Safety and health in the workplace
The basic premise of the Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act is for employers to promote occupational safety and health proactively. Safety must be managed, which is why the law imposes an extensive duty of care for occupational safety and health on employers. In other words, employers are responsible for all aspects of occupational safety and health in the workplace.
Pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must continuously monitor the work environment in order to identify any hazards associated with their employees’ work. Employers must be familiar with the hazards and risks most typically associated with the sector of economy in which they operate and the work environment in which their employees perform their work as well as ways to prevent them. Employers who do not have enough expertise to satisfy their obligations must consult third-party experts.
It is the employer’s responsibility to proactively investigate and take action to prevent accidents, health risks and other incidents. The employer is also responsible for monitoring the impact of the action taken on the health and safety of their employees and for taking further action if necessary.
In addition, it is the employer’s duty to familiarise employees with their workplace and the correct procedures as well as safety instructions.
Occupational safety and health personnel must have appropriate qualifications
Employers can delegate some of their occupational safety and health responsibilities to their managerial staff. In the Occupational Safety and Health Act, these kinds of individuals are referred to as the employer’s substitutes. In other words, employers can designate another person to attend to the duties imposed on employers in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The responsibilities of the employer’s substitute need to be clearly defined. The job description must factor in at least the sector of the economy in which the employer operates, the nature of the business and the number of employees. It is the employer’s duty to ensure that the individuals responsible for occupational safety and health in the workplace
- have appropriate qualifications for the role
- are given adequate training for the role, and
- are generally competent to take care of their responsibilities (e.g. have sufficient authority to make choices and decisions).
Occupational safety must begin at the planning stage
The employer’s obligations in respect of designing the work environment and planning employees’ work are laid down in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. A work environment consists of structural solutions, workspaces, procedures and production techniques, the machinery, work equipment and other devices used to perform the work as well as substances that pose a risk to health. These must be fit for purpose and comply with occupational safety and health legislation.
Employers must design the work environment taking its impact on their employees’ safety and health into account. The design must also factor in employees’ personal characteristics (such as health, body shape, psychological resilience and physiological changes resulting from ageing).
The nature of the work and employees’ workloads must also reflect their general physical and psychological characteristics. For example, employers have a duty to make adjustments to accommodate disabled employees under the Finnish Non-discrimination Act.
If an employee’s workload is found to be straining them to a point where their health is at risk, it is the employer’s responsibility to take any steps necessary to reduce the employee’s workload and to eliminate or mitigate the risk. Such steps can involve making changes to the work environment, the nature of the employee’s work or their workload.
Occupational health care experts can be consulted on the design of the work environment and procedures.
Responsibility is shared between senior management, middle management and line managers
In small workplaces where an entrepreneur personally oversees and manages the work of their subordinates, the responsibility for occupational safety and health lies with the entrepreneur. In larger workplaces, the responsibility usually lies with whoever has the authority to make decisions in practice. Employers often delegate their power to direct and share responsibility and decision-making powers with their managerial staff. There are three types of managerial staff: senior management, middle management and line managers.
Senior management comprises the managing director and directors who report directly to the managing director. In respect of occupational safety and health, the responsibilities of senior management typically include
- issuing general orders relating to occupational safety and health and
- providing tangible conditions for the operation of the system of supervision and occupational safety and health.
Middle management consists of heads of department or other individuals in similar positions. Middle management’s responsibilities in terms of occupational safety and health include, for example,
- drawing up instructions on occupational safety
- ensuring the safety and regulatory compliance of any equipment given for employees to use and supervising the way in which the equipment is operated
- making practical arrangements for the supervision of occupational safety, and
- disseminating information about occupational safety.
Line managers are directly responsible for overseeing and managing employees. Line managers are usually only responsible for the aspects of occupational safety and health that can be overseen by a manager who interacts with employees and assigns work tasks to them on a daily basis. Line managers’ occupational safety and health responsibilities are divided into monitoring and the instruction of subordinates. In respect of occupational safety and health, line managers are responsible, among other things, for
- monitoring working conditions
- supervising equipment, procedures and the actions of individuals
- ensuring order in the workplace
- eliminating any identified risks
- protecting employees from hazards (for example, by ensuring that employees use personal protective equipment)
- teaching safe procedures and ensuring that employees follow the procedures
- giving instructions to their subordinates, and
- ensuring that their subordinates are qualified and competent to perform their work safely.
Responsibility for occupational safety and health in shared workplaces
Shared workplaces are workspaces shared by employees of several different employers or independent contractors. A shared workplace always has one employer who is ultimately in charge and whose responsibility it is to
- keep the other employers and their employees as well as independent contractors informed about hazards and risks in the workplace, safety instructions and firefighting, first aid and evacuation procedures as well as the persons responsible for the same
- coordinate the actions of the employers and independent contractors operating in the workplace
- make arrangements for transport and mobility in the workplace
- keep the workplace neat and tidy in order to ensure general safety and healthiness
- oversee general planning in the workplace, and
- ensure the overall safety of the working conditions.
The other employers and independent contractors operating in the workplace have a duty to keep the employer in charge as well as each other informed of any risks and risk factors that may arise from their operations in the workplace. They must also ensure as far as possible that their operations do not put the health and safety of others in the workplace in jeopardy. In addition, every employer operating in a shared workplace must ensure the safety of their own employees pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Provisions on shared workplaces are included in chapter 5 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Special procedures apply to shared workplaces in the construction sector. Provisions on cooperation in occupational safety and health matters in shared workplaces are laid down in the Finnish Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces.
Responsibility in industrial or commercial facilities
There are sometimes several different employers or independent contractors occupying the same industrial or commercial facility or a similar space without no one employer being ultimately in charge. In such cases, all the employers and independent contractors who share the space have a duty to keep each other informed about any risks and risk factors that they notice in the workplace, any action taken to eliminate the risks and coordination between the operators.
For example, it may be necessary to come up with shared traffic rules or to agree on common procedures for intervening in threats of violence against employees.
In addition to shared responsibilities, every employer operating in such a shared facility must ensure the safety of their own employees pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act.