Proposal to screen and certify workplaces in order to improve work environment

A government report evaluates the potential benefits and opportunities associated with market-oriented policy instruments in the working environment. The report investigates the possible implementation of a Danish system of screening and certification of workplaces, as well as a number of other measures. The report concludes that further implementation of such policy instruments would improve the working environment and its role as a means of competition.

Background

Previous studies concerning the workplace environment have been limited to covering its environmental effects on employees and have therefore disregarded the business and competition sides of the working environment. As a result, the Swedish government (Regeringskansliet) considered it necessary to investigate the possibility of using market-oriented instruments to increase the incentives for businesses to improve the working environment. An improved workplace environment would benefit both employers and employees – for example, by lowering the number of people taking sick leave. A temporary commission was assigned the task of evaluating a number of concrete policy instruments that could stimulate employer incentives. The commission published its final report (in Swedish) in November 2009.

Main proposals of report

The commission’s view is that market-oriented policy instruments should complement existing policy instruments so that the working environment is further improved. In the report, the commission presents a number of concrete proposals, which could potentially encourage the improvement of the working environment. Four key proposals are as follows:

  • introducing a system of screening and certification of workplaces, similar to the Danish model;
  • forcing companies to supply environmental risk assessments when bidding for public procurement;
  • teaching workplace environment programmes to students studying engineering and business at university level;
  • maintaining the current legislation, which stipulates that companies are required to report sick leave in their annual reports.

Screening and certification of workplaces

Under the first proposal, the commission believes that Sweden would benefit from a system of screening workplaces – such as that used in Denmark – whereby certified companies are marked with a symbol if they are certified. This would benefit the certified companies in two ways. Firstly, customers would be more likely to choose certified companies over non-certified ones. Secondly, these certified companies would be, in line with the proposal, excused from further inspections in the near future. If implemented in Sweden, this special treatment would, according to the commission, create a competitive advantage for the certified companies and thus increase incentives for non-certified companies to improve their workplace environment.

Inclusion in public procurement

The second proposal is to include the working environment in the Public Procurement Act (Lagen om offentlig upphandling). The commission argues that it is important in public procurement procedures to consider all aspects of the bidding companies. In this regard, the commission suggests that the Work Environment Act (Arbetsmiljölagen) is amended so that bidding companies are requested to supply written environmental risk assessments before being allowed to take part in the procurement process. These changes would, according to the commission, improve the workplace environment and its role as a means of competition.

University-level programmes

In its third proposal, the commission states that the working environment modules should largely be taught at university level in engineering and business programmes, in order to secure a knowledge base among future business leaders. Such a knowledge base would, according to the commission, further increase the awareness of the connections between a successful business and a good working environment.

Maintaining sick leave records in annual reports

Finally, the commission argues that the present Swedish Account Legislation (Årsredovisningslagen), which requires companies to report sick leave in their annual reports, should continue to exist. This opinion contradicts a proposal to remove this requirement, which was made by another commission in a 2008 official government report (in Swedish, 1.56Mb PDF). The commission on market-oriented policy instruments believes that the number of sick leave cases at work is an indicator of the workplace environment. Thus, the commission concludes that this regulation is a driving force for companies to improve the working environment in order to secure future customers, suppliers and employees.

Reactions of social partners

A representative of the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO), Börje Sjöholm, largely welcomed the proposals. However, Mr Sjöholm argues that the market-oriented policy instruments should be complemented by stronger economic sanctions or contributions, in order to further strengthen the employer incentives. He also criticised the commission’s narrow focus on private businesses.

A spokesperson from the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), Eva Kovar, rejected the proposal to screen workplaces – although, if implemented, she believes that it would be reasonable for certified companies to be excluded from further inspections. Moreover, Ms Kovar completely rejected the proposals concerning public procurement and the continuation of compulsory sick leave declarations.

Commentary

Doubts over the commission’s screening proposal have been expressed by different sides of the community. Some argue that the Swedish authorities do not have enough resources to conduct the necessary number of screenings. At present, it would take 16 years to screen all workplaces in Sweden. Moreover, 90% of the screened Danish companies have already received the highest rating. This has, according to some, completely eliminated the intended effects on competition.

The commission’s proposals are currently being evaluated by a number of relevant authorities and organisations. When completed, the Swedish government will either reject the proposals or submit them to the parliament.

References

Lund, L. ‘Danskt smiley-system utreds i Sverige’, Dagens Arbete, 1 February 2010.

Remaeus, B., Marknadsorienterade styrmedel på arebetsmiljöområdet (950Kb PDF), Official government report (SOU 2009:97), Stockholm, 2009.

Wiklund, H-O., ‘Utredare vill glesa ut tillsyn hos certifierade arbetsplatser’, TCO-Tidningen, 25 January 2010.

Mats Kullander and Oskar Eklund, Oxford Research

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