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Health and safety at work

The key task of employers in occupational health and safety prevention is the application of measures to prevent occupational and other work-related illnesses. The requirements for the protection of workers[ap] health were set out in the Act of 26 June 1974. - Labour Code, especially in section ten "Occupational Health and Safety" and the executive acts to the above mentioned act.

The aforementioned regulations impose a number of obligations on the employer, among others :

  • organising work in a way that ensures safe and hygienic working conditions,
  • not to allow the use of materials and technological processes without first determining their harmfulness to health,
  • preparation of the premises[ap] conditions according to the type of work performed and the number of employees employed,
  • providing the employee with personal protective equipment, if any,
  • training the employee in occupational safety and health before he or she is admitted to work and conducting periodic training in this area,
  • securing the availability of the necessary resources to provide first aid in an emergency,
  • applying the necessary preventive measures to reduce the risks, and informing workers about the occupational risks that are associated with their work and about the principles of protection against risks,
  • carrying out measurements of factors harmful to health and informing workers of their results.

In view of the working conditions under which the use of personal protective equipment is required, the legislation also indicates the types of equipment as well as detailed rules on the use of personal protective equipment. It is also important to meet the applicable requirements for the premises where employees are staying.

Regardless of the degree of risk involved, it is important to continuously raise awareness of both employers and employees. Currently, a lot of information and research results on the harmfulness of work related factors, especially work where workers may come into direct contact with hazardous chemicals, are available in open publications or regulations. It is in everyone[ap]s interest to become acquainted with them and to consciously start doing work with such risks. 

The analysis of the Central Statistical Office data shows that in the years 2000-2018 the number of accidents at work (Figure 1) did not change significantly. After short term periods of decline in 2002, 2005 and 2009, the number and rate of accidents increased again. The year 2012 saw a return to a downward trend, 91 thousand accidents at work were recorded, which is the average for the period from 2000 to 2012. In line with this trend, in 2013 the number of accidents decreased to 88.3 thousand, in 2013-2017 it oscillated around 88 thousand, and in 2018 it decreased to 84.3 thousand (according to the Central Statistical Office (GUS).

There may be many factors in the working environment that endanger or generate harmful effects on workers, including hot, mechanical, musculoskeletal, thermal, lighting, biological hazards, explosion and fire hazards, carcinogens and mutagens, exposure to optical and other radiation.

Of the above, long-term exposure to certain chemicals is extremely harmful, which can cause uncontrolled cell growth leading to neoplastic changes. Most carcinogens are classified as non-threshold, i.e. safe exposure levels cannot be established for them. Cancer lesions may become apparent many years after first exposure to chemicals. The period of this delay is called the latency period and can be between 4 and 40 years. Cancers resulting from occupational exposure may be located in different parts of the body, not necessarily limited to the area of direct contact with the chemical. Substances such as arsenic, asbestos, chromium, nickel can cause lung cancer. Cancers in the nasal cavity and sinuses may result from exposure to chromium, nickel, isopropyl oils, wood dust and leather dust. Exposure to benzidine, 2-naphthylamine or leather dust is associated with bladder cancer. In turn, cases of skin cancer are attributed to exposure to arsenic, coal tar and petroleum products. Exposure to vinyl chloride may cause cancer in the liver. Benzene causes cancer in the bone marrow.The carcinogenic properties of chemicals can be determined from the results:

  1. epidemiological studies,
  2. long-term animal experimentation,
  3. short-term tests to assess genetic toxicity (mutations and perishable DNA damage - deoxyribonucleic acid).

The risk of explosions, on the other hand, mainly concerns the majority of industrial dusts which, if appropriately ground and concentrated in the air and the source of ignition, can create flammable and explosive atmospheres. This also applies to the dusts generated in the process of obtaining and processing cereal grains and agricultural feed. Flammable industrial dusts include dusts of organic origin, e.g. wood, coal, food products (flour, sugar).The extremely large scale of grain processing makes the risk of ignition incidents and dust explosions very high. In 2018 alone, there were a number of explosions related to the storage and transport of plant loose materials, the largest of which took place in May in South Sioux City, USA. Research to date has shown that of all dust explosions, nearly 25% are in the food, agricultural and fodder industries, with silos, dedusting and ventilation systems (including drying rooms and warehouses for drying cereals) being the most vulnerable to explosions.

Increased awareness of the subject, availability of all research results and expert opinions, and protection of personal protective equipment in potentially harmful environments help to minimize possible risks.                                          

The basic principles of using personal protective equipment in the work environment are contained in Directive 89/656/EEC (Directive 89/656/EEC, 2002), transferred to Polish law by virtue of the ordinance of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy of 11 June 2002 amending the ordinance on general health and safety regulations (Journal of Laws No. 91, item 811), which defines the employer[ap]s obligations to ensure safe use of personal protective equipment.

Responsibility for the use of personal protective equipment at the workplace lies with the employer, whose basic duties and responsibilities include:

  • the provision of personal protective equipment to employees free of charge,
  • Selection of appropriate personal protective equipment for the existing hazards on the basis of the results of risk analysis and assessment,
  • training of workers in the use of personal protective equipment,
  • ensuring appropriate procedures for storage, cleaning, decontamination and maintenance, as well as the necessary repair of personal protective equipment.

The employer is also obliged to determine the conditions for using personal protective equipment. Guidance in this respect should take into account the level of risk, the frequency of exposure, the characteristics of each workstation and the effectiveness of the personal protective equipment.


Ensuring safe working conditions is one of the basic assumptions of the social and economic policy of the state, as it significantly determines not only the appropriate quality of work, but also the quality of life outside of work. In Poland, the Labour Code imposes an obligation on the employer to ensure safe and hygienic working conditions, however, it should be remembered that this is a legal act from 1974. The modern approach to the described issue is not limited to the protection of people against hazards that may occur in the working environment, but also refers to the protection of human health. Working safely, without risk to life and health is only a basic requirement.

Continuous improvement of working conditions is the key to the success of the sustainable development strategy. It is worth noting here that Eurofound is working to improve living and working conditions by carrying out Europe-wide surveys such as the European Business Survey and the European Working Conditions Survey at regular intervals.

P.P.H. CHEMFLON Adam Jankowski
ul. Dziewińska 58
60-178 Poznań
tel.: +48 61 652 93 01, 61 654 30 01
fax: +48 61 654 30 00
e-mail: biuro@chemflon.pl,