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2. The State of the Working Environment

Statutory text:

Section 1
The working environment shall be satisfactory with regard to the nature of the work and social and technical progress in the community. In the case of work on board ship, the work environment shall also be satisfactory with regard to the requirements of maritime safety.

Working conditions shall be adapted to people’s differing physical and mental aptitudes.

The employee shall be given the opportunity of participating in the design of his own working situation and in processes of change and development affecting his own work.

Technology, work organisation and job content shall be designed in such a way that the employee is not subjected to physical or mental strains which can lead to ill-health or accidents. Forms of remuneration and the distribution of working hours shall also be taken into account in this connection. Closely controlled or restricted work shall be avoided or limited.

Efforts shall be made to ensure that work provides opportunities of variety, social contact and co-operation, as well as coherence between different tasks.

Furthermore, efforts shall be made to ensure that working conditions provide opportunities for personal and vocational development, as well as for self-determination and professional responsibility.

Section 2
Work shall be planned and arranged in such a way that it can be carried out in healthy and safe surroundings.

Section 3
Working premises shall be arranged and equipped in such a way as to provide a suitable working environment.

Section 4
Conditions of occupational hygiene, as regards air, noise, light, vibrations and suchlike shall be satisfactory.

Adequate safety precautions shall be taken to prevent injuries being caused by falls, collapses, fire, explosion, electric current or other comparable factors.

Section 5
Machinery, implements and other technical devices shall be designed, positioned and used in such a way as to afford adequate safeguards against ill-health and accidents.

Section 6
Substances liable to cause ill-health or accidents may only be used in conditions affording adequate security.

Section 7
Personal protective equipment shall be used when adequate security from ill-health or accidents cannot be achieved by other means. This equipment shall be provided by the employer.

In the case of work on board ship, the personal protective equipment shall be provided by the shipowner, unless some other party hiring the employee has assumed this responsibility.

Section 8
Spaces and facilities for personal hygiene, meals and rest, as well as for first aid in connection with accidents and illness, are to be provided to the extent appropriate to the nature of the work and the needs of the employees.

Personnel transport vehicles shall be suited to their purpose.

Further provisions concerning spaces, devices, measures of assistance and care in the event of accident or illness, and food and water for shipboard employees on board ship are contained in the Maritime Safety Act. 

Section 9
Special Provisions concerning the design and construction of buildings are contained in the Planning and Building Act (2010:900) and in Provisions issued by authority of the same. Act 2010:905

Section 10
Stipulations concerning working hours are contained in the Working Hours Act (1982:673) and in Provisions issued by authority of the same. 

Provisions concerning working hours and hours of rest in connection with work on board ship are contained in the Seafarers (Hours of Rest) Act (1998:958).

Provisions concerning working hours in connection with certain road transport work are contained in the Working Hours (Certain Road Transport Work) Act (2005:395).

Special stipulations concerning the working hours of minors are contained in Chap. 5, Section 5.

Comments on Chapter 2:

Basic stipulations
This Chapter lays down the general requirements for working conditions. The stipulations are quite generally worded, making extensive use of such indeterminate concepts as suitable, satisfactory, adequate and so on. This is due to the Work Environment Act being a “frame enactment”.

The Constitution Act lays down that basic stipulations on the rights and obligations of citizens must be decided by the parliament through legislation. The parliament can then entrust the issuing of detailed stipulations to the Government or – as determined by the Government – a national authority.

In order for this to be possible, however, the Parliament must indicate the frame within which the Government and the authority are permitted to issue Provisions. Where the working environment is concerned, an essential part of this frame is in fact contained in Chap. 2 of the Work Environment Act. Fairly general stipulations are sufficient to this end. The main thing is for the subject field and the basic requirements to be clearly indicated. Otherwise generous scope is left for technical and social developments and for the national authorities and the labour market parties to use their own judgement.

It is not the intention in the majority of cases for the wording of the Act to be directly applied to the practicalities of work environment management. The main purpose of the Act is to define the frames for the regulatory activities of the Government and the Work Environment Authority. Instead it is the more detailed wording of the Authority’s and its predecessor the National Board of Occupational Safety and Health’s Provisions that is to be used.

There are, however, situations and subject areas in which the Work Environment Authority (formerly the National Board of Occupational Safety and Health) has not issued any stipulations. In cases of this kind one is thrown back on the general stipulations of the Work Environment Act, which then have to be interpreted so as to give them a reasonable, practical implementation. A stipulation made by the Work Environment Authority in an individual case must also be clear and precise, so as to indicate clearly what is being stipulated. The general phrases of the Act, therefore, are not suitable for use in the making of stipulations. They can be referred to by way of support, but the stipulations themselves must be more distinctly formulated. 

This Chapter begins with an important declaration of principle, to the effect that the working environment must be viewed in relation to the nature of the work and to social and technical developments in the community (Section 1, subsection one). This stipulation is partly prompted by the self-evident fact that conditions governing the working environment vary, depending on the kind of work involved and where it is done. Clearly, a forestry worker, an office worker, a nurse and a bus driver can never have exactly the same working environment. True, it is all the time stipulated that the working environment must be satisfactory according to the circumstances, but the detailed requirements may still come to vary from one situation to another.

This Section also comes as a reminder that there are activities of importance to the community where the conditions governing the working environment are radically different from those in other fields. This can be instanced by such activities as fire-fighting, defence and policing. The stipulation implies that, in areas of this kind, a balance has to be struck between different interests before making demands on the working environment in a particular case. A balance of this kind can, for example, involve taking into account the stipulations made by the Parliament in other laws. The general wording of the Work Environment Act and the Provisions of the National Board of Occupational Safety and Health and the Work Environment Authority normally provide scope for a balance to be struck in such way that both the Work Environment Act and other relevant enactments can be complied with simultaneously.

Adjustment to the employees
Within the basic framework, it is stipulated that work shall be adapted to people’s differing physical and mental aptitudes (Section 1, subsection two). This means that an all-round assessment is to be made of the working environment, also including the arrangement, organisation and content of work. The assessment must allow for the fact that people are different and can react differently to the working environments they are employed in. 

Workplaces, then, are to be designed with reference to what suits different people. Technical devices and chemical products must be produced and selected accordingly. Mental and social conditions at work are to be taken into account. Monotony, stress and isolation at work are to be avoided by adapting working conditions to human aptitudes. This again applies to such questions as well-being and satisfaction at work. The aim is for work to be found a meaningful, rewarding aspect of life. 

Opportunities for employees to work independently and to assume professional responsibility can have a very important bearing on their job satisfaction. Independence and responsibility at work facilitate the active participation of all employees in the promotion of work environment activities. Accordingly, the Act lays down that employees must have an opportunity of taking part in the design of their own working situation (Section 1, subsection three).

The employer must endeavour to arrange work so as to facilitate contact with fellow-employees and to establish coherence between different duties. Forms of remuneration and the arrangement of working hours must be taken into account. Closely controlled or restricted work entails special risks of unsuitable mental or physical strain and must therefore be avoided (Section 1, subsection four). Supervisory authorities, exercising powers under the Work Environment Act, can intervene, for example, against piecework systems or working schedules which are manifestly unsuitable from a work environment point of view.

Work environment considerations already at the planning stage
It is important that work environment requirements should already be taken into account at an early stage. Work must therefore be planned and arranged in such a way that it can be performed in healthy and safe surroundings (Section 2). Work environment viewpoints, therefore, must already be taken into account in the planning of working premises and equipment, technology and working methods. So too must the effects of the pace of work and working methods on independence and responsibility at work.

Different factors of the working environment
The basic stipulations concerning the nature of the working environment are followed by general statements of requirements concerning different factors of the working environment (Sections 3-6). Working premises must be suitable from a work environment viewpoint. Indoor air quality, noise, vibrations, lighting conditions and other such aspects of occupational hygiene shall be satisfactory. General rules are also stated concerning adequate safety precautions against accidents, the safety of technical devices and the safe use of substances capable of causing ill-health and accidents.

A special stipulation (Section 7) lays down the important principle that personal protective equipment shall be used only when adequate security from ill-health or accidents cannot be achieved by other means. Equipment of this kind shall, when needed, be provided by the employer. This also means that the employer shall pay for it. It is common, however, for collective agreements between the parties to provide that the employee is to pay part of the cost of the equipment, in return for the employer allowing it also to be used in leisure hours. An agreement of this kind is not contrary to the Work Environment Act.

Under Chap. 3, Section 4, when personal protective equipment is needed, the employees are duty bound to use it. Chap. 3, Section 2 also implies that the employer must ensure that the employees use the personal protective equipment which is needed. This is not to say that the employer must continuously supervise every employee to make sure that he or she does not remove helmet or protective gloves. On the other hand, the employer must have a system for systematically verifying that the equipment is used and for intervening if it is not being used. 

Personnel facilities etc.
Chap. 2, Section 8 contains stipulations concerning personnel facilities and first aid in the event of accidents or illness. This stipulation is worded in such a way that it will only apply if necessitated by the nature of the work and the needs of the employees. It is not to be applied, therefore, to groups which are not employees and to whom only relevant parts of the Act are applicable (cf. Chap. 3, Section 5).

Further provisions relating to accidents or illness and to food and water for shipboard employees on board ship are contained in the Maritime Safety Act (2003:364). 

Occupational exposure limit values
Occupational exposure limit values are a useful aid to practical work environment policy. Limits can be defined, for example, for air pollutants. It is then determined that the air inhaled by a worker in the course of work may have not more than a certain average content of a substance during a working day or a shorter length of time. 

Limit values can also be specified for temperature, radiation, noise, vibrations and so on. For noise and vibrations there also exist “input values” to which stipulations are referenced concerning measures to be taken.

To establish the limit value system on a statutory footing, Section 18 of the Work Environment Ordinance lays down that limit values for the planning and inspection of the working environment can be defined by the Work Environment Authority.

The purpose of limit values is for the same level of stipulations to apply nationwide. An employer complying with the input or limit values stated, therefore, must normally be able to assume that no further protective measures are needed. In the event of serious health problems occurring, however, it is possible for the supervisory authority to stipulate remedial measures. Sometimes there may also be special stipulations which have to be complied with, regardless of compliance with input and limit values.