Significant changes to employer health and safety rules, including fines

The 1993 Act XCIII on Labour Safety has been amended as from 8 July 2016. Among other changes, the regulations regarding safety representatives, investigations of occupational accidents and sanctions have been modified.

In order to promote employee safety, the employee minimum trigger has been reduced, from 50 to 20, for mandatory safety representative elections. Those employers who employed at least 20 employees on 8 July (when the amendment entered into force), and did not have a safety representative, have until 8 January 2017 to comply with the new legal requirement. Electing safety representative may also happen below the above employee trigger, where it is initiated by the local branch of the trade union or the shop steward, or failing this, by the majority of workers.

As regards the election, mandate, dismissal and recall of workers’ representatives, the provisions of the Labour Code pertaining to members of works councils and to shop stewards must be duly applied. According to these rules, the following may be elected as a safety representative: if he/she has legal capacity, works at the given work place, does not exercise employers’ powers, is not the relative of the manager, is not member of the election board and does not perform work related to labour safety on behalf of the employer as their main employment activity. A trade union officer can also be elected as a safety representative. The representative is elected for 5 years in an equal, secret and direct voting.

In order to make occupational accident investigations more professional, and to record data adequately, a physician must be involved in the investigation proceedings. According to the general rule, it is only compulsory to notify the physician about the occupational accident resulting in incapability to work. However, in the case of a serious occupational accident, the participation of the physician in the investigation is mandatory. As of 8 July, 2016 the amendment qualifies the investigation of an occupational accident as a specialised occupational safety activity.

Another change provides for the occupational safety and health authority to start proceedings in response to a complaint by an employee referencing the employer’s actions, improper reporting, investigation or registration of an accident at work, or the employer’s failure to investigate an occupational disease or harmful exposure, or if the worker disputes the employer’s assessment of the extent of the injury, etc.

Administrative fines have been introduced which can be levied by the labour safety authority, in order to ensure that all people (including employees) who breach the labour safety rules can be fined. This includes a breach of the regulations relating to healthy and safe workplaces, including the monitoring thereof, or a failure to uphold such regulations when acting within a delegated function. The maximum fine (HUF 500,000) is applicable in administrative proceedings initiated after 8 July 2016. The general labour safety fine which can be levied against the employer has not changed (between HUF 50,000 and 10,000,000).

The changes have broadened the types of activities which qualify as seriously endangering the employee’s life, physical integrity or health. According to the modifications “being understaffed at dangerous work places, and in jobs for operating dangerous work equipment or working in dangerous technological processes, below the number of workers prescribed in occupational safety regulations” are included.