Upgrading work accidents insurance act in line with changes in working life

1.12.2014 14.08
News item N5-65420

The insurance act on occupational accidents and diseases was drawn up at a time when the notions of what constituted workplace and working time were fairly clear-cut. Technological developments and changes in the structure of production have since diminished the place and time linkage. The legislation is also open to interpretation in a way that does not correspond to the requirements of the Finnish Constitution. The act is now being reformed and the new law is expected to come take effect in 2016.

"We want to include detailed rules in the act especially concerning the circumstances in which an accident is counted as an occupational accident. In future, employees will be covered by workplace insurance regardless of whether they are working or on a coffee break. It has been harder to define the situation outside the workplace," explains ministerial counsellor Mika Mänttäri.

This was the most difficult issue of the tripartite negotiations on the reform of the Employment Accidents Insurance Act, as it specifically concerned limiting employer liability regarding accidents that happen outside the workplace, while employees are not actually on the job. A mutually acceptable compromise was eventually reached. In future, according to the terms agreed, occupational accident insurance will among other things apply to people performing telework or mobile work.

The new law combines the three earlier acts on work accidents and occupational diseases. The basic structure of the system will remain unaltered, but the reform makes the regulation clearer and more precise.

Calculating salary levelsAnother main feature of the old act in need of clarification concerns the definition of annual earnings in relation to compensation for loss of earnings. Under the new act, this will show on the pay slips of permanent employees. With parallel or intermittent employment the issue is more complex. Construction work, for instance, often involves periods of intense work followed by spells of unemployment.

"When income zigzags greatly, it is hard to define a fixed earnings level. Nowadays it is estimated, and the results can be very different depending on the evaluators," says Mänttäri.

In future, the process will be mainly done by calculation, based on the income of the last three years. Attention will also be paid to occasional absences from work, such as family leave.

"The aim is to get the same result for people in the same situation. The reform also meets the requirement of the Constitution, whereby the law must clearly express the rights and obligations of the individual."

The new law raises the minimum level of compensation for loss of earnings by ten per cent. The aim, Mänttäri explains, is to improve the position of employees who have not had the time to accumulate a regular income.

Calculating salary levels

Another main feature of the old act in need of clarification concerns the definition of annual earnings in relation to compensation for loss of earnings. Under the new act, this will show on the pay slips of permanent employees. With parallel or intermittent employment the issue is more complex. Construction work, for instance, often involves periods of intense work followed by spells of unemployment.

"When income zigzags greatly, it is hard to define a fixed earnings level. Nowadays it is estimated, and the results can be very different depending on the evaluators," says Mänttäri.

In future, the process will be mainly done by calculation, based on the income of the last three years. Attention will also be paid to occasional absences from work, such as family leave.

"The aim is to get the same result for people in the same situation. The reform also meets the requirement of the Constitution, whereby the law must clearly express the rights and obligations of the individual."

The new law raises the minimum level of compensation for loss of earnings by ten per cent. The aim, Mänttäri explains, is to improve the position of employees who have not had the time to accumulate a regular income.

Medical causal link

The new law also includes the requirement concerning the medical causal link between an injury or disease and the factor that brought it about. The causal link must be medically probable and not merely possible.

"The possibility alone that some factor has caused a proven injury or disease is not sufficient grounds for compensation. For instance, back complaints due to sitting while working do not in practice come within the sphere of occupational accident or disease insurance, because the causes of musculoskeletal diseases are manifold," says Mänttäri.

For the same reasons, problems associated with mental health will not be included within the definition of occupational disease, as demonstrating their medical cause-effect relationship would be difficult.

Shorter processing times

For employees, the advantage of the new legislation compared to the old is its clarity and predictability concerning compensation. Clarity will also benefit insurance companies.

"When you have over ten insurance companies operating, procedures require detailed rules in order to ensure equal treatment."

Insurance firms will now have to pare down compensation processing practices, and the reform will introduce tighter deadlines. Decisions on compensation will have to be made within a month, compared to the present three-month timeframe.

Mänttäri points out that the new law will see stricter supervision of insurance coverage.

"The authorities responsible for implementing the law will start to systematically monitor that employers take out accident insurance and that it is based on the correct wage bills. This procedure is already used in pension and unemployment insurance."


Teksti: Paula Mannonen & Mark Waller