Occupational safety and health representative

Occupational safety and health representative

The occupational safety and health representative represents the employees of the workplace in the occupational safety and health cooperation activities. The occupational safety and health is elected for two years at a time unless agreed otherwise before the election. 

The election and duties of the occupational safety and health representative and their deputy representatives are regulated by the Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces (44/2006). In addition, many collective agreements have specific guidelines regarding occupational safety and health representatives.

The occupational safety and health representative and their deputy representatives are elected

Employees elect the occupational safety and health representative and two deputy representatives if there are at least ten regular employees at the workplace. Smaller workplaces can also elect a representative and the deputy representatives, and the managerial staff may elect their own representatives. The representative may be appointed in an uncontested election if there is unanimity concerning the procedure and the persons to be elected. All employees must be able to participate in the election and the employer must not obstruct the arrangement of the election in any way.

If a workplace with ten employees does not have an occupational safety and health representative, the employer must provide the employees with information about their right to elect a representative. They must also provide a list of the employees of the workplace and a space for arranging the election. More information: Election of occupational safety and health representatives.

Duties of occupational safety and health representatives and deputies

The occupational safety and health representative must

  • familiarise themselves with the factors concerning the safety and health of employees present in the working environment and the condition of the work community by monitoring them regularly
  • familiarise themselves with occupational safety and health provisions concerning the matters mentioned above
  • report any shortcomings and deficiencies detected to the management and the occupational safety and health manager
  • represent employees in matters concerning occupational safety and health authorities and participate in occupational safety and health inspections
  • promote the methods supporting safety and health at the workplace through their own actions.

If the occupational safety and health representative is temporarily unavailable for their duties, a deputy representative may carry out the tasks that cannot be postponed. In such cases, the deputy representative has the same rights to access information, use time, be compensated for loss of earnings and suspend dangerous work as the occupational safety and health representative.

If the employment relationship of the occupational safety and health representative ends or if they resign from the post of the occupational safety and health representative during their term, a deputy representative is appointed as the occupational safety and health representative for the remainder of the term.

Right to information, training and a job 

The occupational safety and health representative has the right to access information required to carry out their tasks from the employer. This information includes

  • records and lists concerning occupational safety and health the employer is obligated to keep
  • documents concerning the working environment and the condition of the work environment that are significant in terms of occupational safety and health
  • the occupational health care service provision agreement or a description of in-house occupational health care services and the occupational health care action plan
  • copies of the documents specified above, if necessary for the performance of tasks.

The employer must ensure that the occupational safety and health representative and their deputy representatives have the possibility to be trained in order to carry out their tasks appropriately. The need for and arrangement of training must be determined within two months from the appointment of the occupational safety and health representatives. 

The training is completed during working hours, unless specified otherwise in the collective agreement, for example. No costs or loss of earnings must not be generated by the training. 

The employer must provide the occupational safety and health representative with a location where the documents can be stored and studied and meetings can be held as well as access to office and communication equipment. 

Time use and compensation for loss of earnings

The employer must make the occupational safety and health representative exempt from their regular tasks for a reasonable period of time in order to allow them to carry out the tasks of an occupational safety and health representative. Exemption from duties may be prevented only temporarily and on a valid basis.

The employer must give the occupational safety and health representative a genuine possibility of carrying out the tasks of an occupational safety and health representative. This must be considered in the arrangements of work. The Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces has a specific list of things that must be considered when determining the amount of time reserved for carrying out the tasks of a representative.

If the workplace has at least ten employees, the exemption of regular duties must be at least four hours in four consecutive calendar weeks. The exemption applies to the occupational safety and health representative representing the group of employees under the greatest threat or danger. 

The employer must provide compensation for the loss of earnings generated by carrying out the tasks of an occupational safety and health representative during working hours. In addition, a compensation for any necessary tasks carried out outside working hours the occupational safety and health representative has reported to the employer or a representative of the employer must be paid.

Right to suspend dangerous work

The occupational safety and health representative has the right to suspend any work that involves an immediate and serious danger. The representative must report the suspension to the employer, preferably in advance. The suspension must not restrict working more extensively than what is necessary.

The representative is not liable for any damage caused by a lawful suspension of work. The employer must ensure that the danger has been eliminated before the work may continue. 

Strong protection against dismissal

Occupational safety and health representatives have the same protection against dismissal as shop stewards and elected representatives. According to this protection, an occupational safety and health representative may be dismissed on the basis of a reduction in work, restructuring or bankruptcy only if their current tasks are removed altogether and they cannot be offered a job that matches their skills or other suitable work and they cannot be trained for other tasks. 

An occupational safety and health representative can only be dismissed on personal grounds if the majority of employees represented by the representative agree to this.

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