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1. Purpose and Scope of the Act

SFS 1977:1160, amended in SFS 1980:245, 1980:428, 1982:674, 1985:321, 1986:55, 1987:158, 1988:53, 1989:960, 1989:961, 1990:233, 1990:973, 1991:677, 1992:1135, 1994:579, 1994:2080, 1995:326, 1995:1239, 1997:520, 1999:841, 2000: 764, 2002:585, 2003:365, 2003:1099, 2004:453, 2005:396, 2008:261, 2008:295, 2008:297, 2008:934, 2008:1362, and 2008:1387, 2009:422, 2009:788, 2009:870, 2010:457, 2010:856, 2010:905, 2010:1225, 2010:1453, 2010:1545 and 2011:741.

Statutory text:

Section 1
The purpose of this Act is to prevent ill-health and accidents at work and generally to achieve a good working environment.

Section 2
This Act is applicable to any business in which an employee performs work on behalf of the employer. Regarding ship work, the Act also applies when Swedish ships are used for navigation outside of Sweden’s territorial waters.

With regard to ships and work on board ships, the provisions of this Act referring to the Work Environment Authority shall instead apply to the Swedish Transport Agency. Reference made in this Act to an employer shall in the case of ships also apply to a ship owner, even if work on board ship is carried out by a person other than the person employed by the ship owner. For the purposes of this Act, a person who, in the ship owner’s stead, exercises decisive influence on the running of the ship is equated with a ship owner.

Chapters 3 and 5 contain provisions concerning obligations in certain respects of persons other than employers and employees.

Provisions concerning the obligations of the ship’s captain in connection with work on board ship are contained in the Ship Safety Act (2003:364).

Regarding goods which are intended for consumers or which can be presumed to be used by consumers the Product Safety Act (2004:451) also applies.

Provisions on manufacture, release onto the market and use of chemical substances and preparation included in mixtures or in goods are found in the Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning registration, evaluation, approval and limitation of chemicals (Reach), established by a European chemical authority, amendment by directive 1999/45/EC and repeal by the council’s ordinance (EEC) no 793/93 and the commission’s ordinance (EC) no 1488/94 as well as the council’s directive 76/769/EEC and the commission’s directive 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC. Act (2010:1543)

Section 2a
The provisions of Chap. 2, Sections 1 (1), 2 and 3 and Chap. 3, Section 4 (2) apply to foreign vessels in Swedish territorial waters. Otherwise the provisions of this Act apply to foreign vessels only to the extent prescribed by the Government.

Section 3
For the purposes of Chapters 2-4 and 7-9, the following shall be equated with employees:

  1. persons undergoing education, with exception for children in pre-school and pupils in the recreation centre,
  2. persons who, as inmates of an institution, perform work which they have been assigned.
  3. persons performing service under the Total Defence Service Act (1994:1809) and other persons performing statutory service or participating in voluntary training for activities within the Swedish Total Defence. 

Those persons referred to in subsection one 1 and 2 of the foregoing shall also be equated with employees for the purposes of Chapter 5, Sections 1 and 3. Special stipulations concerning persons undergoing education are also made in Chapter 6, Sections 6 a, 8, 15, 17 and 18, Chapter 7, Sections 13 and 14 as well as Chapter 9, Section 3.

For the purposes of subsections one and two, the stipulations of this Act concerning employers shall also apply to the person conducting the activity of which the work forms part. Act (2010:856)

Section 4

For participants in employment market policy programmes this Act is applicable to the extent stipulated in Section 7, Act (2000:625) regarding employment market policy programmes.

For participants in work placement or other professional development  activities which have been assigned by the social welfare board, this Act is applicable to the extent stipulated in Chapter 4, Section 6 of the Social Service Act (2001:453).

For those the Swedish Migration Board grants employment in accordance with Section 4 of the Act (1994:137) on the reception of persons seeking asylum etc. this Act is applicable to the extent stipulated in Section 5 in the Act on the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Others Act etc.

That this Act in certain cases, in addition to that which is stipulated in Section 2 first paragraph second sentence, also applies abroad is evident by Section 5 in Act (2010:449) on Swedish Armed Forces Personnel in International Military Operations. Act (2010:457).

Section 5
The Government or an authority appointed by the Government for the purpose may, in derogation of the stipulations of this Act, issue special Provisions for the total defence establishment.

Comments on Chapter 1:

Purpose of the Act
The Work Environment Act begins with a Section (Section 1) indicating its purpose. This refers to the main ideas underlying the Act, namely the prevention of ill-health and accidents at work and the general achievement of a good working environment. Thus the Act is concerned not only with prevention of accidents and ill-health at work but also with job content, the aim being for the working environment to yield a positive return in the form of job diversity, job satisfaction, social participation and personal development.

The Work Environment Act applies to all work (Section 2). It makes no difference whether the work in question is factory work, outdoor work, agricultural work, office work or any other kind of work. Nor does it make any difference whether the work is done under private or public auspices. Above all, the Act applies when a worker is employed by an employer. Partly, though, it also applies to persons working on their common account and to self-employed persons and family undertakings (see Chap. 3, Section 5 and Chap. 5, Sections 2-3).

An employer may be a juristic or natural person. Juristic persons include, for example, limited companies, trading partnerships, associations, foundations, municipalities and county councils. If the employer is a juristic person, all workers are deemed to be employees. This also applies to managers and supervisory staff, such as the managing director of a limited company or the chief executive officer in a municipality. 

Persons employed in their own limited companies also count as employees. Share ownership – which, of course, can vary from one day to another – makes no difference. The State is also a juristic person and a legal entity in its own right, but it is always represented by one of the national authorities or utilities. On the other hand, State activity conducted on a company basis comes under the same rules as other limited companies.

The Work Environment Act does not apply to relations between a person ordering work and an independent contractor. In cases of this kind, the contractor is responsible for his employees’ working environment. He must ensure that the contract with the client affords adequate possibilities of a good working environment. There is no work environment liability for clients.

There are, however, situations in which a contractor can be deemed the employee of a client. There is a long-established practice of labour law whereby the employer concept is sometimes extended so as also to include persons engaging a “dependent contractor”. Contractors of this kind are then deemed to be employees. Certain forestry workers, for example, are in practice entirely dependent on the client. Hairdressers entirely dependent on a salon proprietor have also been deemed employees. Situations of this kind must always be assessed ad hoc.

In normal peacetime conditions, the Work Environment Act also applies in the armed forces and civil defence. The only exceptions concern the right of safety delegates to interrupt military exercises (Section 14 of the Work Environment Ordinance).

Information on chemical elements
The Work Environment Act has been adapted to the EU’s chemical legislation Reach (Section 2). Article 35 in “The Chemical Ordinance” (the Swedish name of Reach) implies that employees and their representatives have the right to receive information about chemical substances and preparations which they use at work or can be exposed to.

Work on board ship
In July 2003 the scope of this Act was enlarged so as also to include work on board ship, which had previously been excluded. Accordingly, persons working on board ship also have to comply with the Act’s provisions. Previously there only existed certain work environment provisions which were included in the Maritime Safety Act. Several provisions of the work Environment Act have been adapted to the fact of its now also applying at sea. The Act still distinguishes between on-shore work and work on board ship where supervision is concerned, in that supervision on board ship are exercised by the Swedish Transport Agency, with some assistance from the Work Environment Authority.

A new section, Section 2 a, was added to the Act simultaneously with its scope being made to include work on board ship. The new provision means that the basic rules for the work environment as stated in Chap. 2, Sections 1 (1), 2 and 3 also apply to foreign vessels in Swedish territorial waters. In addition, the Government has laid down, in Section 1 of the Work Environment Ordinance, that Chap. 2, Sections 4-6, 7 (1) first sentence and Chap. 3, Sections 6 and 7 of the Work Environment Act shall also apply to foreign vessels in Swedish territorial waters. Accordingly, foreign vessels in Swedish territorial waters and in Swedish ports must also have a satisfactory work environment as described in the second chapter of the Work Environment Act. They must also comply with the rules of co-ordination laid down in the Act, e.g. with reference to the loading and unloading of cargo.

Pupils, conscripts etc.
All persons undergoing education are equated with employees (Section 3, point 1), which means that the Work Environment Act also applies to them. The rules concerning safety delegates and safety committees, as well as certain rules on age limits, working hours and registers in connection with medical examination do not apply, however. Instead there are special Provisions concerning pupils’ safety delegates in Chap. 6, Sections 17-18. 

For the most part, then, pupils in schools of all kinds come under the Work Environment Act from the very first grade. The Act applies to all practical and theoretical work done by the pupils. As regards certain leisure activities including elements of education, however, such as riding schools or music schools, the Act only applies to vocational education.

The same rules apply to students at university or college and in other vocational education. On the other hand, the Act does not apply to child supervision or to courses predominantly of a recreational character. As regards mixtures of child supervision and teaching, the Act applies to the educational part, subject to the exceptions already mentioned, but not to the supervision. If so, the Act applies here as well, subject to the exceptions already mentioned.

Persons required to work as the inmates of institutions are equated with employees in the same way as pupils (Section 3, point 2). This applies to all forms of obligatory work. Studies can also come under this head, but purely therapeutic activity or other voluntary activity does not.

The same applies to conscripts and other persons incurring total defence duty or civil defence duty (Section 3, point 3). There is a difference here, however, compared with pupils and inmates of institutions. The stipulations of Chap. 5, Sections 1 and 3 prohibiting certain dangerous jobs before the age of 18 apply to pupils and inmates of institutions but not to conscripts and the equivalent. It should be noted that the Act does not apply to accommodation conditions in barracks. The latter count as housing accommodation and, therefore, do not come within the scope of the Work Environment Act. But the Act does apply, for example, if the conscripts are ordered to clean the barracks.