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30 April 2018

Belgium: the trade unions give an alarming report on health and safety at work

On 28 April, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the Belgian trade union confederation CSC gave an alarming report on the policy for preventing occupational risks in Belgium. The number of staff in the labour inspection services responsible for ensuring respect for the legislation on health and safety at work is constantly falling. The number of serious accidents at work is increasing and the risk of penalties for negligent employers is very low.

One figure is particularly striking: Belgium currently has 129 labour inspectors responsible for ensuring compliance with the legislation on welfare at work. The number of inspectors has fallen by 35 since 2004. For example, there are only 12 inspectors for the Brussels-Capital Region, which has 1.2 million inhabitants. Based on these figures, the CSC estimates that ‘the head office of a private company or public body has only one inspection visit every 26 years’.

Not only is it very unlikely that an employer will be inspected, but those who are inspected generally avoid any form of penalty even if they are shown to be negligent. The CSC confirmed that, based on the 2012 figures, infringements of safety laws were reported in 49 % of the 56 957 inspections carried out that year, yet a report was only drawn up for 705 of these and just 130 resulted in infringement proceedings.

Belgium’s results when it comes to accidents at work are far from exemplary. The number of serious accidents is increasing slightly. In 2016, the private sector saw 11 928 accidents at work leading to permanent incapacity, which was 1 000 more than in 1985. As for minor accidents, although the figures have fallen significantly since 1985 (down 50 %), the CSC puts this down in part to underdeclaration of these types of accidents. Some employers do not declare them so as not to affect their image or to avoid the administrative burden.

The CSC also denounces the under-recognition of workplace accidents by insurance companies. For a number of years it has been ranking insurers annually on the basis of the percentage of reported workplace accidents that they refuse to recognise, and thus compensate. In 2007 the average percentage of rejected workplace accidents was 8.7 %, but nine years later that figure had climbed to 11.5 %. The CSC condemns the huge disparities among companies in this respect: refusal rates vary from 4.1 % to 14.4 %. It complains that ‘for some insurers, it is purely a commercial calculation, to the detriment of the victims’.

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