Occupational safety and health representative

Occupational safety and health representative

The occupational safety and health representative speaks for the employees in the context of cooperation in occupational safety and health matters.

The procedure for electing occupational safety and health representatives as well as their duties are laid down in the Finnish Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces. Several sectors of the economy also have collective agreements that include further provisions on occupational safety and health representatives.

All workplaces with at least 10 regular employees must have an occupational safety and health representative and two deputy representatives elected by the employees. Representatives can also be appointed for smaller work communities. Clerical employees can choose their own representatives.

Election of the occupational safety and health representative and deputy representatives

Workplaces with at least 10 regular employees must have an occupational safety and health representative, and it is the employer’s duty to ensure that one is appointed. Occupational safety and health representatives are elected for a term of two years unless otherwise agreed before the election.

It is the employees’ responsibility to hold an election in order to choose their occupational safety and health representative and deputy representatives. If everyone agrees on the procedure and the candidates, no election need be held. The employer must refrain from any action that could impede the election.

Duties of the occupational safety and health representative and deputy representatives

The duties of the occupational safety and health representative include

  • getting to know the workplace from the perspective of occupational safety and health
  • participating in occupational safety and health inspections, and
  • taking steps to introduce procedures that promote safety and health among the employees whom they represent.

In the event that the occupational safety and health representative is temporarily prevented from attending to their duties, a deputy representative can take care of any issues that cannot be postponed. In these circumstances, the deputy representative has the same rights as the principal occupational safety and health representative in respect of accessing information, spending time on the duties and being reimbursed for any loss of earnings as well as the authority to intervene in any dangerous practices.

If an occupational safety and health representative’s employment contract ends or they resign from their role as the occupational safety and health representative mid-term, one of the deputy representatives takes over for the remainder of the term.

Access to information and training

The occupational safety and health representative has the right to request any information necessary for attending to their occupational safety and health duties from the employer. This right includes

  • access to all documents and lists relating to occupational safety and health that employers have a duty to keep or that the employer otherwise has in their possession
  • access to the employer’s contract with their occupational health care provider or a description of the employer’s own occupational health care services as well as the occupational health care plan, and
  • access to copies of these documents if copies are necessary for the occupational safety and health representative to attend to their duties.

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the occupational safety and health representative and deputy representatives have access to any necessary training. The need for training must be evaluated and any associated arrangements made within two months of the appointment of new occupational safety and health representatives.

Any necessary training must be provided during working hours unless otherwise stipulated in, for example, the applicable collective agreement. Taking part in training must not cause the occupational safety and health representative and deputy representatives to incur any expenses or lose earnings.

Time reserved for the occupational safety and health representative to attend to their duties

The occupational safety and health representative must be given enough time off their other duties to attend to their occupational safety and health responsibilities. The employer can only refuse to release the occupational safety and health representative from their other duties on a temporary basis and for a good reason.

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the occupational safety and health representative is genuinely able to attend to their occupational safety and health duties. This must be factored into the way in which their work is planned. The Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces includes a detailed list of factors to be taken into consideration when allocating time for the occupational safety and health representative to attend to their duties.

In workplaces with at least 10 employees, the occupational safety and health representative who speaks for the employees with the most hazardous or dangerous jobs must, as a rule, be allowed to spend at least four hours in each period of four consecutive calendar weeks to attend to their duties as the occupational safety and health representative.

Any loss of earnings is reimbursed

Employers must reimburse the occupational safety and health representative for any loss of earnings that they incur as a result of having to attend to their occupational safety and health duties during normal working hours and remunerate them for any work that they have to perform as the occupational safety and health representative outside of their normal working hours.

It is the employer’s duty to provide the occupational safety and health representative with a designated space in which to perform their duties. The occupational safety and health representative must also be given access to any office equipment and telecommunication devices that they need for their work.

The occupational safety and health representative has the authority to intervene in dangerous practices

The occupational safety and health representative has the authority to intervene in any practices that pose an immediate and serious danger. All such interventions must be communicated to the employer, preferably in advance. The occupational safety and health representative’s interventions must not disrupt work any more than is necessary to ensure occupational safety and health.

The occupational safety and health representative cannot be held liable for any losses incurred from legitimate stoppages enforced in this manner. It is the employer’s duty to ensure that the risk has been eliminated before work can resume.

Special protection against unjustified dismissal

The occupational safety and health representative enjoys the same level of protection against unjustified dismissal as shop stewards and elected representatives. The occupational safety and health representative can therefore only be dismissed on the grounds of redundancy, restructuring or liquidation if their entire role becomes redundant and no other work that corresponds to their qualifications or is otherwise suitable and no other position for which they could be trained can be found for them. The occupational safety and health representative can only be dismissed on grounds related to their person if the majority of the employees whom they represent support the decision.