Safety and health in the workplace
The leading idea behind safety management is to improve safety continuously and holistically, by incorporating safety and health into the way in which work is planned, performed and supervised.
Safety management refers to systematic efforts to continuously maintain and improve the safety of work and working conditions and the health of employees. Safety management improves both the performance of systems and the work environment as well as the well-being of people. Among the key objectives are preventing work-related illnesses and occupational accidents and improving the standard and productivity of work.
Employers’ duties in respect of safety management include
- introducing a safety culture and safe procedures in the workplace
- assigning responsibilities and powers
- ensuring the adequacy of competence and resources, and
- communicating about safety.
The employer’s safety culture reflects the management’s views on the importance of safety. The management’s commitment to safety can be demonstrated, for example, by regularly touring the workplace and addressing safety-related issues in meetings whenever feasible. However, implementing the employer’s safety culture in practice requires commitment from staff. This is why efforts to promote safety must be incorporated into the job descriptions of every manager and employee.
A thorough evaluation of the circumstances in the workplace provides a solid foundation for efforts to improve safety. Risk assessment plays a major role in this respect. Risk assessments allow employers to identify weaknesses in procedures and working conditions and analyse the impact of the work environment. Safety management also requires an efficient feedback system to enable the work community to systematically ensure the continuous improvement of its practices.
Help from ready-made models
There are many different ways to manage safety in practice. Employers have a range of ready-made models (such as the OHSAS 18001 occupational health and safety management standard) at their disposal.
The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act does not require employers to have a safety management system as such, as it only provides for systematic safety management on a general level. However, the obligations set for employers in the Act are based on the ideology of safety management. Employers are free to manage safety in whatever way and by whatever means best suit their needs.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act lays down employers’ obligations in respect of managing occupational safety. They include
- drawing up an occupational safety and health policy
- identifying risks and risk factors, evaluating their significance (risk analysis) and taking steps to eliminate or minimise risks as required
- providing employees with training and guidance
- continuously monitoring the safety of the work environment and the health of the work community, and
- keeping the risk assessment and the occupational safety and health policy up to date.
Employers operating in high-risk sectors of the economy are also required to have a separate system for ensuring safety. Sector-specific regulations include, for example,
- Government Decree on the supervision of the handling and storage of dangerous chemicals (685/2015)
- Government Decree on the safety and interoperability of the railway system (750/2006), and
- Government Decree on ship-owners’ safety management systems and arrangements for ensuring the safe use of vessels (66/1996).