Spain is responsible for 20% of all workplace accidents in the EU. Last year alone an average of five people per day died as the result of a workplace incident.
Even though Spain has had health and safety legislation in place for more than 10 years, the number of deaths has again increased in the last 12 months.
According to a report produced by the General Union of Workers (UGT), the total number of workplace accidents resulting in time off work was 312,000 during the first quarter of 2006, representing a 4.9% increase on the same period last year.
The highest increase was recorded in the construction sector, followed by services and industry.
The UGT has accused Spanish employers of failing to put proper procedures in place and has criticised the tendency of employers to subcontract in some of the worst-affected sectors such as construction, which results in the responsibility for safety risks being transferred to small companies.
The large number of temporary workers on Spanish payrolls is also thought to have contributed to the problem – the short duration of many contracts means employers are much less likely to have the necessary safeguards.
The Spanish government has responded to these concerns by introducing further measures aimed at preventing workplace accidents and reinforcing the need for employers to take preventative measures.
Royal Decree 604/06 came into force on 29 June 2006 and the new preventative measures came into force on 29 August. They require companies to have a prevention plan and make it clear that risk evaluation and preventative planning are key management tools which should be integrated into the management structure of companies.
The new legislation also reinforces the need for Spanish employers to carry out audits and to increase worker participation in this area.
Earlier this year the Spanish government appointed a special public prosecutor to deal with health and safety crimes as part of its commitment to a tougher approach to employers that flout health and safety legislation.
It remains to be seen whether these additional legislative provisions will have the desired effect.