What is the procedure for the registration of an occupational health service in the Republic of Bulgaria, what are the main functions of the occupational health service and is the employer obliged to conclude an occupational health service contract?
I. Legal framework
The legislation related to health and safety at work, which the employer is obliged to provide its employees with, is regulated by the Bulgarian Health and Safety at Work Act (“HSWA”), Ordinance № 3 on the terms and conditions for the activities of occupational health services and Ordinance № 5 on the terms, manner and frequency of assessment of risk. The Bulgarian legislation regulating health and safety at the workplace is in line with the current European legislation.
Under para. 1 pt. 1 of the Supplementary Provisions of the Bulgarian Labour Code, an employer is any natural or legal person and any organizationally and economically distinct entity which alone employs workers under labor contracts. According to Art. 25 HSWA, the employer is obliged to provide services to registered workers performed by occupational health services. In this sense, under Bulgarian legislation, each employer is obliged to conclude a contract with the occupational health service in order to ensure their employees’ safe and healthy working conditions. The contract will only then come into effect if it is concluded with an occupational health service, which is registered under the respective statutory order, which will be examined in more detail below.
II. Registration of occupational health service
Pursuant to Art. 25 c) of the HSWA, occupational health services register with the Bulgarian Ministry of Health based on their submitted application, to which they must enclose the documents listed in Art. 25 g) of the HSWA. Within 30 days of submission of the application, the Minister of Health or an authorised representative shall issue a certificate of registration of the occupational health service. Should any deficiencies or irregularities arise in the submitted documents, the Minister or his authorised representative shall notify the person of this and provide them with no less than 14 days within which to remedy them. If the deficiencies or irregularities are not corrected within the deadline and if there are discrepancies in the registration requirements, the Minister of Health, respectively an authorized official, decrees a refusal of registration. The statutory registered occupational health services are included in a public register maintained by the maintains a public register Ministry of Health, which data is published on the website of the Ministry.
III. Main duties of the occupational health service
Pursuant to Art. 25, para. 2 HSWA the occupational health services in Bulgaria are units with primarily preventive functions whose task is to advise and assist employers, committees and groups on working conditions in the planning and organisation of activities and maintaining healthy and safe working conditions, strengthen the health and performance of employees in relation to the work they perform and adapt the work to the capabilities of the employee considering their physical and mental health.
Occupational health services are created by employers on their own or together with other employers or by legal entities or individuals registered under the Bulgarian Commerce Act, the Non-Profit Legal Entities Act or the Corporation Act .When the employer is virtually incapable to create an occupational health service on their own or together with other employers, they sign a contract with a registered occupational health service. Here you can find the current list of registered occupational health services. An occupational health service must include a person, who acquired a Master in Medicine and who specialised in "Occupational Medicine", a person with higher technical education and three years professional experience in the field of safety and health at work and at least one technical contractor. The requirements for professional qualifications and experience of the staff of the occupational health services are directly related to the specific activities carried out by them.
Art. 25 a) of the HSWA provides an indication of some of the main activities of occupational health services. These include assessment of occupational hazards, analysis of the health status of the workers, assistance to employers in creating an organization for safety and health at work, proposing measures for elimination and reduction of the risk, monitoring the health status of workers. Given the vastness of the above activities, below is a brief description of some of the obligations that arise in their performance.
Since the activities of the occupational service are mostly related to ensuring a healthy and safe work environment, it is necessary to clarify in advance what the Bulgarian legislator meant by this concept. Para. 1, pt. 1 of the Supplementary Provisions of the HSWA contains a legal definition: "Healthy and safe working conditions" are such working conditions that do not lead to occupational diseases and accidents at work and create conditions for complete physical, mental and social well-being of employees.
The occupational health service, with which the employer has concluded a contract, assists in organizing preliminary medical examinations and tests to establish the suitability of employees upon their recruitment. They also assist the employer in organizing and conducting the statutory periodic medical examinations and tests aimed at establishing any changes in the employees’ condition as a result of the working environment. They provide information to healthcare professionals in identifying hazards or risks to health or safety of employees. Next, the occupational health services analyse the health condition, taking into account the impact of working conditions, and also draw conclusions about the suitability of employees to perform a certain type of work. According to Art. 11, para. 10 of Ordinance № 3, on the monitoring of health status of each employee in relation to the working conditions, occupational health services keep health records in electronic and paper form in accordance with Annex № 6.
The occupational health services in Bulgaria also support the activities of the employer in assessing the risk associated with performing the responsibilities at the workplace. The risk assessment is a comprehensive analysis and study of the conditions in the working environment, safety and health of employees. When conducting such assessment, the opportunities to prevent hazards at the workplace should be taken into account /the word hazard should be interpreted as meaning any work equipment and materials which can cause damage to the employees/.
The occupational health service also examines the causes which can lead to accidental injury or harm to employees. Regarding the organization of health and safety at work, occupational health workers assist the employer in this regard, giving information and advice to employees in relation to health risks in the work environment, announcing the results of the mandatory medical preliminary and periodical examinations, organizing trainings. According to Art. 27 and Art. 28 HSWA, enterprises with more than 50 employees establish working conditions committees, whereas enterprises with 5 to 50 employees and structural units of the enterprises under Art. 27, para. 6 HSWA, establish working conditions groups.
Among the main tasks of the occupational health service is advising and supporting the activities of such committees and groups.
Finally, one of the most important responsibilities of occupational health service is not to disclose information which has become known in carrying out their activities. The employer, in turn, also assists the occupational health service in carrying out their activities, such as providing them with free access on the premises of the enterprise, any workplaces as well as all necessary information and documentation.
IV. Deletion from the register of registered occupational health services
Pursuant to Art. 25, letter e) of the HSWA, the Minister of Health or his authorized representative shall issue an order for deletion of registered occupational health services from the register upon: application for deletion from the register; dissolution of the persons who established the occupational health service; committed offenses or systematic violations; and the detection of false documents relating to the registration of the health service.
V. Penalties for employers who do not meet the statutory deadline for concluding a contract for occupational health service
Pursuant to Art. 413, para. 2 of the Bulgarian Labour Code, an employer who fails to ensure healthy and safe working conditions, if not subject to a more severe penalty, is liable for a pecuniary penalty or a fine equal to BGN 1 500 - BGN 15 000.