Workplace safety compromised during the pandemic

COVID-19 deepened threats to employees' safety and health at work in Serbia, labour unions warn.

The World Day for Safety and Health at Work is celebrated on April 28 since 2003, when it was established at the initiative of the International Labour Organization. Trade unions in Serbia are marking this day with debates about the importance of safety and health at work, as well as actions aimed to raise awareness about workers’ problems and the need to improve workplace safety.

According to the data of the Serbian Ministry of Labour 47 people died at work last year. Third of them worked in civic construction industry, 19% of them were industrial workers, 16% worked in agriculture, and the same number of victims were employed in traffic and storage. Due to reduced economic activities the number of deaths was lower than in 2019, when 54 deaths were recorded.

However, both United Branch Trade Union Independence and the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia (SSSS) recognize the coronavirus pandemic as the most significant factor that affected the safety and health at work of employees. “Among the more than 6,280 officially deceased due to COVID-19, at least a third of them were employees, including more than a hundred doctors”, it is stated on the Independence’s website. The SSSS adds that among the thousands who died from coronavirus, there are countless workers who became infected at their workplace.

The SSSS also points out that Serbia has an unreliable record of deaths from occupational diseases caused by working conditions.

“Cancer related to work and exposure to close to 50 different carcinogenic substances causes tens of thousands of deaths every year. In addition to exposure to dangerous substances, diseases caused by lifting heavy loads, such as musculoskeletal disorders, are not being recorded, and diseases caused by psychosocial factors such as stress, violence, harassment and mobbing, are, to put it mildly, treated by employers as ridiculous and frivolous”, SSSS states. 

The unions point out that a new law on safety and health at work has been in parliamentary procedure since the end of 2019, although it remains unclear when it will be passed. Experts, on the other hand, say that the existing law is not bad; problems stem from its poor enforcement and inadequate capacities of labour inspection. 

Professors of the Faculty of Occupational Safety in Niš, Momir Praščevic and Ivan Krstić, stated that approximately 400,000 business entities are controlled by only 247 labour inspectors, as published on the United Branch Trade Union Independence’s website. This means that one labour inspector “covers” more than 1,550 companies.

It’s recommended that an employer that employs 251 to 500 employees hires at least two officers for safety and health at work, companies with 500 to 1000 employees should have at least three such associates and companies with thousands of employees should have at least one more safety and health officer for every 1000 employees, it is stated in United Branch Trade Union Independence’s release.


Translation: Iskra Krstić

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on April 26, 2020.


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