Role of employee participation in improving working environment

In general, Norwegian undertakings have implemented the basic arrangements for creating cooperation in developing the working environment, with safety delegates, working environment committees, trade unions and occupational health services in place. However, a status quo seems to have developed, with organisational matters being mainly handled by management while participation and employee–management relations are primarily handled by employees.

The working environment refers to the quality of working conditions; however, the procedures for trying to develop the workplace standard should also be addressed. The working environment has been a priority area in Norway for many years, and the country has a long history of laws and regulations on employee representatives, arrangements for participation and requirements for systematic efforts in this field. A recent study examines the status of cooperation and employee participation as evaluated and reported by Norwegian workers in 2007.

About the surveys

The study used data from the Level of Living Survey: Working Conditions 2006 (Samordnet levekårsundersøkelse 2006: Arbeidsmiljø (in Norwegian, 3.6Mb PDF)), conducted by Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå, SSB). It was also based on a survey – HMS-tilstanden i Norge 2007 (in Norwegian, 1.5Mb PDF) – carried out by the independent and multidisciplinary research foundation Fafo in 2007, which was further analysed and edited by Bjørn Willadssen.

The SSB survey comprises telephone interviews with almost 10,000 workers, representing a response rate of 67%. The Fafo survey, which was commissioned by the Labour Environment Section of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO), covers areas of cooperation and employee participation in the improvement of the working environment, based on the answers of 2,300 respondents.

Key findings of study

Health and safety environment resources

Although the requirements for safety delegates and working environment committees – as stipulated by the Working Environment Act (2.2Mb PDF) – have remained unchanged since 1977, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of workers reporting that they have such resources at their workplace. In 2007, four out of five employees reported having a safety delegate, and slightly more than half of them stated that a working environment committee was in their company. Regarding access to occupational health services, three out of five workers report having this facility, and about the same proportion of employees work in a company that has signed an agreement on an ‘inclusive working life’. In addition, three out of four Norwegians report having a trade union at their workplace.

Systematic health, environment and safety provisions

According to Section 3-1 of the Working Environment Act, the employer shall ensure that systematic health, environment and safety work is performed at all levels of the undertaking, and that it is carried out in cooperation with the employees and their elected representatives. This became an obligation for all employers in 1992. More companies seem to be complying with the requirement for systematic efforts in 2007 than in 2001. Currently, half of the employees report that their employer carries out such work, a figure which has increased considerably since 2001 when only one third of the workers reported this. According to the risk exposure in their work, employees should also receive health and safety environment (HSE) training. In 2007, half of the employees reported having received such training, which is 10 percentage points more than in 2001. Systematic efforts and training on HSE are both most common in larger enterprises (see figure).

Employees reporting systematic HSE work and having received HSE training, by company size (%)

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Source: Fafo, 2007

Employees reporting systematic HSE work and having received HSE training, by company size (%)

Drivers for improvement

The 2007 survey evaluated the roles of safety delegates, trade unions and management as drivers for improvement in the working environment. Trade unions were characterised as a driving force by 43% of the employees surveyed, while 49% considered that the safety delegate could be characterised in this way and 53% reported that the management was a driving force.

Looking at specific working environment problems, managers were also recognised as the most active party when it comes to solving psychosocial problems such as cooperation between colleagues, bullying, cooperation towards customers and clients, and violence towards employees. In addition, problems related to organisational matters in companies are considered to be mainly handled by the management, which seems to be significantly more active on issues such as the pace of work being too high or too much use of overtime.

On the other hand, the employees themselves are regarded as the most active party when it comes to matters relating to lack of participation and employee–management relations. Meanwhile, neither trade unions nor safety delegates are seen to be very active in this area, and occupational health services are judged as playing only a minor role in these issues.

Bjørn Tore Langeland, National Institute of Occupational Health, Department of Occupational Health Surveillance

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