Denmark: Improving health and safety at work through self-help kits

A self-help kit to improve health and safety conditions in Danish companies has been praised in an independent study. The kit is produced by the publicly backed Prevention Fund, which was established in 2007 to ensure good occupational health and safety. Overall, the kits have been shown to improve the methods used to achieve physical and psychosocial occupational health and safety, as well leading to better as occupational health and safety outcomes.

Background

The Prevention Fund was established by law in 2007 (in Danish). Its main objectives are to:

  • prevent burnout and stress caused by poor safety and health conditions in the workplace;
  • help people stay in work. 

These objectives are met through different programmes, including self-help kits (in Danish)

The self-help kits (forebyggelsespakker) were launched in January 2011 and are still on offer. The kits provide step-by-step instructions on how to improve not only employees’ health, but also health and safety conditions in industries where workers are at a high risk of burn-out. Front-line managers and the employees follow the instructions over a period of about 4–6 months. They take part in activities including physical exercises, meetings and external counselling, and consider how to use strategies to minimise burdens. Upon completion, there is an evaluation phase. Although all the fund’s programmes have the same overall objective of improving occupational health and safety, the kits are unique in the sense that the companies make the improvements themselves.

The social partners and the government select the industries that are given the kits (in Danish).  Enterprises receive grants to take part and DKK 46.2 million (€6.2 million) was allocated to 756 enterprises in 2013 – although, according to the fund's annual report, the total funding available was DKK 59 million (€7.9 million) (in Danish, 532 KB PDF)

Objective of the evaluation

The kits’ effectiveness was evaluated in 2014 by leading independent think-tank Oxford Research, and Danish research and development company Kubix. The researchers also studied the kits’ effectiveness in preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and dealing with psychosocial occupational health and safety. They looked at the use of new methods and their effect. The evaluation answered two basic questions:

  • Has the project improved preventative health and safety measures?
  • Has physical and psychosocial occupational health and safety improved?

The improvement of occupational health and safety was measured by the employees’ and employers’ perceptions, as well as by the researchers’ critical analysis of their statements. The evaluation did not measure the actual status of occupational health and safety in individual companies, as results from using the self-help kits vary and the kits themselves contain different methods and different activities depending on the target company.

Methodology

The evaluation design was drawn from two reports: Core Implementation Components published in 2005, and Implementation Research, published in 2009 (2.21 MB PDF). A theory of change was developed and tested by measuring how closely the companies followed the kits’ recommended methods, and by assessing each enterprises’ flexibility in adapting them to their organisational set-up. The evaluation is based on both quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative data was collected by an online survey of nominated respondents from each of the companies involved (190 of the 285 enterprises involved responded). Qualitative data was collected through telephone interviews with stakeholders and members of the programmes’ target group, and from 33 case studies of enterprises. The case studies were made up of interviews with front-line managers and employees in the enterprises, a site visit and desk research. 

Main findings

The overall result, based on the enterprises’ own judgement as well as evaluators’ critical analysis, is that the kits improve both the methods used to achieve physical and psychosocial occupational health and safety, as well as occupational health and safety outcomes.

The main result of using the kits is that employees and companies become more aware of possible hazards in the workplace and this leads to new safety initiatives. The businesses also seem to transfer the kits’ systematic approach to other areas of occupational health and safety. This approach can be through verbal and written procedures as well as formal and informal procedures.

Greater awareness and a more systematic approach have had a positive impact on the working environment. The impact, however, varies a lot. The evaluation identified both positive and negative factors that affect the implementation.

The kits works through employee involvement, which fosters their recognition of occupational health and safety. This, in itself, is a positive factor, with the evaluation concluding that the more employees are involved, the larger the impact on psychosocial and physical health and safety. Examples of improvements are:

  • use of tools to reduce heavy burdens;
  • a more systematic approach to the occupational health and safety work;
  • better dialogue between managers and employees;
  • defining clear procedures in carrying out dangerous work.

The quality of management is also identified as a key factor in how effectively the kits are used. Many of the target businesses have 10 employees or fewer, so they do not necessarily have the capacity to deal with such a kit. The evaluation concludes that businesses get greater benefits from the kits if they either have experience of project management or have external assistance to implement them. This implies that the kits cannot, on their own, improve the working environment – they need to be backed by an active management and employee involvement.

Although the evaluation identified positive aspects to the kits, there was also some negative feedback. One criticism is that recruitment of enterprises to the project has been more difficult than expected, even though the kits are free and the enterprises get grants to use them. Researchers said the social partners, the Danish Working Environment authorities and the Prevention Fund itself could have done more to promote the self-help kits.

Some 88% of the enterprises which took part said they would recommend the programme to other businesses. This is one of the best indicators that the programme is valuable to enterprises and that it makes a positive contribution to improving the working environment in the Danish labour market.

Reactions from social partners

Social partners from the public sector and the private sector are represented on the board of the Prevention Fund and they all agree that more must be done to promote the kits. Lizette Risgaard, Vice President of The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and a member of the board, said improving occupational health and safety could only be good for Danish workers. The Confederation of Danish Employers’ (DA) representative on the board, Chief Consultant Lena Søby, added that businesses appreciate the self-help kits and more should be done to promote them (in Danish)

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