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

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Participation at work,
  • Industrial relations,
  • Published on: 21 October 2010

Rune Holm Christiansen and Helle Ourø Nielsen

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

In Denmark, the provisions on information and consultation in the Health and Safety at work Framework Council Directive 89/391 are mainly implemented in the national in Working Environment Act. However, data indicate that SMEs are less likely to observe the provisions in the Act. Moreover, SMEs are also less likely to initiate health and safety activities and generally have a poorer physical working environment. However, actions to improve on this imbalance has been initiated by the social partners and the Working Environment Authority


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?

Regarding information and consultation, the 1989 Framework directive on health and safety at work is mainly implemented in the national Working Environment Act (Arbejdsmiljøloven, LBK nr 268 af 18/03/2005), and in 36 executive orders, the most important being the Working Environment Authority’s (Arbejdstilsynet, AT) Executive Order on the Health and Safety Activities of Enterprises (Bekendtgørelse nr 575 af 21. juni 2001) and Executive Order on the Performance of Work (Bekendtgørelse nr 559 af 17. juni 2004). The executive orders are supported by AT guidelines based on Acts and executive orders explaining how regulations are to be interpreted. An example is the AT Guideline D.1.1 (At-vejledning D.1.1) on Workplace assessment (Arbejdspladsvurdering, APV). Thus, the 1989 Framework directive is implemented in several law texts. This process began in 1993 with the introduction of the APV.

No administrative reports exist. However, as a part of the AT’s monitoring of the working environment, the National Research Centre for the Working Environment (Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Arbejdsmiljø, NFA) has conducted an analysis of the health and safety activities of enterprises (Virksomhedsovervågningen, VOV).

Data from 2006 show a linear increase in the organisation and formal structuring of health and safety activities by the number of employees in the enterprises, i.e. size of the workplace, on all parameters. Not surprisingly, the existence of safety groups and committees is less likely in micro enterprises than in enterprises with 10-19 and 20+ employees. However, approximately 43% of micro enterprises practice some sort of formal organisation of health and safety activities although it is not mandatory (56.9% has no formal structure).

Furthermore, data show that the mandatory APV is conducted in some 78% of enterprises with 1-9 employees, whereas this is the case for 88% for small enterprises with 10-19 employees and around 96% for enterprises with 20 or more employees. Moreover, Table 1 indicates that employees are being involved in some way in health and safety in approximately four-fifths of micro enterprises (non-formal meeting structure), and informed and consulted in 63% (formal meeting structure). These figures increase with the number of employees in the enterprise.

Table 1: Organisation of health and safety activities, by number of employees in enterprises (2006)

1-9 employees

10-19 employees

20+ employees

Safety Group(s) at the workplace




Safety Committee covering the workplace




Safety- and Co-operation committee amalgamated




No formal organisation of health and safety activities




APV conducted




1 or more meetings on health and safety within the last year - formal meeting structure




Working environment is discussed by employees and employer or representatives – non-formal meeting structure




Notes: For specified information on Safety Groups, Safety Committees and APV, see next question

Source: Arbejdet med sikkerhed og sundhed – 2006 , NFA, 2009.

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

The Working Environment Act requires all enterprises with employees to undertake an assessment of the health and safety conditions at the workplace (APV). The APV shall be revised when there are changes in work, work methods, work processes etc. significant for health and safety at work, or at least every third year. The Internal Safety Organisation (see below) has to document its participation by endorsing the APV. If the workplace does not have an Internal Safety Organisation, employees are required to participate in a similar way.

The Executive order on Health and Safety Activities of Enterprises requires enterprises with ten or more employees to organise the health and safety activities in an Internal Safety Organisation (Sikkerhedsorganisation, SiO). Employees elect a Safety Representative to the Safety Group established by the employer, for a particular department or field of activity. Moreover, at enterprises with 20 or more employees the health and safety activities in the safety groups shall be planned and coordinated by a Safety Committee. As is the case for safety groups, the participation of elected employee representatives in the safety committee is required.

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

Although well-being at work has indeed (re-)entered the working environment agenda within the last five years or so, it has not superseded health and safety. However, one of the results of a series of tripartite discussions on the future of the organisation of health and safety activities in enterprises, finalised and reported as recommendations to the Minister of Employment in April 2009, is that the terminology applied in legislation will be changed from ‘safety’ to ‘working environment’.

- 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?

In Denmark, the social partners are integrated parts of the work environment system. The national strategy for the working environment , the 2010 action plan, was drafted by the Working Environment Council (Arbejdsmiljørådet, AMR). The AMR consists mainly of social partners’ representatives.

In the 2010 action plan the particular conditions of SMEs are mentioned. However, the action plan focuses on risks in the working environment and not on enterprises. Nevertheless, SMEs are in practice singled out. For example, the 62 industry-specific APV checklists prepared by the AT are targeted SMEs. Moreover, the eleven Industry-level Working Environment Councils (Branchearbejdsmiljørådene, BAR) run by the social partners provide information, guides etc. targeted SMEs.

2. The micro-level settings: the role of H&S representatives

- 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?

See question 2 in section 1 for details on safety groups and safety committees.

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

See question 2 in section 1 for details on safety groups and safety committees.

Employees in a department or performing similar jobs elect a safety representative to the safety group. In enterprises with two or more safety groups the safety representatives elect representatives to participate in the safety committees. The safety representative may be the same person elected as employee representative (Tillidsrepræsentant). However, the two things have nothing to do with each other. In addition, in some enterprises the social partners negotiate to amalgamate the safety committee with the co-operation committee, establishing a single forum for the co-operation between employees and employer.

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

It is the task of the safety group to monitor and solve health and safety problems in the department or area of work covered by the safety group. In the sense that safety representatives are the link connecting employees with the employer, the safety group/committee may deal with individual health related complaints if these are related to the working environment. The internal safety organisation deal with individual health outcomes in the case of accidents and occupational diseases, as it is involved in the analysis and measures taken towards the elimination of occupational risks. Moreover, the safety group has the right to stop work in the enterprise in the case of impending and significant danger.

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

Regional/territorial or workplace combined safety representatives do exist in Denmark. On the basis of an AT guideline on Agreements on health and safety activities of enterprises (At-vejledning F.2.8 af marts 2006) the social partners can negotiate an alternative structure for the organisation of health and safety activities. This, commonly referred to as the ‘Agreement-model’, involves the incorporation of health and safety activities into the existing co-operation structures, such as the co-operation committees . As part of these agreements salaried full-time workplace combined or regional safety representatives (Fællessikkerhedsrepræsentanter) are usually appointed. However, the Agreement model is more widespread in the public sector than in the private sector.

Nevertheless, a regional safety representative may for example cover the health and safety of all employees in childcare institutions (typically small workplaces with 10-20 employees) under the authority of a municipal.

In addition, as there are positive experiences with regional safety representatives in the public sector the tripartite recommendations to the Minister of Employment include the suggestion that barriers for regional safety representation in the private sector should be investigated.

- 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?

When a safety group is established it is the responsibility of the employer to register the members of the safety group to the compulsory Working environment training (Arbejdsmiljøuddannelsen), specified in the Executive Order on Health and Safety Training (Bekendtgørelse nr 1503 af 21. december 2004). Currently, the working environment training programme includes five days of training. However, the tripartite recommendations call for the Minister of Employment to reduce the training from five to three days, and supplement the compulsory training with continuous training relevant in relation to the particular conditions of enterprises. The purpose is to render training on working environment more flexible, and, thus, enable enterprises, especially SMEs, to cope with emerging risks and technological change.

- 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?

As the activities of the safety group/committee is the result of negotiations between employee representatives and the employer or a person representing the employer, the safety group/committee has the right to carry out surveys, call in experts or working environment consultants. This, of course, is not necessarily the case in micro enterprises, as they are not required to have an internal safety organisation.

The cost of such operations is defrayed by the employer or financed via funds negotiated by the social partners. However, a vast number of guidelines, information material and questionnaires are accessible to enterprises free of charge mainly via the trade unions and employers organisations, the BARs, the AT, the NFA and the Working Environment Information Centre (Videncenter for Arbejdsmiljø, VFA). For example, the usage of the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire (COPSOQ) , developed by NFA researchers, is widespread among enterprises as a part of the APV.

Moreover, in the case such operations involve the training of employees part of the cost is reimbursed the employer as a part of the Adult vocational training reimbursement scheme (VEU-godtgørelse). The right to this reimbursement does not depend on the size of the workplace in any way.

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

Yes. Any employee has the right to consult the AT in case of suspected violations of Acts or Executive Orders on the working environment. Employees consulting the AT have the right to stay anonymous and the right of access to documents and rulings concerning the working environment of the enterprise.

- 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 APV, conducted at least every third year, assesses the working environment problems relevant to the enterprise. If safety groups/committees exist, these are involved in preparing the APV.

- 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?

In general, the internal safety organisation is not highlighted by enterprises, and, thus, not a positive competition factor. However, working environment certified enterprises for example sometimes use the certificate in branding the enterprise. Several working environment certificates exist. However, in order to become accredited as working environment certified enterprise by the AT the enterprise will have to operate according to principles similar to that of the ISO 9000/14000 standards and according to the requirements of the working environment legislation.

Mostly large enterprises use working environment certificates for branding purposes. Nevertheless, CSR activities are also quite prevalent among SMEs. Data suggest that approximately three-fourths of SMEs are engaged in CSR activities. However, SMEs tend to focus on the workforce and community aspects of CSR and typically do not implement CSR strategically (see DK0904019I for further details).

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.

For details on specific arrangements on health and safety, see section 1 and 2. For details on regional/territorial safety representatives, see section 2 question 4.

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.

See section 1 question 4, and section 2 question 4 and 6.

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?

There are clear indications that the working environment in micro and small enterprises differ from the working environment in larger enterprises.

Research suggests that the psychosocial working environment is better in micro/small enterprises compared to larger enterprises, whereas the opposite is the case for the physical working environment. The worst physical environment is found among male workers in small privately owned enterprises (see DK0602NU06). Moreover, according to a 2004 literature survey of 288 studies on the working environment in small enterprises sickness absence has been found to be relatively lower in small enterprises (Arbejdsmiljøarbejdet i mindre og mellemstore virksomheder – en litteraturanalyse). In addition, a 2002 study (Øje på arbejdsmiljøet, maj 2002), conducted by the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), finds that enterprises with less than 20 employees report significantly fewer occupational accidents than larger enterprises. As to serious accidents, this trend is not as notable although it remains. As these data are based on the registers of the AT, this indicates that the level of underreporting of occupational accidents is relatively higher for small enterprises. as a consequence, assessing the actual difference in work related health outcomes is difficult.

From the analyses conducted by the NFA in relation to the aforementioned VOV monitoring programme a clear connection between workplace size and health and safety activity level appear. Interestingly, this connection is evident regardless of the factors assessed; the smaller the enterprise, the less enterprises initiate health and safety activities (Table 2).

Table 2: Health and safety activity levels, by risk factors and number of employees in enterprises (2006)

1-9 employees

10-19 employees

20+ employees





Physical strain








In-door climate




Psychosocial working environment








Notes: Index values; index: 0-1

Source: Overvågning af virksomhedernes forebyggende arbejdsmiljøarbejde (VOV), NFA, 2008.

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

Although a parallelism between relatively poorer physical working environment and lower level of health and safety activities is evident, we have not been able to identify any studies actually establishing a causal connection between the two. On the contrary, the fact that the psychosocial working environment is relatively better in small enterprises despite a lower level of health and safety activities indicates that a clear-cut connection may not necessarily be the case (at least in the case of enterprises with 1-19 employees).

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

To the best of our knowledge, no qualitative studies on the impact of the internal safety organisation or involvement in general on the health and safety in SMEs have been conducted. However, several studies on the effect of workplace interventions and methods of working environment professionals have been undertaken. According to the aforementioned literature survey, the establishing of health and safety networks, story-telling involving the experiences of employees as a method to reduce accidents, and consultancy based on local practice, focusing on concrete initiatives and economy and involve employees are methods/interventions that have been found to have a positive impact on health and safety in SMEs.

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

See question 1 and 3 in this section.

5. Good practices for SMEs: company/territorial level

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.

As responsibilities and standards for the physical working environment, and the organisation of health and safety activities are specified in the Working Environment Act and related Executive orders, the physical working environment is not subject to negotiation among the social partners at the local level. Therefore, collective agreements on working environment typically focus on the “soft” or social aspects of the working environment, such as the inclusion of precarious groups on the labour market and well-being. Such agreements have become quite widespread over the last ten years.

An example of a collective agreement at national level is the Agreement on well-being at work and a sustainable psychosocial working environment (Aftale om trivsel på arbejdet og et godt psykisk arbejdsmiljø). The first version of the agreement was negotiated in 2001 by the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) and CO-industri and covers enterprises that are covered by the co-operation agreement, i.e. have co-operation committees . Thus, it does not cover SMEs in particular.

An example of an agreement at the local level is the agreement made in the co-operation committee (øverste MED-udvalg) in the Municipality of Gentofte. The agreement led to dialogue-based assessments of well-being at the workplaces of the approximately 10,000 employees in the municipality (reported by the VFA at ‘Dialog om trivsel skaber trivsel i Gentofte Kommune’).

Rune Holm Christiansen and Helle Ourø Nielsen, Oxford Research

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