are objectives that must be achieved. It is up to the employer to decide how to achieve them.

To this end, the employer determines:

  1. the means to be used for the policy on the welfare of workers at work, and how the policy should be implemented;
  2. the powers and responsibilities of those charged with applying that policy.

However, the choice of risk analysis method is important. It must reflect the extent of knowledge within the business and the objectives to be met: raising awareness among workers, identifying and classifying the risks, determining which departments or units run the most risks, defining preventive measures, investigating how many people have health problems, etc.

Before choosing the best method or methods, it is important for all those involved (employers, management, experts such as the insurance companies’ preventive services, the prevention advisors of the internal and external service for prevention and protection at work and the workers) to ask the right questions and define the objectives clearly. The risk analysis must be comprehensive. This is a legal requirement, since there are connections between the various risks. 

The analysis is therefore performed on three levels:

  • the organisation as a whole;
  • each group of work places or jobs;
  • each individual worker.

The risk analysis has three phases:

  • identifying hazards;
  • identifying and specifying risks;
  • evaluating risks.

The SOBANE strategy

The SOBANE strategy (in French) is one of the methods businesses can use to develop an effective and sustainable prevention policy. It is free and is distributed by the Directorate-General for Humanisation of Labour of the FPS for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue; it was developed with assistance from the European Social Fund.

How to find the SOBANE tools?

The parties involved in the risk analysis

Risk analysis is not just a matter for one person. It requires input from everyone in the business: the employer, management, experts such as the insurance companies’ preventive services, prevention advisors from the internal and external service for prevention and protection at work and all workers.

  • Employers of small or medium-sized enterprises will presumably be able to identify the main risk factors themselves using the Déparis guide (in French), but an external prevention advisor must generally be present for the observation stage, unless the internal prevention advisor has additional level I or II training.

  • Larger businesses must have an internal preventive and protective service. Involving this service will result in a more detailed risk analysis. An external preventive and protective service is enlisted to analyse the tasks and functions for which the internal preventive and protective service does not have the necessary in-house expertise. 

The prevention advisors

Prevention advisors with the required skills, means and techniques must assist with the risk analysis. The prevention service has legal duties both to ensure the safety and health of workers and also to assess psychosocial aspects of employment (such as harassment, burn-out, etc.) along with workplace ergonomics and occupational hygiene. Employers must therefore either have staff of their own with the required knowledge and skills, in which case the internal prevention service can perform all the duties assigned to them under the welfare regulations; or, if they do not have the required staff, they must enlist an external service set up and approved specifically to perform these duties. These are usually external prevention advisors who work closely with the internal prevention advisers (but do not replace them, such as the prevention advisor-occupational health doctor, prevention advisor-psychosocial aspects, etc.).

  • The psychosocial risk analysis is performed by the employer with the cooperation of the workers. If the internal service has a prevention advisor-psychosocial aspects, the employer involves him or her in the analysis. If not, and if the analysis is complex, he or she calls in the prevention advisor-psychosocial aspects from the external service.

  • The employer works with the authorised prevention advisor and the prevention advisor-occupational health physician on the risk analysis of all activities that may involve a risk of exposure to biological agents

For specific problems, the employer may enlist experts from outside the business who do not belong to an external service. The purpose of this provision is to enable employers to use specialised agencies to carry out a particular type of technical measurement connected with occupational hygiene, or to provide firefighting training for workers, for example.

Finally, it is also very important for the analysis methods to be used by and with all of the people involved in the business and hence also with the workers. Their participation in all phases of the risk analysis will allow the most effective and appropriate preventive measures for the conditions on site to be determined quickly. It will also encourage workers to use the measures in practice and comply with them every day.

For more information about those involved in risk analysis, please see the websites of the FPS for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (in French) and the Belgian centre of competence for welfare at work] (in French).

Health and safety obligations for all businesses

Every business in Belgium must prepare a prevention policy and employ a prevention advisor in the workplace.

Employers must have a dynamic risk management system to protect their staff. After the risk analysis, the prevention measures are set out in a global prevention plan (GPP), which forms the basis of the annual action plan (in Fench).

The GPP provides an overview of the risks involved in the business and describes the action to be taken to avoid them, remove them at source or reduce them. The GPP must take account of the business activities, the work processes and the size of the business.

1. Internal prevention and protective service

All employers must set up an internal prevention and protective service as soon as they employ their first worker, whether or not he or she is employed full-time. In order to do so, they must have at least one internal prevention advisor (IPA).

Employers of businesses with fewer than 20 workers can take on this role themselves.

The group to which the business belongs (A-B-C-D) determines both the level of training the IPA requires (basic knowledge, level II or level I) and the duties and responsibilities of the internal service.

If the internal service is unable to perform all of the duties assigned to it, the employer can enlist an external service for prevention and protection at work.

Group D covers businesses with fewer than 20 workers in which the employers themselves take on the role of prevention advisor. However, if an employer decides to appoint a member of staff as prevention advisor, the business is automatically classified in Group C.

The group to which your business belongs is determined on the basis of two criteria:

  1. The number of workers employed (in full-time equivalents);
    Group A> 1 000 workers
    Group BBetween 200 and 1 000 workers (and not classified in Group A or B as a result of higher risks in the business)
    Group CFewer than 200 workers (and not classified in Group A as a result of higher risks in the business)
    Group DFewer than 20 and the employer is the Internal Prevention Advisor
  1. The nature of the risks involved in the business (the more significant the risks, the greater the likelihood that your business will be classified in a higher group).
    Some industries which carry out high-risk activities are therefore classified in a higher group even if they do not employ the required number of people.
     Number of workers
    Nature of the businessABC
    Production of basic chemical51 or more20-401-19

    The Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue refers to the NACE-BEL 2008 code table for clarification of the activities concerned

2. IDPB identification document: an essential document

As soon as you employ your first worker, you must set up an internal preventive service and draw up an ‘IDPB identification document’. This document must be kept available for inspection by the official responsible for supervision.
It provides the following information:

  • the identity of the employer;
  • the composition of the internal service (names of the prevention advisors, their qualifications and the hours allocated to them to fulfil the role);
  • the skills represented in the internal service;
  • the duties performed by the internal service;
  • the administrative, technical and financial means available to the internal service;
  • the Committee’s opinions.

3. The annual report of the internal service: an obligation for the IPA

This is a report of the operation and activities of your Internal Prevention and Protective Service during the previous year. 

The annual report gathers together all of the data on the safety and health of the workers in your business in the past year; this includes statistical data about accidents at work, actions taken in the previous year, the structure of prevention and protection in the business and information about the External Service for Prevention and Protection at Work. The internal prevention advisor is responsible for drawing up the report.

Where can you obtain a template?

The Federal Public Service (FPS) for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue provides three different document templates for the annual report on its website.

4. Coordination in the workplace

The Law of 4 August 1996 on the welfare of workers at work introduces a generalised procedure for dealing with the various aspects of employment at a single workplace or adjacent or nearby workplaces.

  • Various businesses or institutions operating at a single workplace in which workers are active are obliged to implement joint measures for the welfare of those workers, coordinate their actions and share the information required for this with each other.

  • There are specific rules for coordination between the employer of a business and external third parties (employers or self-employed persons) who work in the business.

5. Businesses with 50 or more workers

Once a business employs at least 50 people, it must organise workplace elections. In these elections, which are held every four years, workers vote for their representatives on the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work (Comité voor Preventie en Bescherming op het Werk (CPBW)). This is a joint consultative body, which looks after the welfare of the workers. 

Grouping of employers

The welfare legislation divides employers into four groups: A, B, C and D.

The group to which a business belongs is determined on the basis of two criteria:

  1. the number of workers employed (in full-time equivalents);
    GroupDescription
    A> 1 000 workers
    B200 to 1 000 workers (and not classified in Group A as a result of higher risks in the business)
    CFewer than 200 workers (and not classified in Group A or B as a result of higher risks in the business)
    CFewer than 20 and the employer is the Internal Prevention Advisor
  2. the nature of the risks involved in the business (the more significant the risks, the greater the likelihood that your business will be classified in a higher group).

Some industries which carry out high-risk activities are therefore classified in a higher group even if they do not employ the required number of people.

The group to which a business belongs will determine the obligatory duties and responsibilities of the internal or external service for prevention and protection at work and the required level of training of the prevention advisor or advisors.

 
Group (business or technical business unit)Prevention advisor charged with managementOther prevention advisors
ALevel ILevel II
BLevel IINo additional training required, but must have adequate knowledge (level 3)
CNo additional training required, but must have adequate knowledge (level 3)No additional training required, but must have adequate knowledge (level 3)
DNo additional training required, but must have adequate knowledge (level 3)No additional training required, but must have adequate knowledge (level 3)

Minimum additional training required:

Specific risks

The welfare regulations apply to all sectors in which workers are employed. In practice, some risks (for example ionising radiation, falling from a height, chemical agents, etc.) arise only, or more often, in specific sectors or businesses (such as the medical sector, temporary or mobile construction sites, plastic producers, etc.).

The code on welfare at work places employers under an obligation to take account of all the risks that could possibly arise in their business and to introduce the necessary preventive measures to ensure the welfare of their workers. It includes specific provisions for a prevention policy for particular risks and jobs.

Various employers and self-employed persons work on temporary and mobile construction sites. To implement a genuine prevention policy on these sites, the measures taken by each of the employers must be coordinated.

The welfare law lists those involved in the obligations associated with work on temporary or mobile construction sites; the safety coordinator plays an essential role.

Size of construction sites

The legislation distinguishes between construction sites with a total area of 500 m² or more, and smaller sites. The rules for the latter are less strict. 

Another criterion is whether ‘dangerous work’ or ‘high-risk work’ is carried out. This includes work which puts workers at risk of burial, engulfment or falling from a height, exposes them to chemical or biological agents or ionising radiation, or requires them to work underground. 

A third important criterion is the expected duration of the work. If the volume of work is likely to exceed 500 man days or the work is likely to take longer than 30 working days, and more than 20 workers are working simultaneously at any one time, the work is regarded as large-scale work. This is also subject to stricter rules.

Safety coordinators

One of the most important measures is the introduction of coordinators. Whenever at least two contractors are working on a construction site, a design coordinator and a project execution coordinator must be appointed. Work cannot start until a project execution coordinator has been appointed.

For construction work covering a total area of 500 m² or more, the coordinators are always appointed by the developer. For construction work covering a total area of less than 500 m², both the design coordinator and the project execution coordinator are appointed by the architect or, if there is no need for an architect, by the main contractor, or the first contractor who enters into a contract with the developer.

The total area is determined by combining the areas of all levels and the associated structures. For renovating work, only the areas of the premises or zones involved in the renovations are taken into account.

Design coordinator

Design coordinators ensure that the general prevention principles are integrated in the design. They perform a risk analysis and draw up a safety and health plan on the basis of the results. This plan contains the prevention measures designed to prevent workers from being exposed to the risks identified during their work. The plan must also take into account the risks created by the subsequent activities, the effects the different work processes may have on each other and the interaction with the environment.

Project execution coordinator

The project execution coordinator ensures that the safety and health plan is respected by all contractors and subcontractors during the execution of the work. The project execution coordinator and the project design coordinator can be the same person. 

The project execution coordinator must keep a coordination diary for the duration of the work. This document contains the data and comments about safety coordination and events on the construction site. On construction sites covering an area of less than 500 m² the coordination diary can be replaced by a written notification.

Starting and finishing work on a temporary or mobile construction site

The start of work on a temporary or mobile construction site must be reported to the competent external service of the Directorate-General for Supervision of Welfare at Work (formerly the Technical and Medical Inspectorates).

The following temporary and mobile construction sites must be reported:

  • any construction site on which one or more dangerous work processes are carried out, which is open for more than five working days in total; 
  • any construction site where the volume of work is likely to exceed 500 man days or the work is likely to take longer than 30 working days, and more than 20 workers are working simultaneously at any one time. 

When their tasks come to an end, safety coordinators must give the contractor or contractors a copy of the updated safety and health plan, any updated coordination diary and the updated post-intervention file.

For more information, please see the FPS for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).

Risk analysis and preventive measures

Employers must analyse the risks to which young people are exposed while at work, as part of the assessment of risks to their safety, physical and mental health and taking in account their development.

This risk analysis must take in account the fact that young people often pay too little attention to safety, lack experience and are sometimes not yet fully developed.

The risk analysis must be performed before they start work and must be renewed annually. It must also be renewed if they change work place.

Preventive measures are taken on the basis of the risk analysis to avoid risks and avoid and reduce injury.

Prohibition of dangerous work

One of the preventive measures is prohibiting young people from carrying out work regarded as dangerous. 

This is work:

  • that is objectively beyond their physical or psychological capacity;
  • that involves harmful exposure to agents which are toxic, carcinogenic, cause heritable genetic damage, or harm to the unborn child or which in any other way chronically affect human health;
  • that involves harmful exposure to ionising radiation;
  • that involves the risk of accidents which it may be assumed cannot be recognised or avoided by young people owing to their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience or training;
  • that may expose young people to extreme cold or heat, noise or vibrations.

However, these prohibitive provisions are not absolute. The risk analysis must demonstrate that there is a genuine risk on the basis of the criteria specified in the code.

For some categories of young people, the prohibition can be waived in certain circumstances.

There are also special rules for the use of motorised equipment by student-workers.

Introduction and supervision

Another preventive measure is taking the necessary measures for introducing and supervising young people.

These measures must be carried out before they start working.The purpose of the measures is to help young people to adapt and integrate into the work environment and to ensure that they are able to do the work properly. A mentor can be appointed to supervise the young person in the workplace. The person appointed must also undergo thorough risk training. He or she must also know what types of work must be carried out under supervision. Employers must allocate enough time to allow mentors do this job properly and they must have the required authority. It is also important for mentors to encourage young people to participate, ask questions about risks at work and discuss and report any hazards they see.

Health surveillance

Employers must ensure and finance suitable health surveillance for young employees.

Young people can be submitted to two types of examination.

  1. The standard health surveillance. This is for young people in a safety role or a role requiring increased vigilance, or performing an activity involving specific risk.
  2. The specific health surveillance, which consists of a preliminary and a regular health assessment for young people under the age of 21, who carry out night work (between 8.00 pm and 6.00 am) or work that is usually prohibited, as referred to in Annex X.3-1 of the code (but is permitted here because it is necessary for occupational training).

For more information about safety and health at work for young workers, please see the FPS for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).
 

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and particularly micro-enterprises, often lack sufficient health and safety knowledge. In enterprises with fewer than 20 workers, the employers themselves take on the role of prevention advisor, without any prior training.

Risk analysis and prevention methods must therefore be adapted to this situation. This is one of the objectives of the first methods of the SOBANE strategy (see paragraph 'Risk Analysis').

The FPS for Employment provides a free, user-friendly IT tool - the ‘Online interactive Risk Assessment’ (OiRA), a web platform for creating sectoral risk assessment tools in any language - which can help small enterprises to carry out a risk analysis and define preventive actions. This instrument was developed with technical support from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in cooperation with social partners, experts from the sector and the FPS for Employment.

Each sector that wishes to develop an OiRA must do so in cooperation with the FPS for Employment and must adhere to certain criteria and principles.

Objectives of the OiRA:

  • European objectives: 
    • to increase the number of small and micro-enterprises in Europe that assess and manage their occupational risks;
    • to produce a good risk analysis to help reduce the number of accidents at work and occupational diseases and improve working conditions;
    • to produce a good risk assessment to improve the competitiveness of the enterprises by cutting the costs that result from accidents and sickness, reducing the rates of sickness absence, etc.
  • National and sectoral objectives: 
    • to make the practical OiRA tools available to micro- and small organisations via their websites and encourage their use;
    • to contribute to the national objectives for reducing the number of occupational diseases and accidents by making the OiRA tool available to enterprises.
  • Company objectives: 
    • to ensure the health and safety of workers (general obligation for employers and companies) by using the OiRA tool in the workplace to initiate the risk evaluation process;
    • to demystify the risk assessment process;
    • to improve working conditions by using the tool to assess the occupational risks, thus improving the company’s performance.

All OiRA tools are available free of charge.
 

What are the competent authorities?

In Belgium, the Federal Public Service (FPS) for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue is the competent national authority for health and safety at work. It is responsible for preparing, promoting and implementing the policy for well-being at work.

The Labour Inspectorate – Directorate General for Well-Being at Work of the FPS Employment oversees compliance with that policy by playing an advisory, preventive and repressive role.

The Federal Agency for Occupational Risks (Fedris) is the centre of expertise for occupational risks, particularly those related to accidents at work and occupational diseases.

Fedris has a supervisory role towards employers and insurance companies for accidents at work. In some cases, it is also responsible for the compensation of victims. Fedris is competent to examine claims for compensation for occupational diseases when victims are emplyed in the private sector or local and provincial institutions, and to compensate them directly or indirectly.

Employees from the following sectors can contact Fedris:

  • accidents at work: the private sector and, to a lesser extent, the public sector
  • occupational diseases: the private sector and local and provincial public authorities

If you are self-employed, you can contact The National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed (INASTI) (in French)

What should you do if an occupational risk is established?

All employers are obliged to have a policy to promote the well-being of their employees at work. The policy must be based on risk analysis. Employees who identify a risk must report it to their employer.

A complaint can then be submitted to the competent regional inspectorate for well-being at work. You can find the contact details, opening hours and the geographical area covered by each of these regional inspectorates on the FPS for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).

An employer can seek advice from the Federal Agency for Occupational Risks (Fedris) about exposure to occupational diseases at work. This advice is free of charge.

When and how to report work-related accidents, injuries, near-misses or diseases

Accidents at work

All Belgian employers are obliged to insure their paid employees for the risk of accidents at work by subscribing to a policy with an insurance company.

Employees must report every accident they have at work, or on the way to or from work, to their employer. The employer is obliged to report the accident to its insurance company within eight days.

The insurance company will then decide whether to recognise the accident as an accident at work.

If it refuses to do so, Fedris can be asked to investigate its decision.

Occupational diseases

In principle, all private-sector employers are automatically insured for occupational diseases. Public authorities generally insure their employees for occupational diseases themselves.

Prevention advisors/occupational physicians are legally required to inform Fedris and the FPS Employment if they find that an employee has a disease which they suspect is work-related. Fedris will then inform the employee that they can make a claim for compensation. The claim can be made even if the prevention advisor/occupational physician has not previously reported the disease.

Private-sector employees can claim compensation from Fedris by completing Form 501N (in French) available on the Fedris website and asking their doctor to complete Form 503N (in French) available  on the Fedris website. Once Fedris has received both forms and any supporting medical documents, it can begin an investigation.

Serious or very serious accidents at work

The term ‘serious accident at work’ is defined as an accident in the workplace that is serious enough to require a specific, in-depth investigation to identify the preventive measures to be taken to avoid a repeat occurrence.

In practice, the procedure to be followed for serious accidents at work involves three or four steps:

  1. the serious accident is investigated immediately by the competent preventive body or bodies;
  2. if the accident is ‘very’ serious (in other words fatal, or causes permanent incapacity), it is reported immediately to the competent officials;
  3. protective measures are taken to avoid an immediate repetition;
  4. a detailed accident report is submitted to the Labour Inspectorate for Well-Being at Work within ten days of the accident.

All other accidents resulting in incapacity lasting for four days or more must be analysed and recorded in an accident report.

A telephone hotline for out-of-hours reporting of very serious accidents at work to the official responsible for monitoring them was set up on 1 October 2020; this can be used for reporting outside office hours on working days, on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, on bridging days and during the general closure between Christmas and New Year.

The employer of a person who has had a very serious accident at work must report it immediately to the official responsible for monitoring such accidents by suitable technological means; the report must give the name and address of the employer, the name of the victim, the date and place of the accident, the probable consequences and a brief description of the circumstances.

Two general contact numbers have been set up to report very serious accidents to the duty inspector:

  • Telephone number for reporting in Dutch: +32 2 235 53 00
  • Telephone number for reporting in French: +32 2 235 55 44

If the occupational accident is serious enough, or if required by the judicial authorities, the inspector may need to visit the scene of the accident to start the investigation and to determine whether suitable measures have been taken by the competent preventive service to guarantee the safety and health of employees pending the results of the investigation.

These provisions do not apply to very serious accidents on the premises of ‘Seveso’ companies. In this case the Directorate for the Prevention of Serious Accidents must be notified. Contact details can be found on the FPS website, in the section about Chemical Risk Control (in French).

Certain occupational accidents must also be reported to other authorities:

Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue

Information, complaints, requests for a meeting with a labour inspector, etc. must always be submitted to the competent regional inspection body (in French) during office hours (from 9.00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 16:30 daily).

More information can be found on the FPS for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website.

Federal Agency for Occupational Risks (Fedris)

Avenue de l'Astronomie, 1

1210 Brussels

Tel: +32 2 272 20 00