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Health and Safety Representation

All health and safety representation in Denmark is through joint employer/employee bodies. In larger companies, there is a two-tier structure, with the higher body dealing with strategic issues and the lower body with issues on a day-to-day basis. However, in companies with fewer than 35 employees a single body deals with both. The lower level body can interrupt work if it considers that there is an imminent and substantial threat to health and safety.

Basic approach at workplace level

While the employer is ultimately responsible for health and safety at work, health and safety issues should be dealt with through cooperation between employers and employee representatives.

Employee health and safety bodies

In smaller companies, health and safety is dealt with through a single-tier body, a work environment organisation (arbejdsmiljøorganisation), and in larger companies, there is a two-tier structure, with lower level safety working groups and higher level safety committees. These are all joint bodies. There are specific rules on their composition and operation. However, unions and employers can agree different arrangements, if they wish (see below).

Numbers and structure

In the smallest companies, those with nine employees or fewer, health and safety issues should be dealt with by regular direct contact between the employer and employees.

In companies with 10 to 34 employees a health and safety body (work environment organisation) should be set up. This consists of one or more elected employee representatives and one or more supervisors, plus the employer, or a representative of the employer, who chairs it. It deals with both day-to-day tasks relating to health and safety and broader strategic issues. Where workers are employed at a temporary or mobile workplace, largely the building industry, the threshold for setting up a health and safety body falls to five employees.

In companies with 35 or more employees, there is a two-tier structure.

At the lower level there are two-person safety working groups dealing with day-to-day health and safety issues. These are made up of an elected employee representative and a designated supervisor, who should be aware of the company’s production processes. The employer, in consultation with supervisors and employees, decides how many safety working groups should be set up. However, there should be sufficient to ensure that employees have access to the group during their working hours, taking account of issues such as employees’ geographical location and working patterns, like shift working – the so-called “proximity principle”.

At the higher level, a separate safety committee deals with strategic health and safety issues. This is made up of some or all of the members of the lower level health and safety groups plus a chair, who is the employer, or a representative of the employer. If there are only one or two lower level working groups, the safety committee includes them all – a total of three people if there is only one lower level group, or five if there are two lower level groups. In organisations with more than two lower level safety groups, an employee representative plus a deputy are elected from among the employee members of the lower level groups. This means that the safety committee in these organisations also has five members: two supervisors and two employee representatives plus the employer.

It is possible for employers and unions to agree health and safety arrangements which diverge from this structure. However, this requires a two-stage negotiation and two levels of agreement. First, there must be a framework agreement between the union or unions and the employers’ association or a single employer, which sets out the broad lines of the health and safety structure to be adopted. Once this has been signed it is possible to reach a company agreement, which sets out the detailed health and safety rules for the business, including how all the required health and safety tasks are to be carried out, how the agreement is to be implemented and monitored, and how the agreement may be amended or terminated.

Tasks and rights

Health and safety tasks are divided into two groups, strategic or general tasks, undertaken by the safety committee, where one exists, and by the single-tier health and safety body in smaller companies, and day-to-day or operational tasks, undertaken by the safety working group in larger companies and the single-tier body in smaller ones.

The main strategic tasks are:

  • to plan, direct and coordinate cooperation on health and safety; to undertake an annual discussion on health and safety (see below);
  • to check on work health and safety and ensure that the lower level safety groups, where these exist, are properly informed;
  • to monitor compliance with the regulations governing employment and the extent of sick leave;
  • to participate on decisions on how many lower level safety groups should be established;
  • to advise the employer on the solution of health and safety problems and how these can be integrated into company’s strategic direction and day-to-day activities;
  • to ensure that the causes of accidents or work-related illness are investigated, in order to prevent recurrence, and to prepare an annual summary of such incidents;
  • to keep up-to-date on new health and safety legislation;
  • to establish rues for appropriate health and safety training and ensure that these are observed;
  • to advise on whether the necessary health and safety expertise is present in the company;
  • to arrange for the preparation of a work organisation structure; and
  • to contribute to the coordination of health and safety activities with other companies, when they are present at the same location.

An important element in these strategic tasks is the annual discussion on health and safety. This should even take place in companies without a health and safety structure, in other words those with fewer than 10 employees or five in mobile workplaces like construction, although the requirements for these small organisations are slightly different. The annual discussion should look at how health and safety cooperation is to be organised in the coming year, establish how this should happen, including meeting intervals, review whether the previous year’s goals were achieved and set targets for the future. In companies without a health and safety organisation it should also examine whether the necessary health and safety expertise is present in the company. In all cases the employer must confirm in writing to the health and safety authority (Working Environment Authority) that this annual discussion has been held.

The day-to-day operational tasks related to health and safety are:

  • to undertake and participate in activities to protect employees and prevent risks;
  • to participate in the planning of health and safety work and the development of workplace assessment, including sick leave, taking account the principle of prevention and the need to comply with employment regulations;
  • to ensure that working conditions are safe;
  • to ensure that there is effective training appropriate to the needs of all employees, participate in the investigation of accidents and work-related illness, as well as the risk of such accidents and illness, and to notify them to the employer;
  • to encourage behaviour among employees that promotes health and safety, both for themselves and others;
  • to act as liaison between employees and the higher level safety committee, where this exists; and
  • to pass on to the safety committee problems that the safety working group cannot solve, or that have company-wide application.

The powers of both safety working groups and safety committees are substantial.

Where safety working groups consider that there is an imminent substantial threat to workers’ health and safety that it cannot avert, and there is no time to inform the chair of the safety committee or the management, it can require work to be stopped to the extent that is required to avoid the danger. It must, however, promptly inform management of its actions and explain why the work stoppage was necessary. In addition, if only one member of the safety working group is present, either the employee representative or the supervisor, he or she can act alone, communicating the decision later.

The safety committee, the single-tier health and safety body and the appropriate safety working group must all be given details of reports of accidents at work submitted to the labour inspectorate. They must be told about decisions taken by the labour inspectorate and the Working Environment Authority, and they must also be consulted before the employer asks for expert assistance in the area of health and safety.

Where the safety committee has made a proposal to the employer which has not been take accepted, the employer must set out the reasons for not following the proposal within three weeks.

Frequency of meetings

The number of times the various health and safety bodies should meet is not regulated in the legislation. However, it should be considered in the annual health and safety discussion.

Election and term of office

Employee health and safety representatives are elected by all employees with the exception of supervisors or those with managerial responsibilities, with the election taking place at the level of the whole company, or the part covered by a particular safety working group as appropriate. The term of office is two years, although this can be extended through agreement with the employer, although not for more than four years.

Resources and time off

The employer must ensure that there are sufficient funds to allow cooperation on health and safety to operate effectively. This includes providing employee safety representatives with sufficient paid time off for them to carry out their functions.

Employee safety representatives must complete three days of training within the first three months of their election. The employer should offer an additional two days of training in the first year, and one and a half days of training thereafter. The cost of training and all associated expenses, including loss of earnings, should be borne by the employer.

Protection against dismissal

Employee health and safety representatives are protected against dismissal or other detrimental treatment in the same way as union representatives, in other words, they may not be dismissed until after the union has been informed and after any arbitration proceedings over the dismissal have ended. They should also not suffer any disadvantage because of their activities as safety representatives.

Key legislation

Consolidated Act on Safety at Work: Ministry of Employment Act no 1072 of 7 September 2010

Bekendtgørelse af lov om arbejdsmiljø: Beskæftigelsesministeriets lovbekendtgørelse nr. 1072 af 7. september 2010

L. Fulton (2013) Health and Safety Representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication prepared for worker-participation.eu)