The Work Environment Act
The current Work Environment Act came into force in 1977, but has been amended several times since then. The act contains rather general provisions regarding the work environment. It focuses both on the physical and on the psychological aspects of the work environment. A fundamental principle is that work should be adapted to the physical and psychological situation of the employee. In addition, the act contains rules limiting the possibilities for employers to employ minors. The Swedish Work Environment Authority is authorised by the act to issue more detailed regulations regarding the working environment. The authority has issued a large number of ordinances based on this authorisation. The ordinances cover all aspects of the work environment and are the main instrument for implementing EU-legislation regarding work environment.
One important part of the Act is its provisions regarding cooperation between the employer and the employees and their union representatives in order to maintain and improve the work environment. According to these rules, the employees and their trade unions may appoint one or more safety representatives at the workplace. Furthermore, workplaces with more than 50 employees shall have a safety committee, which shall consist of representatives of both the employer and the employees. The act contains rules which, in some situations entitle a safety representative to stop a specific work from being performed. This may be the case if the work would entail an immediate and serious danger to an employee’s health or life.
The Systematic Working Environment Management
According to the Work Environment Act, every employer shall systematically plan, manage and control its business so that the work environment is satisfactory and fulfils the requirements of the Work Environment Act and the ordinances of the Work Environment Authority. Furthermore, the employer shall investigate all occupational injuries, continuously investigate the risks that come with the business and take the actions that the risks necessitate. The employer must also make a plan for eliminating all risks that cannot be remedied immediately. In addition to this, the employer must make sure that there is a suitably organised organisation for rehabilitation and adaptation of the work for sick employees. The above obligations are referred to as the employer’s “Systematic Working Environment Management”.
The main obligations in the Systematic Work Environment Management are the following:
- Create a Work Environment Policy.
- Create routines for how the working environment management shall be carried out.
- Distribute the various tasks in the Systematic Work Environment Management, to ensure that everyone who is involved in the work is aware of his/her responsibilities.
- Continuously monitor the work environment in the workplace.
- Make risk assessments, to identify the risks for ill health and injuries that exist at the workplace, including an assessment of the seriousness of the risks.
- Immediately remedy deficiencies in the work environment.
- Create an action plan for such deficiencies in the work environment that cannot be remedied immediately.
- Investigate the causes of any occupational injuries and any near-accidents.
- Make a yearly compilation of all occupational injuries and near-accidents.
- Follow-up on the Systematic Working Environment Management at least once per year.
Delegation of Responsibilities for the Work Environment
The main responsibility within a company for creating a good work environment lies with the board of directors and the general manager. They may in some cases of grave breaches of the regulations on work environment be sentenced to fines or even to prison.
In most companies it is not possible for the board of directors and general manager to be directly involved in the management of the work environment. It is therefore often necessary to distribute the tasks and the responsibilities for the work environment to others within the company, in order for the company to be able to fulfil its obligations regarding the work environment. It is important to stress that the distribution of tasks does not imply that the responsibilities under criminal law is delegated. Thus, the company cannot decide which if its officials that shall be exposed to the risk of being punished under criminal law in case of a grave breach of the work environment rules. However, if the company has made a correct delegation, the responsibility under criminal law will fall on the person who has in fact been responsible for the work environment in the area where a breach of the work environment rules has occurred. Should a delegation be tried by a court, the following five criteria must be fulfilled in order for a correct delegation to be at hand:
1. There must be a clear need for the delegation
2. The person who receives the delegation must be in an independent position.
3. The person who receives the delegation must be sufficiently competent for the delegated task.
4. The person who receives the delegation must have the proper authorization to take any necessary decisions.
5. The responsibility for different tasks must be clear. Thus, it is important that the delegation has been evidenced in writing.