Norway: EWCO comparative analytical report on Information, consultation and participation of workers concerning health and safety in SMEs

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 21 Deireadh Fómhair 2010


Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

The Labour market in Norway is dominated by SMEs, with more than 97% of all companies having less than 20 employees and more than 85% less than 5 employees. The Working Environment Act contains detailed descriptions of what level onwards it is legally binding to establish H&S Committees, as well as the rights and duties of the committees and the safety representatives. The Labour Inspection Authority (Arbeidstilsynet) cooperates closely with the social partners in Norway, providing an opportunity for a strong impact on drawing guidelines and implementing H&S and work organization interventions.

Background information

The general issue

According to several studies (Walters, 2002, HSE, 2005), Health and Safety management shows significant differences between large companies and SMEs. In these latter, especially among micro-enterprises (less than 10 employees) and small ones (10-49 employees), H&S regulation is a lot of times perceived more as a burden to comply rather than a competitive opportunity because of stronger pressure over costs, company struggle for survival, lack of both financial and human resources. Further, in micro and small firms employers do not always own adequate OSH managerial skills and knowledge and they often see with suspicious the support offered by public agencies.

The extent of workers’ involvement is ambiguous: on the one hand could be easier because of direct relationship with ownership, while lower skills and shorter average tenure and the lack of OSH workplace representatives, due to legal threshold and/or non-unionization, make workers less involved in taking care of H&S on the other.

Regulatory Framework

The Health and Safety at work Framework Council Directive 89/391 introduces general prevention principles applicable to all occupational risks, aimed to ensure a higher degree of protection of workers at work through the implementation of preventive measures to guard against accidents at work and occupational diseases. The directive establishes the obligation on employers to adequately inform (art. 10) and to consult his/her employees and their representatives (art.11) by allowing them “to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work”, thus including their right to make proposals and to a balanced participation. Finally, the directive sets an obligation on the employer to adequately train at his expenses his/her employees (art. 12) and their representatives, with regular repeals in order to take into account of technological and organizational changes and to the insurgence or changes of new risks.

The H&S at work strategy 2007-2013 stresses the importance of SMEs, high-risk sectors and subcontracting in achieving the target of a 25% cut of work accidents within 2013: in particular, SMEs are seen as more vulnerable since they have “fewer resources to put complex systems of protection in place, while some of them tend to be more affected by the negative impact of health and safety problems”.

The strategy envisages a simplification and adaptation of the existing legislation to SMEs and various forms of support in its implementation, such as dissemination of good practices, training of employees, development of simple risk assessment tools and guidelines, access to affordable and good quality prevention services, and economic incentives. Labour inspectors should play a twofold role both “as intermediaries to promote better compliance with the legislation in SMEs, primarily through education, persuasion and encouragement” and “when necessary, through coercive means”,

Member States are invited to “take steps to facilitate access to good quality prevention services” particularly in favour of SMEs, to improve health surveillance of workers while avoiding inflating the formal requirements, to incorporate into their national strategies specific measures (financial assistance, training tailored to individual needs, etc.). Further, Member States and the social partners are encouraged to promote “the practical, rapid implementation of the results of basic research by making simple preventive instruments available to enterprises and in particular to SMEs”.

The second programme of Community action in the field of health (2008–2013) and the 2008 "European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being" , together with framework agreements on work-related stress (2004) and violence, bullying and harassment at workplace (2007) show both an important shift from the original notion of H&S, as stated by the 1989 directive, towards a more general “well-being” approach, and the prominent role played by social dialogue in its advance.

Figures and trends

Eurostat figures over work accidents (2002-2006) show the highest incidence rates in medium companies (50-249 employees), while micro-enterprises (1-9 employees) show the highest rates over fatal accidents. These trends seem to depend on the impact of manufacturing, construction and transports, while in the other services industries trends are not so clear-cut. However, Eurostat figures by industry and company size are not complete in order to provide an adequate assessment over time. Further, new risks emerge and work-related diseases (WRDs) evolve from the so-called “hygienic” risk factors towards “psychosocial” ones reflecting changes in working conditions.

Similarly Eurofound 4th EWCS does not show a clear-cut relationship between work accidents, risks for health and work-related diseases with company size. When asked “Do you think your health or safety is at risk because of your work?” (question 32) and “Does your work affect your health, or not?” (question 33), respondents working in small companies (10-49 employees) report the lowest scores. However, the share of respondents not well informed on H&S (question 12) declines from 15.3% in companies with 2 to 9 employees to 11.2% in companies over 250 employees: on average, such a share tend to increase since 1995 (see the full descriptive report). Similarly, both training and involvement over organizational issues are positively correlated with company size and could display indirectly a positive effect on H&S. Composition effects with respect to age (small companies show younger population), and industry (wider proportion of SMEs in services) should be taken into account.


1. National settings and regulatory framework (max 400 words)

- How is the 1989 Framework directive on H / S and in particular information / consultation practically implemented in SMEs? Any data available? Do administrative reports exist in particular from the Labour Inspectorate?

A new Working Environment Act (The Act) came into force by 1th January 2006, in which requirements for the work environment, the rules for systematic HSE work and rules on the employer's and employee's duties as described in Framework -Council Directive 89/391/EEC was implemented. The rules, however, was given a slightly shorter and more functional design. The requirements for the psychosocial work environment is expanded to include entitled to protection against violence and threats from customers, clients, etc. Rules that businesses should have a occupational health service if the occupational risk factors indicate, has been continued. The Act extends the duty to arrangements to employees with reduced work capacity. What was also new is that the employer, ie business head, duties to undergo training in environmental, health and safety work. The Act applies to all land based operations with employees, and specify from what number of employees onwards it is legally binding to select safety representatives, establish H&S Committees, etc. The responsibilities in the Act are reinforced by regulations relating to internal control (Internkontrollforeskriften in Norwegian).

- Does its implementation in micro and small companies follow similar patterns than in medium ones?

Good studies and data on differences in implementation of EU directives in micro/small and medium size companies are not available.

- Is H&S the current focus of legislation or did it evolve by incorporating “well-being at work” as the basic concept?

The legislation for systematic Health, Environment and Safety (HSE) activities has evolved continuously for the last decades. Although “well-being at work” has been one of the basic concepts since the mid-seventies, revisions (in 1996 and 2005) have clarified the existing regulations and emphasized the “well-being at work” part of the legislation.

- The Community strategy health and safety at work for 2007-2012 calls upon the member states to work out and implement strategies to reduce the number of industrial accidents and occupational diseases; are the SMEs specially singled out in the national strategies and cooperation between social partners underlined / foreseen / called for?

The Labour Inspectorate cooperates closely with the major social partners, and in their strategic plan of action for 2008-2011 (Strategic plan of action 2008-2011 in Norwegian), reducing industrial accidents and occupational diseases is pointed out as one of seven areas of priority. This reduction is thought to be achieved through an increased number of inspections in industries struggling with major working environmental problems, with workplace H&S activity organization as the main focus. As the number of work accidents in general are higher in industries dominated by SMEs (Industrial accidents statistics in Norwegian), these companies are indirectly singled out in the national strategies.

2. The micro-level settings: the role of H&S representatives (max 700 words)

- From what level onwards / number of employees onwards, is it legally binding to establish an H&S Committee in the companies? What’s its role and function?

In Norway, safety representatives shall be elected at all undertakings subject to the Working Environment Act (The Act). At undertakings with less than ten employees, the parties may agree in writing upon a different arrangement or agree that the undertaking shall not have a safety representative. Unless otherwise provided regarding the period of validity of the agreement, it shall be considered to apply for two years from the date of signature. The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority may, following a concrete assessment of the circumstances at the undertaking, decide that it shall nevertheless have a safety representative.

- From what level onwards / number of employees onwards are risk prevention representatives elected? Are they distinct representatives from H&S Committee and work councils?

Undertakings which regularly employ at least 50 employees shall have a working environment committee on which the employer, the employees and the safety and health personnel are represented. Working environment committees shall also be formed in undertakings with between 20 and 50 employees when so required by any of the parties at the undertaking. Where working conditions so indicate, the Labour Inspection Authority may decide that undertakings with less than 50 employees shall establish a working environment committee. The employer and the employees shall have an equal number of representatives on the committee. Representatives of the employer and of the employees shall be elected alternately as chairman of the committee. The

representatives of the occupational health service on the committee have no vote. When votes are equally divided, the chairman shall have the casting vote.

- Does the H&S Committee deal with individual health related complaints? Does it have the right to initiate action?

The working environment committee shall make efforts to establish a fully satisfactory working environment in the undertaking. The committee shall participate in planning safety and environmental work and shall follow up developments closely in questions relating to the safety, health and welfare of the employees. The committee shall study all reports relating to occupational diseases, occupational accidents and near accidents, seek to find the cause of the

accident or disease and ensure that the employer takes steps to prevent recurrence.

- Do regional/territorial risk prevention representatives exist, covering several small SME’s?

In industries dominated by SMES, the Ministry may provide in regulations that special local safety representatives shall be appointed. The Ministry may provide in regulations that there shall be arrangements regarding regional safety representatives covering several undertakings within a single geographical area. Regulations issued pursuant to this section may include provisions concerning how the safety representatives shall be appointed, what responsibilities they shall have, and how the costs of their activities shall be distributed.

- Is there special H&S training foreseen for OSH representatives/committees? Is it adequate in order to cope with both emerging risks and legislative and technological changes in SMEs?

The employer shall ensure that OSH representatives/committees receive the training necessary to enable them to perform their duties in a proper manner. The Ministry may by regulation lay down further requirements regarding such training. The representatives shall be allowed the time necessary to perform their duties in a proper manner. As a general rule these duties shall be performed within normal working hours. Evaluation of whether such training is sufficient to cope with risks and changes in small and medium enterprises is a subjective assessment, and no good data is available on this subject.

- In order to carry out prevention policies, does a right exist for the H&S Committee to carry out surveys, call in outside independent experts? Who finances the costs of the operations / expertise? Does this right exist also in SMEs?

The responsibilities and rights of the H&S Committee are explained in The Act and reinforced by the regulations relating to internal control. The latter involves the right to carry out surveys (with the help of independent experts if necessary) to identify factors that may cause problems in the workplace. This right also exists for SMEs where working conditions so indicate, that the Labour Inspection Authority decide the establishment of a working environment committee. The employer is responsible for the costs of such surveys.

- Does the H&S Committee have the right to consult the Labour Inspectorate?

As a general rule the committee shall have access to Labour Inspection Authority and police inquiry documents. When the committee considers it necessary, it may decide that inquiries shall be conducted by specialists or by a commission of inquiry appointed by the committee. Without undue delay the employer may submit such decisions to the Labour Inspection Authority for decision. The committee shall study all reports relating to occupational health inspections and measurements.

- Does regular reporting, annual reports exist which describe enterprises occupational diseases, assess the occupational risks at the workplace and present prevention policies? Are they submitted to the H&S Committee for discussion before publication?

The Act and Regulation for Systematic Health, Safety and Environmental Activities in Business (HSE Regulations) requires annual reports including list of hazards in the workplace, an evaluation of risks of health injury and accidents and a list of activities and measures initiated to prevent and reduce risks. The report is to be approved and sign by both management and the H&S Committee prior to publication. The Directorate of Labour Inspection may issue further rules concerning the contents and composition of the annual report.

- Is the H&S Committee, when providing a high standard of working conditions and of occupational health and safety seen as a positive competition factor? Can the image of the companies be regarded as important in the context for winning major contracts? Do companies refer to the activities of the H&S Committee in their Annual report of activities, to the existence of day-to-day bargaining and the management of working conditions by the H&S Committee? Do and how differ the approaches between micro/small, medium and large companies?

Each year the working environment committees have to submit a report on its activities to the administrative bodies of the undertaking and to employee organizations. Documentation of working conditions and the H& S standard is consequently information required for most tenders in Norway. This is especially important for SME-dominated areas, like building- and construction and cleaning industries, where documented high standard on these areas in general are crucial for getting major contracts. No good data is available for the general level of detail in H&S Committee’s annual reports or for differences in the approaches between micro/small, medium and large companies.

3. Social partners and the role of collective bargaining (max 300 words)

Please summarize specific arrangements on H&S for SMEs and SME-dominated industries, and how territorial OSH representatives could intervene at workplace.

In building and construction undertakings, in connection with loading and unloading of goods and otherwise when special circumstances so necessitate, the Ministry have provided in regulations that special local safety representatives shall be appointed. The employers are required to ensure that the representatives receive the training necessary to enable them to perform their duties in a proper manner. The Ministry may also by regulation lay down further requirements regarding such training. Safety representatives shall be allowed the time necessary to perform their duties in a proper manner, permitted access to- and, when necessary, given the right to intervene at the workplace to ensure a safe and healthy working environment.

What is the role of Social partners in drawing guidelines and implementing H&S and work organization intervention aimed to prevent work accidents and WRDs? What is the role of labour inspectorates, social security institutions, OSH services and national agencies in promoting local-level experiences in SMEs? Please summarize, if there exist, the extent of the cooperation between these latter and social partners.

The social partners, an in especial Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO Norway and Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon NHO, representing 867.000 members and 15.000 companies, respectively, have a strong impact on labour market policies in Norway. H&S regulation is a priority area of the social partners strategy of action plan, and while LO in their program of strategy prioritizes an extension of the regional safety deputy arrangement to comprise more industries, NHO is working for more frequent H&S- and driving force reporting in all industries to provide an effective tool for continuous improvement of the area. The process of drawing guidelines and implementing H&S and work organization intervention in Norway is consequently a result of an extensive cooperation between representatives for the social partners under the direction of The Labour Inspectorate Authority.

4. Figures, quantitative and qualitative studies. (max 800 words)

Are there specific surveys which prove that standards of working conditions, health and safety within small enterprises as compared to larger ones are significant lagging behind?

Do these surveys also investigate the impact of training, information and consultation over working conditions also in SMEs?

When surveys lack, are there qualitative studies investigating the impact of involvement and training on working conditions and health in SMEs?

Develop on the findings / results. Please mention / enumerate / give links.

In a report, HSE state in Norway 2007 (HMS tilstanden i Norge 2007) published by Bråten et al at The Institute for Labour and Social Research ((FAFO), an analysis comparing the HSE-condition in SMEs and larger companies is presented. The relation between size of the companies and resources used on HSE-activities is interesting from several perspectives. Although the Working Environment Act (The Act) describes in detail from what level onwards it is legally binding to establish safety representatives and committees, the need for establishing HHS-resources may differ due to differences in the social structure of small and bigger companies. In example, larger companies are in general better equipped to handle conflicts on a collegial level than smaller ones due to regulated personnel departments and union representatives.

The report (HMS tilstanden i Norge 2007) shows in Fig. 6.1 HSE-resources in companies as a function of number of employees. The figure shows clear connection between HSE-resources used and the size of the company. However, the figure also shows a widespread occurrence of safety representatives and committees also in companies not being directed to have such by the Working Environment Act (The Act). A reason for this could be due to consideration of the psychosocial working environment, as such established arrangement could make the companies better equipped to handle conflicts at different levels in the organization. A survey from 2006 by Bråten and Svalund (HMS-rådgiverordningen i NHO-fellesskapet), amongst companies belonging to Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon NHO, nevertheless supports the findings of higher occurrence of safety representatives and committees the larger the companies.

Table 6.2 in the report (Report in Norwegian) shows the differences in introduction of systematic HSE-activities or internal control in companies for 2001 and 2007. A significant higher number of companies had introduced such arrangement in 2007, compared to 2001. In the same way, the share of companies introducing internal control increases with size and risk activities. Employees in industries with relatively high-risk of injuries, like mining, building and construction, etc, are seen to have high occurrence of internal controls compared to low-risk industries. In general the survey also shows a higher occurrence of systematic HSE-activities in the public sector compared to the private sector.

Table 6.3 also shows that 52% of the employees had received HSE-training in 2007, compared to 42% in 2001. The trend for HSE-training being similar to that of HSE-activities in general, with higher occurrence the larger the company, confirming larger companies in general granting more resources to HSE-activities than smaller ones.

5. Good practices for SMEs: company/territorial level (max 200 words)

Are there well known examples for specific collective agreements in a given sector covering working conditions, H&S in particular in SME’s which go far beyond legislation? Are they exceptions or the rule? Please report at least one example at national level and at least two at territorial/company level.

Since 1991, The Labour Inspection Authority has been working systematically with industries struggling with major working environmental problems. There have been campaigns in a number of sectors, including the health sector, hotels and restaurants, construction, transport, agriculture and the police. The purpose of these campaigns has been to motivate individual enterprises to focus upon their own working environment and make improvements through internal control routines. Single day campaigns with mass inspections and broad media coverage are carried out several times a year. There are, however, no well known examples at neither company nor territorial level of collective agreements taking working and H&S conditions significantly far beyond the existing legislation.


  • HSE (2005), Obstacles preventing worker involvement in health and safety. Research Report 296.

  • Walters D. (2002), Regulating health and safety in small enterprises. PIE, Peter Lang, Brussels

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

[1] Question 28a_1 “Have you undergone: Training paid for or provided by your employer, or by yourself if you are self-employed?”; Question 28a_2: “Training paid for or provided by your employer, or by yourself if you are self-employed - number of days”; question 28b_1. “Have you undergone: Training paid for by yourself?”; question 28b_2. “Training paid for by yourself - number of days”; question 28c: “Have you undergone: On-the-job training?”; question 28d. “Have you undergone: Other forms of on-site training and learning?”

[2] Question 30b: “Over the past 12 months have you been consulted about changes in the organisation of work and / or your working conditions?”; question 30d. “Over the past 12 months have you discussed work-related problems with your boss?”

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