Employer duties and responsibilities

Primary duty

What is the nature and extent of the employer’s primary duty to protect workers’ health and safety under the relevant legislation? How is this duty observed and interpreted in practice?

Under the Industrial Safety and Health Act (the Act) and other labour-related laws, employers should make efforts to ensure the health and safety of workers in the workplace by creating a comfortable work environment and the improvement of working conditions. Specifically, employers are required to establish a health and safety management system, including the appointment of safety managers and industrial physicians, and the establishment of health and safety committees. Also, pursuant to standards for the prevention of danger and health hazards (depending on the project or industry) established under the Act, employers should take measures to prevent danger or health impairment, including understanding actual working hours of workers, and providing face-to-face guidance by a physician, health and safety training, work restrictions such as where only qualified personnel must be assigned to specific hazardous work such as crane operation, implementing working environment measurements in indoor workplaces where hazardous work is being performed, and providing health check-ups for employees.

Third parties

Does the employer owe a duty to protect the health and safety of third parties? If so, what is the nature and extent of this duty?

Yes. When an employer (ie, the principal employer) hires another business entity (contractor, or contractor and sub-contractor if there is a multi-layered relationship) to do work, the principal employer has the responsibility to take measures to ensure the health and safety of the contractor’s employees, or the subcontractor’s employees in the case of a multi-layered system with an orderer, contractor and sub-contractor. Contractors must give the necessary guidance so that sub-contractors and the workers of related sub-contractors do not contravene the Act. Also, the owner must not give any instructions to the contractor that would constitute a violation of the Act.

Work premises

What is the nature and extent of the employer’s duty to ensure safe work premises?

Employers must take necessary measures to prevent danger from machinery, explosives, energy, and other equipment or materials. Employers should also take necessary measures to prevent health hazards due to raw materials, gas, radiation, high or low temperatures, stress and other materials or conditions, which are specified by ordinance, depending on the industry.

The employer’s obligations regarding first aid kits, sanitary facilities and rest facilities are detailed in the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health. For example, any employer should provide first aid tools and materials such as medical dressings and disinfectants, carry out general cleaning periodically, provide a sufficient amount of drinking water, or provide a certain number of separate toilets for men and women. An employer should generally provide rest facilities outside the workplace if the workplace is extremely hot or humid or emits harmful gases or vapours. If it is necessary to provide workers with sleep at night, or if there is an opportunity for workers to take a nap during work hours, the employer must provide suitable sleeping or napping places, distinguishing between places for men and women.

Plant and equipment

What are the employer’s duties and responsibilities regarding the provision of safe plant and equipment?

This depends on the employer’s industry, activity or machinery it uses, but the basic principle is that employers should take measures to keep workers away from dangerous machinery and to stop machinery operations when they approach machinery to work on it, such as when cleaning it.

For the former, for example, the employer must provide an enclosure, cover or protective gear when the work could endanger workers due to flying cut or broken workpieces or chips from machines.

For the latter, for example, the employer generally must provide a power cut-off device that can be easily operated and is unlikely to be unexpectedly activated due to contact, vibration, or other causes for each machine. The employer must also stop the operation of the machinery when employees clean, inspect or repair it; however, this shall not apply where work has to be carried out during operation and when taking appropriate measures such as covering dangerous machine parts.

Work systems, training and supervision

What are the employer’s duties and responsibilities regarding the provision of safe work systems and adequate training and supervision?

Regarding work systems, at workplaces of a certain size and in certain industries, employers must appoint a general health and safety manager as the person in charge of instructing safety managers and health managers and the overall control of health and safety at the workplace. Employers should also appoint safety managers or health managers who will be in charge of technical matters regarding health and safety. Also, employers should appoint at least one industrial physician for a workplace that employs 50 or more workers, and two or more industrial physicians for a workplace that employs 3,000 or more workers.

In workplaces employing 50 or more workers in certain industries and those employing 100 or more workers in certain other industries, a safety committee must be established to deliberate on basic and important measures to prevent danger or the causes and recurrence of industrial accidents. In workplaces employing 50 or more workers, regardless of industry, a health committee must be established to discuss basic measures to prevent health hazards to workers, and maintain and promote the health (including mental health) of workers. In workplaces where both of these committees are required, the two may be merged into a health and safety committee.

Regarding training, when employing a new worker or changing work details, the employer must provide education and training on safety or health such as the dangers of machinery and how to handle machinery, work procedures, inspections, and emergency measures in the case of accidents.

Accident response and reporting

What rules and requirements govern employers’ response to and reporting of workplace accidents?

The employer must submit a report to the relevant Labour Standards Inspection Office without delay when a major accident, such as fire, explosion, building collapse or a lift accident involving a construction lift or light capacity lift, occurs at the workplace, or when a worker is killed or suspended from work due to an industrial accident or injury.

The Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare can order employers that have repeatedly caused serious workers’ accidents (ie, accidents that have resulted in workers’ deaths or serious disabilities) within three years to submit a health and safety improvement plan aimed at preventing the reoccurrence of accidents. When preparing such a plan, employers must hear the opinion of a labour union representing a majority of the workers at the workplace or an employee representing a majority of the workers at the workplace if no such labour union exists.

Near misses are not subject to any reporting requirements under the law.

Risk assessments

What rules, requirements, procedures and best practices should employers be aware of when conducting occupational risk and hazard assessments?

Risk assessment is the process of investigating and identifying potential risks of danger and harm at the work premises and taking preventive measures, and that certain industries such as manufacturing, construction, forestry and transportation are obliged to try to do. Employers must exert efforts to investigate substances (eg, chemicals and preparations containing chemicals) that are likely to cause danger or health impairment to workers. However, employers that handle hazardous or harmful chemical substances are required to conduct risk assessments.

In practice, the risk assessment procedure is as follows:

  • identify dangers and harms in the workplace;
  • estimate the risk by combining the severity and the possibility of the hazard that can be caused by each danger and harm;
  • after determining the priority of countermeasures based on the magnitude of the risk, consider measures to eliminate or reduce the risk; and
  • implement measures to eliminate and reduce the risk and record the results.
Disclosure and reporting requirements

Are employers required to submit regular health and safety reports to the relevant authorities? If so, what is the nature and extent of this requirement?

Regarding the results of periodic medical examinations, dental examinations and medical examinations for workers engaged in specified hazardous work, employers with 50 or more employees must submit a report to the Labour Standards Inspection Office without delay. Also, after appointing a general health and safety manager, safety manager, health manager and industrial physician, the employer must submit a report to the Labour Standards Inspection Office without delay.

Provision of information to workers

What requirements apply regarding the provision of health and safety information to workers?

Employers must provide health and safety training to workers when they are hired, when they change the content of their work, or when they engage in certain dangerous or harmful work. Also, in certain industries such as construction and manufacturing, health and safety training must be provided to newly assigned foremen or those who directly supervise workers. An employer should make efforts to provide its employees with health education or counselling and to otherwise help maintain and improve its employees’ health. Also, employers must inform their workers of a summary of the Act and related ordinances and about the availability of industrial physicians for health counselling, by displaying or posting the information in a conspicuous place at the workplace.

Insurance requirements

What insurance must employers carry to cover liability for occupational health and safety risks?

All business entities employing at least one worker, except for businesses managed by public agencies or directly by the government and businesses under the Mariners’ Insurance Act, are covered by the industrial accident compensation insurance administered by the government. The insurance premiums are collected from the employers, and the premium for businesses above a certain size is based on the number of insurance benefits paid within the past three years.

Other duties and responsibilities

Are employers subject to any other notable health and safety duties and responsibilities in your jurisdiction?