Occupational health and safety in Portugal

General responsibilities of the employer

Employers have the duty to respect and apply as a minimum the general principles of occupational health and safety (Portuguese Employment Code, Arts. 281 to 284).

With respect to preventive measures, employers must provide their workers with information on aspects relevant to protecting their own safety and health and that of others. They must also ensure that workers have adequate training to prevent any risks related to their work.

Organisation of occupational health and safety services

The law provides for four types of organisation in terms of occupational health and safety services, which are supervised by the Authority for Working Conditions (ACT):

  • internal services
  • external services
  • common services
  • designated employer or employee(s).

Internal services

Internal occupational health and safety services are implemented by employers and only cover workers for whom they are responsible.

See all information on internal services on the ACT portal.

External services

Where employers do not have the necessary skills to ensure occupational risk prevention and the monitoring of workers’ health, they can use external bodies to provide occupational health and safety services (provided they are not legally required to organise in-house services).

The provision of external occupational health and safety services is regulated by the State, subject to prior authorisation.

See all information on external services on the ACT portal.

Common services

Common services are health and safety services set up by various undertakings (which are not required to organise in-house services), exclusively covering workers for whom they are responsible, by written agreement.

See all information on common services on the ACT portal.

Designated employer or employee(s)

In the case of an undertaking or a group of establishments (located up to 50 km away from the largest) which employs no more than nine workers and whose activity is not high risk, occupational health and safety activities can be ensured directly by the employer or by one or more designated workers.

The workers involved must have the appropriate training, be notified in advance to the Authority for Working Conditions and habitually work in the establishments.

Risk assessment and preventive measures

Risk assessment is the basis for the sound management of occupational health and safety and is a key factor in reducing workplace accidents and occupational diseases.

The ACT provides a number of checklists related to various activities that may help to ascertain whether workplaces comply with the law.

In terms of buildings, meanwhile, the relevant body is the National Authority for Emergencies and Civil Protection.

This body’s main responsibilities include issuing opinions on specialised fire safety and self-protection measures, carrying out surveys, regular and non-routine inspections, and granting accreditations to organisations.

Basic occupational health and safety conditions for all sectors

Employers must guarantee prevention measures for everyone who uses their premises, including the mobility-impaired. They must also ensure social and welfare facilities for their workers.

The following is the set of basic conditions that must be met:

  • adequate ventilation of all spaces in the workplace and the facilities
  • heating conditions appropriate to the activities carried out
  • lighting suitable for the tasks performed
  • cleaning of the premises and respective waste management
  • management, inspection and maintenance of work equipment, networks and facilities
  • fire detection and safety systems
  • first aid resources and equipment and assistance in the event of accidents
  • emergency management and organisation
  • fully equipped toilet facilities, separated by gender
  • places for keeping clothing and belongings (changing rooms with lockers), particularly when the work involves the use of uniforms and personal protective equipment
  • places to have meals.

Occupational safety and health conditions for specific sectors

Due to the special nature of their work, some sectors require a range of measures adapted to their circumstances, provided for by law, examples of which are construction, trade and services, industry, mines and quarries and fishing, over and above the basic conditions.

Occupational safety and health measures to protect minors

Particular activities are prohibited or restricted in relation to minors:

  • manufacture of auramine
  • industrial animal slaughter
  • activities involving the risk of exposure to physical agents (ionising radiation, high-pressure atmospheres, high-tension electric energy)
  • activities with a risk of exposure to biological agents
  • activities with a risk of exposure to chemical agents (asbestos, lead, soot, tar, dusts, fumes or mist, among others)
  • activities with a risk of exposure to hazardous substances and preparations (toxic, highly toxic, corrosive, explosive, noxious, irritant and inflammable)
  • activities with a risk of structural collapse
  • driving or operation of transport vehicles, tractors, diggers and earth-moving machinery
  • activities in places in which wild or venomous animals are reared or kept
  • activities carried out underground and in wastewater drainage systems
  • activities carried out on airport runways
  • activities carried out in nightclubs, discotheques and similar establishments.

Minors of 16 years of age or above may only carry out work involving exposure to the physical, biological and chemical agents referred to in the legislation (Articles 68 to 71) and enjoy the working conditions provided for by law (Article 72).

Guide for small and medium-sized enterprises

Irrespective of their activity or scale, undertakings must ensure the application of occupational health and safety legislation on their premises.

The Authority for Working Conditions provides a guide for owners of micro, small and medium-sized undertakings, which sets out a range of strategic guidelines to promote safety and health in workplaces and prevent occupational accidents and outbreaks of occupational diseases.

Responsible authorities and accident notification

The Authority for Working Conditions is the Government body that seeks to promote improvements in working conditions throughout the mainland by verifying compliance with labour standards in private employment relations. It is also responsible for promoting occupational health and safety in all public and private sector activities.

The ACT works to prevent occupational risks, promote the development of working relations, prevent labour disputes and socio-economic deregulation, stimulate socio-organisational innovation processes and verify and monitor working conditions.

The headquarters of the ACT are located in Lisbon and it has 32 decentralised units that provide face-to-face services by appointment only.

The Inspectorate-General for Agriculture, the Sea, the Environment and Spatial Planning (IGAMAOT) is an administratively autonomous central Government-run service for monitoring, auditing and supervising areas falling within the remit of the Ministries for the Environment, Agriculture, Forestry, Rural Development and the Sea.

The IGAMAOT’s responsibilities include overseeing food safety in workplaces and exposure to ionising radiation.

Complaints and objections

Any complaints regarding failures to comply with occupational health and safety measures can be brought online. Simply go to the ACT portal and apply for an inspection of your workplace. After entering your email in the field on the portal you will receive a hyperlink through the email address you have given; follow the instructions that will be provided.

Notification of workplace accidents and/or deaths

In the event of a fatal or serious occupational accident, responsibility for notifying the ACT, which must be done 24 hours after the event, lies with the employer. The ACT portal provides the form that must be filled in to report the situation.

In the building sector, if the employer fails to comply with this obligation, responsibility lies with the executing body, which must comply within 24 hours. If the latter also fails to comply, the duty lies with the contracting authority, which must report it within the following 24 hours.

Assistance services

For more information or if you need help, please contact Autoridade para as Condições de Trabalho (ACT):