Are Slovaks safe at the workplace?

The European Commission has launched a campaign to improve health and safety in the workplace for small businesses in the recently joined EU member states along with Bulgaria and Romania. Slovakia, one of those countries, has enacted most of the new rules into legislation - but do Slovak workers know about them? Anca Dragu has been finding out:

What are the chances of Slovak employees feeling that it is like home in their office?

"I like my office because I am alone here therefore I am not disturbed by anybody else. I know that the computer is not at the level of my eyes, and this is against the rules, but I try to adjust my chair. The ventilation doesn't work properly however and I can't open the window."

"I think that my computer screen is bad for my eyes, and the air is not fresh enough, otherwise everything is OK, the chair and the desk leave me enough space for my legs."

"I don't have enough light and the ventilation system is bad. We have new chairs, and they say their ergonomic are good but I can feel it's not true."

Slovak health and safety norms stipulate strict rules regarding the size of the desks, chairs, computer screens, the level of noise, amount of light and so on. Most of them have been valid since June 2001. Slovak Law allows people to set up companies anywhere they want. Therefore almost a third of the limited liability companies are set up in flats, possibly also in the halls and kitchens in order to avoid high utility bills. It is difficult to say if such offices fulfil the EU legislation regarding the minimum comfort standard at a workplace. Ivana Siskova, the spokesperson of the office for public health says her institution has done many inspections related to this topic.

"Last year we performed 468 inspections at a wide range of offices. The widest spread problems are related to proper illumination, ventilation and the poor quality of chairs and desks. We also found old computer screens well passed their term. In Bratislava the situation is not so bad because there are newer office buildings but in the rest of Slovakia most office are old and people tend to argue that it is the fault of the building owners, no matter if the law targets mainly the individual company that let the space. These standards should be met by absolutely all type of office, and even by the staff rooms in schools", said Siskova.

What are the sanctions?

"Employers receive a warning saying that they must comply with the norms, and they are given a deadline. Then if they don't do it we fine them between 30 and 26,000 euro, depending of the type of offence. The owner of an office building must prior to beginning construction obtain a certificate from us that it respects the health and safety norms, said Siskova who couldn't mention whether there were any cases when her institution refused to grant such a certificate."

She added that the public health office have started an information campaign aimed at educating people about their rights to a comfortable day in the office.