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Health and Safety Representation

Safety representatives, who are normally appointed by the union, should be present in all workplaces with at least five employees in Sweden. They have the power to halt work if there is an immediate and serious threat to health. A joint safety committee should be set up in larger workplaces and the Swedish system also provides a network of regional safety representatives, usually union officials, who can intervene where there is no safety committee.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

Cooperation between employers and employees is seen as essential in creating a safe workplace, and the legislation states that the employer and the employee should cooperate to establish a good working environment.

 

Employee health and safety bodies

Health and safety representation in Sweden is provided through safety representatives (working environment representatives) (skyddsombud (arbetsmiljöombud)), and in larger companies (50 or more employees) or where the employees request this, there is also a safety committee (skyddskommitté). Unions can also appoint a regional safety representative (regionalt skyddsombud) to cover smaller workplaces without a safety committee, where they have members.

 

Numbers and structure

 

All workplaces with five or more employees should appoint at least one safety representative, with the union normally making the appointment (see below). Safety representatives can also be appointed at smaller workplaces if working conditions make this appropriate. Each safety representative should also have a deputy.

 

There are no set rules about how many safety representatives should be appointed. However, the Work Environment Ordinance indicates that the size of the workplace, the nature of the work and the working conditions should be taken into account. In addition, if work is split over several departments or done in shifts, each department and or shift should have a safety representative.  Where there are doubts about the appropriate number, the issue should be discussed with the employer and if necessary the health and safety authorities. It is also possible to have safety representatives from several unions, if several have agreements covering the workplace.

 

Where, for whatever reason, there are several safety representatives, one of them should be chosen as the senior safety representative to coordinate the work of the others.

 

A safety committee should be set up in all workplaces with at least 50 employees and in smaller workplaces if the employees request this. Its size depends on the size of the workplace and the type of work undertaken. The employee members of the committee are appointed in the same way as safety representatives (see below) and they must include at least one safety representative. The safety committee should, if possible, also include at least one person in a management role and a member of the local executive committee of the union. The chair and secretary are normally appointed by management.

 

Regional safety representatives cover smaller workplaces without a safety committee and their area of responsibility is decided by the union body that appoints them, although they can only cover workplaces that have at least one of their members as employees. They exist alongside workplace-based safety representatives, and a small workplace might well have a safety representative who is an employee as well as being covered by a regional safety representative.

 

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) in 2014 found that 78% of workplaces in Sweden had health and safety representatives and 31% had a health and safety committee. These are both well 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]

 

Despite these positive figures a 2017 EU-OSHA survey looking at the reality of worker participation in the management of health and safety found that “although SRs [safety representatives] are still many, active and influential in Swedish workplaces, there is an increasingly split labour market, … in which unions are weaker, and where there are fewer and less active SRs, with less cooperation with their managers”.[2] Based on the number of safety representatives reported by the unions, the same study found that in reality at most around 15% of Sweden's workplaces with at least five employees had safety representatives. However, some two-thirds to three­-quarters of the others were covered by regional safety representatives.

Tasks and rights

 

The role of the safety representative is to represent employees on health and safety issues and to work for a satisfactory working environment. In the area he or she covers, the safety representative should monitor the safeguards against ill-health and accidents, as well as the employer’s compliance with legislative requirements relating to:

  • managing activity so as to meet the requirements of a good working environment;
  • investigating injuries at work;
  • continuously assessing risks and taking the appropriate measures to deal with them;
  • documenting the health and safety position and improvement measures, including drawing up actions; and
  • ensuring that the workplace provides a scheme of job adaptation and rehabilitation.

 

The safety representative should also participate in the planning of new premises, equipment, work processes, working methods and work organisation or alterations to existing ones, and in planning the use of substances liable to cause ill-health or accidents. He or she should also be involved in the preparation of improvement action plans (see above).

 

The employer should inform the safety representative of any changes having a significant effect on working conditions. The safety representative is also entitled to inspect all documents and to obtain any other information necessary for his or her activities. This includes information on buildings, hazardous substances and communications from the safety authorities to the employer.

 

If the safety representative believes that specific measures need to be taken produce a safe working environment, he or she can ask the employer to carry out these measures or to undertake a particular investigation. If the employer fails to respond or does not do so with a reasonable time, the health and safety authority can examine the situation to see whether it should issue and instruction. Where there is a safety committee, the request may be made to it rather than the employer.

 

If a particular job involves immediate and serious danger to the life or health of an employee and the employer does not take any action to remedy the situation, the safety representative may order the suspension of work pending a decision by the health and safety authority. This suspension remains in force until the authority has reached a decision. This right to suspend work applies to each safety representative, so it is possible for a regional safety representative to order a suspension of work, even if the local safety representative disagrees. In practice, where there are local safety representatives in small workplaces, they often try to avoid the conflict with management and call the regional safety representatives to come and stop the work. This would not be possible in larger workplaces as the regional safety representative only has a role if there is no safety committee.

 

The role of the safety committee is to participate in the planning of health and safety measures at the worksite and monitor their implementation. It should closely monitor developments relating to protection against ill-health and accidents and should promote satisfactory health and safety conditions.

 

In particular the safety committee should consider issues relating to:

  • occupational health services;
  • action plans relating to measure to improve health and safety (see above);
  • the planning of new or changed facilities, equipment, work processes and working methods and of work organisation;
  • planning of the use of substances liable to cause ill-health or accident;
  • information and education concerning the working environment; and
  • job adaptation and rehabilitation activities at the workplace.

 

Where employees and the employer on the safety committee cannot agree, the issue can be referred to the health and safety authority, to see whether this is an issue on which the authority can make a decision.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

The safety committee should meet at least once every three months.

 

Election and term of office

 

Safety representatives are appointed in the first instance by the local trade union organisation which has a collective agreement with the employer. The individual appointed must be an employee at the workplace, but does not have to be a member of the union, although he or she generally is a union member. If there are several unions with collective agreements covering the workplace, they decide whether to have a common representative or whether to have one – or more than one – each.

 

Where there is no union with a collective agreement, the employees elect their own safety representative, normally at a meeting but sometimes in other ways. The election must be conducted by the employees themselves.

 

Safety representatives are appointed for a period of three years unless exceptional circumstances make a different period appropriate.

 

The employee members of the safety committee are also appointed by the unions with collective agreements covering the workplace in the first instance. Only if there are no unions with collective agreements covering the workplace are they directly chosen by the employees.

 

Regional safety representatives are chosen by the local organisation of the union and they do not have to be employees at the workplace – in fact they are generally full-time union officials. They can only be appointed in respect of workplaces where the union concerned has members.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

Safety representatives are entitled to the time off with pay necessary to perform their duties. However, the legislation does not specify how long this should be and the issue will normally be decided in an agreement between the union and the employer. Safety representatives should also be given training.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Safety representatives must not be given inferior conditions or pay because of their appointment and, like trade union representatives, benefit from some priority of treatment when redundancies are being made.

 

Other elements of workplace health and safety

 

Health and safety legislation emphasises the employer’s duty to provide a safe and healthy working environment, stating in the Work Environment Act that, “the employer must take all necessary measures to prevent the employee from being exposed to illness or accidents”. However, in general there are no specific employment or other thresholds determining the how health and safety tasks should be performed, although there are more specific requirements relating to construction and civil engineering.

 

The Act and the specifying regulations issued by the Work Environment Authority also emphasise that the employer should comply with their general preventive duties by organising adequate “Systematic Work Environment Management” – this is the Swedish implementation of EU's Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. These internal control provisions (originally from 1993, but updated and renamed in 2001) are by far the most used and cited of all regulations, and safety representatives have a right and duty to monitor and participate in all aspects of the employer's Systematic Work Environment Management (SWEM).

 

The legislation also states that the employer must ensure the availability of “occupational health services required by the working conditions”, and defines occupational health services as being “an independent expert resource in the work environment and rehabilitation fields”.

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Ministry of Employment (Arbetsmarknadsdepartementet). The body primarily responsible health and safety is the Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket), which also monitors compliance with health and safety laws and regulations.

 

There is no statutory structure giving trade unions and employers a direct role in policy-making on health and safety. However, they are consulted by the Work Environment Authority, and the regulations governing the operations of the Authority state specifically that it “shall consult representative employers’ and workers' organisations” before deciding on new regulations or taking important administrative  decisions.[3]

 

The main Swedish health and safety legislation, the Work Environment Act 1977, as amended, does not use the term psychosocial risks. However, it does refer to mental stress, stating: “Technologies, the organisation of work and the content of work must be designed in such a way that the employee is not subjected to physical strain or mental stress that may lead to illness or accidents” (Chapter 2, Section 1).In addition, new legislation, Organisational and social work environment provisions (AFS 2015:4), came into force on 31 March 2016. They aim to protect employees against psychosocial risks, dealing specifically with workload, working hours and victimisation.

 

 

 Key legislation

 

Work Environment Act 1977, as amended

The Work Environment Ordinance

Systematic Work Environment Management Provisions 2001

 

Arbetsmiljölagen

Arbetsmiljöförordningen

Arbetsmiljöverkets föreskrifter om systematiskt arbetsmiljöarbete AFS 2001: 1

 

 

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

[2] Worker participation in the management of occupational safety and health — qualitative evidence from ESENER-2 Country report – Sweden,  European Risk Observatory, by John Sjöström and Kaj Frick, EU-OSHA 2017

[3]Förordning (2007:913) med instruktion för Arbetsmiljöverket

For more information on the national context see  OSH system at national level – Sweden by Riitta Sauni, Kirsi Koskela and Peter Westerholm,, OSH Wiki   https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Sweden

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.