Collaboration Between Employers & Employees
Successful occupational health and safety work is dependent on effective collaboration between the employer and employees in maintaining and improving safety and working conditions in the workplace. The purpose is to identify risks in the work environment and respond to them in such a way as to prevent accidents at work, mishaps and distress for employees.
It is important that occupational health and safety management becomes part of the daily activities of workplaces so that it is visible to everyone who works there, but its goal is i.a. to:
- Protect employees from any damage to health that may result from their work or working conditions
- Organize the work so that it is more suitable to employees
- Increase safety and thus reduce the risk of accidents and adverse effects on health
- Promote the mental and physical well-being of employees
The same principles apply to successful occupational health and safety management and for successful overall management of any organization. It is important that employers share a clear vision of what kind of workplace they want to offer their employees. In order to achieve that they must set clear goals and criteria that make that vision a reality.
There must also be encouragement and space for continuous improvement, as the development of the work environment is rapid, which entails ever-changing demands on people’s work.
Who is Involved in the Organization of Occupational Health and Safety Management?
The employer is responsible for the organization of occupational health and safety management in the workplace and the development of the safety culture. This includes ensuring the participation of employees in occupational health and safety management and ensuring that a written plan is made for health and safety in the workplace. The implementation of an occupational health and safety management system, including building a safety culture, requires the commitment of all those who work in the workplace, that is, the employer, managers and employees.
This means, among other things, that all employees are well informed about:
- Who is involved in the organization of safety management in the workplace
- How accidents and mishaps are dealt with
- Where employees can seek assistance if they feel their safety is threatened
- How preventative measures are implemented
The Act on Environment, Hygiene and Safety at Work and the Regulation on the Organization and Implementation of Occupational Health and Safety Work provide for the organization of occupational health and safety work at all workplaces in the domestic labor market.
- Lög no. 46/1980 about
Safety Representatives, Safety Officers and Safety Committees
The organization of occupational health and safety management depends on the size of the workplace. The Act on Environment, Hygiene and Safety at Work and the Regulation on the Organization and Implementation of Occupational Health and Safety Work thus make different demands on workplaces depending on the number of people working there on an annual basis.
When the number of employees fluctuates, it is based on the average number of the previous year, but takes into account an increase or decrease in the activities of the workplace.
In workplaces where there are fewer than ten employees, the employer shall promote good working conditions and safety in the workplace in close collaboration with their employees. In order to ensure good working conditions in the workplace, it can be a good practice to entrust individual employees with the role of taking an active part in the occupational health and safety management at the workplace. This can be done by appointing a special safety officer or electing a safety representative or by another approach.
In workplaces with 10 – 49 employees, employees must elect one of their group as a safety representative and the employer nominates one representative on their behalf as a safety officer if they are unable to perform that role themselves.
The employer’s representative acting as a safety officer must have a clear mandate to make decisions and take action in the field of occupational health and safety.
When the number of employees is 50 or more, a special safety committee is established. Employees then elect a minimum of two representatives from among the staff, and the employer nominates a minimum of two safety officer on their behalf to the committee.
When circumstances are such that it is likely that a safety committee does not have a sufficient overview of all employees, such as when work stations or branches are located in more than one location or independent business units, it is desirable to establish more than one safety committee. Alternatively, employees could choose a safety representative and the employer appoint a safety officer at individual work stations or units.
These are minimum requirements set out in the Act on Environment, Hygiene and Safety at Work, but workplaces are free to mobilize more employees to participate in their internal occupational health and safety management.
It is important to ensure the access of safety representatives, safety officers and members of safety committees to training on occupational health and safety and especially about the risk factors that are most prevalent in the workplace. Furthermore, the employer must ensure that those selected for these jobs have a reasonable amount of time to perform their tasks.
Their role is, i.a. to prepare a plan for health and safety at work and to promote good occupational health and safety work within the workplace.
Election of safety representatives and nomination of safety officers
Employees elect their own safety representatives and all employees except managers are eligible for election. In the same way, all employees except managers have the right to vote, regardless of the form of employment, employment period and employment ratio. The election of safety representatives shall, as a rule, be for two years at a time.
Employees’ social shop stewards or shop stewards of the relevant unions are responsible for the preparation and implementation of the election of safety representatives. The election of safety representatives may take place by written ballot or at a staff meeting. Such a staff meeting must be called at least two days in advance and all employees given the opportunity to participate.
Collaboration between employers, managers and employees on health and safety at work is the key to a good and safe workplace. The Act on Environment, Hygiene and Safety at Work therefore provides for such collaboration and thus gives employees the opportunity to influence the health and safety of their workplace. The collaboration can concern the jobs themselves, the work environment and the workplace culture.
It is important that security committees, safety representatives and safety officers are involved in the organization of occupational health and safety management when a clear view of the safety culture of the workplace is being developed. This applies equally to physical or psychosocial security. Furthermore, it is important that there is collaboration in formulating goals and criteria so that the results of the workplace in this field can be monitored, and so that the measures that have been taken have the desired results in ensuring the safety and health of the employees.
Last but not least, the collaboration needs to follow up on the measures that have already been implemented in order to make sure that they are still in place or appropriate.
Managing Risk Factors
All workplaces need to manage the risk factors in their environment. This includes identifying hazards that can cause damage or harm and assessing their severity and the likelihood that they will cause damage to the health of employees. It is then necessary to define and implement preventive measures that prevent or reduce the hazards as far as possible if they cannot be prevented.
Both visible and invisible hazards in the work environment need to be identified and assessed. Visible hazards can be unprotected equipment, dangerous compounds or unsuitable working facilities. Invisible dangers can be stress, time pressure, difficult communication and unclear organization. In addition, more often than not, hazards are hidden in the culture of the workplace where the eye can’t see.
Everyone needs to be given the opportunity to take responsibility so that a good and healthy working environment can be ensured. The employer and the management of the workplace must ensure that appropriate improvements are made where necessary. Furthermore, it is important that they are aware of the safety culture that prevails in the workplace and what influence they have on it.
Workplace safety culture more often than not reflects the attitudes, opinions and experiences of employees in the workplace and sometimes does not coincide with policies or set criteria, such as how employees talk about or to each other. Sometimes it is necessary to start by changing attitudes that are likely to change the behavior of staff, which in turn can change the culture. In this regard, it is also important to ensure the psychological safety of employees so that they dare to step forward and inform about incidents where things are not right.
It is good to be aware that it is possible to use various recognized management methods in formulating the policy that the workplace wants to have in occupational health and safety matters. This also applies to the definition of goals and criteria so that it is possible to assess whether the preventive measures that have been implemented are satisfactorily effective.
Employees must also be prepared to take an active part in establishing organized occupational health and safety work in the workplace so that their views become part of the workplace’s culture and thus strengthen its safety awareness. This includes participating in work on risk assessment and respecting the rules that are set to prevent the hazards, as well as being responsible for one’s own well-being at work.