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Health and Safety Representation

The main figures representing employees in health and safety are the specially elected health and safety representatives, although in larger workplaces (those with at least 20 employees) a health and safety committee – a body with both employee and management representatives – should also be set up. The intention is that employees should cooperate with the employer in ensuring a healthy and safe workplace, although they also have the right to interrupt work in the case of imminent and serious danger.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

While employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees, Finnish legislation also aims to make it possible for employees to participate in and influence the way health and safety issues are dealt with at workplace level. The legislation lays down a range of consultation and information rights and sets out the structures intended to ensure this. However, it makes clear that employers and employees can agree on other ways of involving employees in health and safety, provided that they offer the same degree of employee participation and do not restrict or eliminate the rights provided by legislation.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

In workplaces with at least 10 employees, the employees are entitled to choose one health and safety representative (työsuojeluvaltuutettu) and two deputies to represent them in dealings with the employer and to keep contact with the health and safety authorities. Non-manual staff can also decide to choose a separate safety representative and two deputies, if they wish. It is also possible for health and safety representatives and deputies to be chosen in smaller workplaces.

 

Where there are at least 20 employees in the workplace an occupational health and safety committee (työsuojelutoimikunta) should be set up. This is a joint management/employee body, although employee representatives are in a majority (see below).

 

Numbers and structure

 

In all workplaces with 10 or more employees a health and safety representative plus two deputies must be elected. It is also possible to have a health and safety representative in workplaces with fewer than 10 employees. Both manual and non-manual employees have the right to elect a health and safety representative plus two deputies, although a single representative plus deputies can be elected for both groups if this has been agreed. There is no requirement to have a larger number of health and safety representatives in bigger workplaces, although this is possible, if company-level agreements define different parts of the organisation as separate workplaces. For this to happen, these separate parts must have some degree of functional autonomy, giving separate health and safety representatives a real role to play. 

 

Where there at least 20 employees, an occupational health and safety committee should be set up, with four, eight or 12 members. The number should vary with the size of the workplace and other factors, but no specific thresholds are set out in the legislation. One quarter of the places on the committee are for representatives of the employer, with the rest going to employee representatives. However, these are split between manual and non-manual representatives, with half the seats going to representatives of the larger employee group and the final quarter going representatives of the smaller group.

 

The committee is normally chaired by the employer or the employers’ representative and one of the employer’s representatives is also responsible for preparing matters to be dealt with by the committee. The company’s health and safety manager (see below) participates in the committee meetings, irrespective of whether he or she is a member of the committee.

 

As in other areas, it is also possible to agree different arrangements for cooperation on health and safety, although this should ensure the same degree of employee participation as that provided by the structure set out in the legislation.

 

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014 found that 60% of workplaces in Finland had health and safety representatives and 34% had a health and safety committee. These are both above the EU-28 averages, which are 58% for health and safety representatives and 21% for health and safety committees. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)[1] 

 

Tasks and rights

 

The legislation lists a number of issues which should be handled through cooperation between the employer and the employees. These include:

  • matters immediately affecting the safety and health of any employee;
  • the investigation of risks and hazards at the workplace, and the results of surveys carried out by an occupational health care organisation;
  • workplace health promotion programmes;
  • matters relating to the organisation of work or workload;
  • training, guidance and induction on health and safety legislation; and
  • statistics on the work environment and the state of the workforce.

 

The health and safety representative represents the employees in dealing with these issues and has a responsibility to become familiar with the health and safety issues affecting the workplace and the appropriate health and safety legislation. He or she also participates in inspections or investigations if the expert carrying out these inspections or investigations considers that this is necessary.

 

The health and safety representative has a right to information on health and safety, including the documents the employer is obliged to keep on health and safety issues. He or she also has the right to examine the employer’s arrangements for occupational health care, both where it is provided directly by the employer and where it is provided by an external occupational health care organisation.

 

The health and safety representative also has, in the words of the legislation, a right to interrupt work if it causes “immediate and serious danger to an employee’s life or health”. The health and safety representative is required to inform the employer of the interruption either in advance or, if this is not possible, immediately afterwards, and he or she should also not disrupt work by more than is necessary to protect health and safety.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

The legislation does not specify how often the health and safety committee should meet.

 

Election and term of office

 

Health and safety representatives and their deputies are chosen by an election organised by the employees, with a separate election for non-manual employees, if required. If necessary the labour inspector can intervene to ensure that an election is conducted, and where there is a collective agreement covering health and safety cooperation at the workplace, the union can also intervene.

 

The period of office is normally two years, although this can be extended to four years, if the health and safety committee agrees that this would be sensible. Broader agreements on health and safety between the employer and the employees (see section on basic approach) can also provide for longer periods of office.

 

The elected health and safety representatives are also automatically members of the health and safety committee. Other employee members of the committee are elected in the same way as the health and safety representatives.

 

The period of office of the health and safety committee is two years, although, as with health and safety representatives, this can be extended through a collective agreement between the employer and the employees.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

The employer should provide a room for the health and safety representatives and the health and safety committee for their work and for meetings. In addition they have a right to use office and communications equipment to carry out their duties.

 

Health and safety representatives must be given paid time off to carry out their duties. The amount of time off provided should take a number of factors into account including:

  • number of employees represented;
  • the geographical spread of the workplace;
  • the number of individual work areas;
  • the nature of the work to be carried out; and
  • factors relating to the organisation of work.

 

The precise amount of time off will often be regulated by collective agreement, with many including detailed provisions linking time-off rights to employee numbers, and in some cases allowing for full-time health and safety representatives.

 

However, where time-off rights are not regulated by collective agreement, the minimum amount of paid time off to be provided in workplaces with at least 10 employees is four hours over a four-week period, unless this release would cause considerable inconvenience, in which case it can be temporarily postponed. These minimum time-off rights apply to the health and safety representative representing the employee group (manual or non-manual) most exposed to hazards at the workplace.

 

The employer should also pay reasonable compensation for any necessary duties carried out outside normal working hours.

 

Health and safety representatives and their deputies also have the right to paid time off for training. The training should be free for those being trained and should be provided within two months of their election.

 

The time-off rights of health and safety representatives also apply, as appropriate, to employee members of the health and safety committee.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Health and safety representatives can only be dismissed for a reason relating to their conduct if a majority of those they represent agree with the dismissal. In the case of redundancies or reorganisation, they can only be dismissed if their work has ceased completely and they cannot be retrained or redeployed.

 

Other elements of workplace health and safety

 

All employers are required to nominate an individual, as a health and safety manager, or to take that position themselves. The task of the health and safety manager is to help the employer with health and safety expertise and to cooperate with the employees and the health and safety authorities. The health and safety manager should be appropriately qualified in relation both to health and safety legislation and the risks present in the workplace, and should be able to deal with all the issues which are subject to cooperation with health and safety representatives.

 

Occupational health care can be outsourced to an external body or provided by the employer directly. The employers, employees or their representatives and occupational health care specialists all need to cooperate to promote occupational health at the workplace.

 

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, (Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriö) The body responsible for monitoring compliance with health and safety laws and regulations is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Työsuojeluviranomainen), which is under the direct control of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

 

Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy primarily through their participation in the Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, which also includes government representatives. Unions and employers also have an influence on the implementation of health and safety policy through regional tripartite occupational safety and health boards.[2]

 

Finnish health and safety legislation has for many years dealt with psychosocial risks. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002) sets out the need to eliminate hazards to the “physical and mental health of employees” (Section 1) and refers specifically to workloads, violence and harassment. It states that the employer must take action “if it is noticed that an employee while at work is exposed to workloads in a manner which endangers his or her healthy working conditions” (Section 25); that “jobs entailing an evident threat of violence shall be so arranged that the threat of violence and incidents of violence are prevented as far as possible” (Section 27); and that “if harassment or other inappropriate treatment of an employee occurs at work and causes hazards or risks to the employee’s health”, the employer should take appropriate action (Section 28).

 

 

Key legislation

 

Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces No 44/2006

Occupational Safety and Health Act No 738/2002

Occupational Health Care Act No 1383/2001

 

Laki työsuojelun valvonnasta ja työpaikan työsuojeluyhteistoiminnasta 44/2006

Työturvallisuuslaki 738/2002

Työterveyshuoltolaki 1383/2001

 

[1] Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2016

[2] For more information on the national context see  OSH system at national level – Finland by Kirsi Koskela and  Riitta Sauni, OSH Wiki https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Finland

L. Fulton (2018) Health and safety representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Produced with the assistance of the Workers' Interest Group of the Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work (of the EU Commission). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.