Occupational safety means that the workplace’s physical, mental, and social working conditions are in order. When the work environment is safe, the work community functions well, and work is suitably strenuous, work is meaningful, rewarding, and productive.
In this article we cover the following topics:
- Occupational safety at the workplace
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Safety in the construction industry
- Working at height safety
- Work load factors
- Well-being at work
- Occupational safety and health
- Safety representative and it’s tasks
- Occupational Safety and Health Committee
- Safety officer
- Occupational safety and health action program
- Safety and health inspection
- What is the objective of occupational safety training?
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, it is the employer’s duty to ensure that work load factors and the physical and mental work environment are safe and healthy for employees. In the future, it will be increasingly important to take into account mental workload.
Occupational safety must be a natural part of a workplace’s day-to-day operations and management system.
To enable good management and the well-being of workers, the workplace’s work processes, methods and working conditions, and the various hazards and risk factors related to these, must be known well. Anticipating hazardous incidents and the factors that pose risks to work ability can help prevent accidents and ensure a safe work environment and a well-functioning work community.
Occupational safety covers:
- the work environment
- the work community
- safety management, and
- safety expertise.
All the measures are based on assessments of risks and hazards. A risk assessment identifies the areas of safety that need improvement and their order of priority. Risk assessment is the employer’s duty.
The assessment must consider the following:
- working conditions
- the nature and requirements of tasks
- previous accidents
- occupational diseases
- the personal features of the employees, such as:
- professional skills
- health-related issues
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Safety at the workplace
In a safe workplace, the work environment and work methods ensure that working and moving around is safe for everyone. For example, hurrying, handling machines and equipment, and heavy loads can predispose workers to accidents.
In addition to physical hazards, it is also important to remember mental risks such as work load and stress.
Work load can be caused by, for example, inadequate orientation, insufficient supervisor support, or too much work.
Issues affecting the safety of workplace facilities include lighting, sounds, and indoor air.
The safety of access routes and the tidiness of the workplace must also be ensured, so that, for example, boxes or wires lying on the floor do not pose a risk of tripping.
Commuting and work transport are part of a safe work environment.
Many of the work environment’s hazardous factors can be managed or avoided by providing training and guidance for employees.
Every employee has a duty to ensure that they do their work carefully, conscientiously and in accordance with the instructions given by the employer.
Employees are obliged to inform their supervisors of any safety defects, risks or near-misses and accidents that they observe.
The worker has the right to refrain from work if it poses a serious risk to life or health.
Refraining from work is only permitted if the risk cannot be avoided by any other immediate measures.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
The employer is responsible for ensuring that the work does not pose a risk to the health or safety of the employee. If it is not possible to eliminate the risks posed by work, the employer must acquire various PPE for the employee to use. PPE means instruments, equipment, and clothing that protect against accidents or becoming ill at work.
Examples of PPE are
- safety shoes
- protective gloves
- hearing and respiratory protective devices
- harnesses and protective overalls for working at height.
The employer decides on the necessity of PPE. If the safety and health regulations require the use of PPE or the hazard assessment shows that PPE is necessary, the employer must acquire them.
The employer is also obliged to monitor the use of PPE.
The worker must comply with the given regulations and instructions in their work.
They must wear the PPE provided by their employer. In addition, the employee must comply with the order, tidiness, and carefulness required by their work and working conditions to maintain safety and health. The worker must also inform the employer or the representative of any safety defects or faults that they observe.
Safety in the construction industry
From the view point of safety, the construction sector is a challenging industry.
The working environment in the construction industry differs from that in other sectors because the work is physically strenuous and involves many hazardous exposures, and the work environment is constantly changing. Turnover on worksites and several contractors operating on the same site cause challenges for ensuring occupational safety (shared workplace).
Time pressure, schedules, and contract pressures also increase the strenuousness of the work.
In addition to the risk of occupational accidents, construction work also exposes workers to noise, various dusts, and changing temperature and weather conditions. Safety obligations in the construction sector are defined in the Government Decree on the Safety of Construction Work (205/2009).
A construction site is a shared workplace
A shared workplace refers to a workplace in which employees of several different employers or self-employed workers work at the same time. A construction site usually has one employer with the main authority, i.e., the project supervisor, whose obligations are more wide-ranging than those of the others working on the site.
- provide other employers and their employees, as well as self-employed workers, with information on the workplace’s hazards and risk factors, safety instructions and fire protection, first aid and evacuation measures, and the persons designated for these
- coordinate the activities of the employers and self-employed workers in the workplace
- arrange workplace transport and access routes
- ensure the order and tidiness required for the general health and safety of the workplace
- take care of other general workplace planning
- ensure the general safety of working conditions
- take care of the employees’ site orientation
- The project supervisor’s responsibilities cover the entire subcontracting chain, i.e., the project supervisor is responsible for the safety of both their own employees and any subcontractors’ employees.
Similarly, the other employers and self-employed workers must inform the employer with the main authority and the other employers of the hazards and risk factors that their work may cause at the workplace. They must also play their part in ensuring that the activities do not endanger the health or safety of others in the workplace. In addition, each employer must take care of their own employees in accordance with the obligations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Instructions for the construction industry employer
The employer must be aware of the dangers of the construction industry. The basis of safety is the assessment of work-related hazards. The employer must continuously monitor the work environment and identify work-related hazards and assess their harmfulness to the health of workers.
The employer must arrange for the employee to receive work orientation, adequate training, and guidance on how to work safely at the worksite.
If the employer’s expertise is insufficient, external experts, such as occupational health services, must be used.
It is the responsibility of every employer to provide occupational health services for their employees. Occupational health services support the employer in ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for their employees and promoting their work ability and functional capacity.
Instructions for construction workers
- Follow the employer’s instructions and always use PPE in accordance with the worksite’s regulations.
- Ensure the correct use and good working condition of PPE such as safety helmets, hearing protectors, goggles, high visibility vests, protective gloves, protective clothing, knee pads, and safety footwear.
- Do not remove the safety devices of a machine or appliance. Discuss any safety defects that you have observed with your employer and safety representative.
- In addition to your own safety, ensure that your work does not pose any risks to other workers on the worksite.
- Take special care when working in places with a risk of falling. Make sure that the ladders, builder’s trestles, scaffolding, and harnesses that you use are in good working condition and in line with the safety and health regulations.
- Asbestos demolition work is always particularly hazardous to health, and workers preforming this must be qualified to do asbestos work.
- Use machines, tools, and assistive devices to facilitate work, such as transport trollies for moving loads, in accordance with the instructions you receive.
- Play your part in maintaining order and tidiness at the workplace to enable the use of transport aids.
- The employer is obliged to continuously oversee that you follow the instructions given and to intervene if, for example, you do not use PPE or do not lift loads safely.
- The employer must provide you with adequate training and guidance on how to work safely at the worksite.
- You must visibly carry the photo ID card showing your tax number given to you by your employer.
Working at height safety
Working at height means all work that involves a risk of falling or work carried out at a height of more than two meters on any work platform other than fixed platforms and those equipped with handrails.
The primary means of ensuring safety must be to make changes to work methods or the work environment to avoid working at height. Ideally, work is done with your feet at floor level, but unfortunately this is not always possible. In a situation that requires you to rise to work at a greater height, falling must be primarily prevented by appropriate work platforms and railings.
Whenever you work at height, you should assess and consider the following on a case-by-case basis:
- Risk of a person falling.
If the work platform has no railings, or there is a gap in the railings, wear a fall arrest harness to prevent or at least shorten the fall.
- Risk of tools or other materials falling.
Tools or falling materials must not pose a danger to others working in the area. Falling materials and tools are also likely to impair work.
- Safe transportation of materials and supplies to the workstation.
In addition to falling materials, you should ensure that the transportation of materials does not endanger the safety of the worker. For example, do not carry material in your hands if it makes climbing to the work platform by ladder difficult.
- Cordoning off the work area.
Despite efforts to avoid falling materials, unexpected incidents can still occur. To avoid these, the work area should be cordoned off and marked so that no one walks or lingers underneath the work being done. When using devices for lifting persons or temporary scaffolding, you must also ensure that no machinery or vehicle can collide with the lifting device or scaffolding in such a way as to cause a hazardous situation.
Work load factors
Work load refers to both physical and mental strain at work. A reasonable work load promotes well-being and the smooth flow of work, but prolonged and excessive work loads can pose a threat to an employee’s health and work ability.
The employer must investigate and assess the physical and mental load factors associated with the work and the worker’s strain. The employer is obliged to take measures to eliminate loads that endanger or affect health when a worker has been reported as being under strain because of work.
The intensity and duration of peak loads is crucial: If overload becomes a constant state, it becomes harmful to the health and safety of the worker.
A heavy work load may be caused by:
- the content of work
- the quality and quantity of work
- the work community’s practices
- the management and organization of work
- the interaction between the individual and the environment
- the characteristics of the individual
- societal factors.
Both overload and underload of work can be harmful to an employee’s health. Work can strain quantitatively if an employee has too much work or if work causes time pressure. The load is also qualitative if work strains the memory or requires constant alertness, quick reactions, or encountering people.
But too little work can also be a burden.
Work that is too easy and simple can be qualitatively underloading.
Supervisors have a duty to monitor the work load of employees.
Workers should receive regular training on safe work methods and ergonomics.
Well-being at work
Well-being at work is a concept that covers work and its meaningfulness, health, safety, and well-being.
The basis for well-being at work is employees being able to do their work well in physically and psychologically safe conditions. Well-being at work increases when work is well managed, competence is supported, opportunities for recovery are sufficient, workers have control over their work, treatment is fair, and workers receive support from supervisors and colleagues. It is also important that the goals, roles, and work methods in the work community are clear and effective.
Promoting well-being at work is a joint effort and the responsibility of both employer and employees.
The employer must ensure the safety of the work environment, good management, and equal treatment of employees. An employee is personally responsible for maintaining their own work ability and professional skills. Each of us can play a part in creating a positive atmosphere in the workplace.
Well-being at work is built during daily work through cooperation between supervisors and employees.
It is important to manage well-being at work in a goal-oriented and systematic way, like other aspects of the organization’s business.
Well-being at work affects coping at work. As well-being increases, labor productivity and commitment to work also increases, and the number of sick leaves decreases.
Occupational safety and health
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers and employees must work together to maintain and improve safety at the workplace. The employer is responsible for assessing hazards and continuously monitoring work, and for taking any necessary development measures. All the measures are based on the workplace’s organization and safety culture, which in turn reflects how important the management consider safety work to be. Implementing safety in practical work requires the commitment of the whole personnel.
Occupational safety representative
The occupational safety representative represents employees at the workplace in the cooperation in safety and health matters. The term of office of the representative is two years, unless otherwise agreed before their selection.
The selection and duties of the representative and deputy safety representatives are defined in the so-called Supervisory Act (Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces, 44/2006). Many collective agreements also contain detailed policies on representatives.
Employees elect an representative and two deputy safety representatives if at least ten employees work regularly at the workplace. The selection can also be made in smaller workplaces, and office workers can select their own representatives. A representative may be elected by consensus election if everyone agrees on the procedure and on the persons nominated. All workers must be able to participate in the elections, and the employer must not make it difficult to arrange elections.
If no representative has been elected in a workplace of ten employees, the employer must provide the employees with information on their right to elect one. In addition, a list of the workplace’s employees and the facilities for election must be provided.
Tasks of the representative
The tasks of the representative and the deputy safety representative include:
- familiarizing themselves, on their own initiative, with the issues affecting the safety and health of the workers in the work environment and the state of the work community by regularly observing them
- familiarizing themselves with the safety and health regulations concerning the above-mentioned issues
- informing the management and the safety officer first of any safety defects or faults that they have observed
- acting as the workers’ representative in relations with safety and health authorities and participating in safety and health inspections
- acting in such a way as to increase practices that promote safety and health in the workplace.
If the representative is temporarily unable to carry out their tasks, the deputy safety representative may perform any tasks that cannot be postponed. In this case, the deputy safety representative has the equivalent right to information, use of time, and compensation for loss of earnings, as well as the right to suspend dangerous work, to that of the actual representative.
If the representative’s employment ends or they resign from the position of occupational safety representative during their term of office, the deputy safety representative becomes the occupational safety representative for the remainder of the term.
The representative has the right to receive information from the employer for the purpose of carrying out their duties.
This information includes:
- safety and health documents and lists that the employer is required to keep
- documents related to the state of the work environment and the work community that are relevant for the health and safety of work
- occupational health services contract or description of self-organized occupational health services and occupational health services’ action plan
- copies of the abovementioned documents, if necessary for the performance of the task.
Occupational Safety and Health Committee
An occupational safety and health committee must be set up in a workplace with at least 20 regularly working employees. The employer initiates the establishment of a committee. The term of office of the committee is two years.
The committee has either four, eight, or twelve members. Unless otherwise agreed, the committee is comprised as follows:
- a quarter of the members of the committee represent the employer
- half of the members represent the manual workers’ group or the office workers’ group, whichever is greater
- a quarter represents the smaller group of employees.
The employer appoints its representative to the committee. The safety officer has the right to participate in the meetings of the committee, even if they are not a member of the committee.
The committee is chaired by the employer, their representative or a person elected by the committee from among its members. The preparation of matters to be dealt with by the committee is carried out by a representative appointed by the employer.
Occupational safety representatives are members of the committee due to their position.
Other workers’ representatives are elected by the same electoral procedure as that for choosing the representatives.
Membership of the committee shall not incur any costs for members.
The use of time and loss of earnings are compensated on the same principle as for the representative.
The committee processes matters relating to the safety, health and work ability of the workers, and the committee, if necessary, makes proposals aiming to, for example:
- improve working conditions
- organize safety and health training
- improve occupational health services
- develop measures for maintaining work ability.
Every workplace must have an occupational safety officer who acts as the employer’s representative in the cooperation in safety and health matters. Employers may carry out the duties of the officer themselves or appoint a representative for the position. The length of the term of office of the officer is not limited by law.
The occupational safety officer must have the competence and requirements for their duties.
The employer is responsible for the competence, activities, and orientation of the occupational safety officer.
The Safety officer must:
- know the conditions of the workplace
- be sufficiently competent to perform their duties in relation to the circumstances of the workplace
- know the occupational safety and health legislation
Knowledge and competence must be maintained and, where appropriate, expanded. The officer must have the prerequisites to deal with cooperation matters and arrange cooperation in safety and health matters in practice.
The officer is responsible for arranging and developing cooperation in safety and health matters at the workplace. The officer may not be a member of the committee, but they participate in the meetings.
The officer’s tasks include:
- assisting the employer and supervisors in ensuring the necessary safety and health competence at the workplace
- initiating, supporting, and developing safety and health cooperation between employers and employees
- participating in the activities of the committee
- cooperating with the Occupational Safety and Health Authority
- cooperating with occupational health services.
The officer is not automatically responsible for implementing the safety and health regulations; this responsibility lies with the employer and the supervisors appointed by them, whose duties have been defined as taking care of safety and health.
Occupational safety and health action program at the workplace
A key principle of safety and health is foresight. Therefore, the employer must draw up an occupational safety and health action program for the workplace. The action program helps employers optimize the efficiency of proactive safety and health measures and to systematically improve working conditions in accordance with the workplace’s own needs.
A carefully prepared action program provides the basis for systematic safety and health measures at the workplace.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, every employer must have an action program.
The program must include:
- the aspects of the working conditions that need improving
- the effects of working conditions on the health and safety of workers
- the objectives and means derived from the previous program to promote safety and health, and work ability.
Short- and long-term development goals can be set for safety and health measures, such as improving the physical work environment by acquiring new, ergonomic tools, or reducing psychosocial work load.
The employer can choose how to draw up a program that best suits the workplace’s safety and health needs. If so wished, model forms from the Labour Inspectorate or the Centre for Occupational Safety can be used.
An action program can be drawn up to cover all the activities of the employer or it can have a unit-by-unit basis. In any case, the action program must take into account all the work done at the workplace. The action program may be a separate document, or it may be included in, for example, the employer’s quality or safety system.
The starting point for the action program is the identification and assessment of work-related hazards. The content and objectives of the action program are based on an assessment of the current situation. The preparation of the program begins by:
- identifying the hazards arising from work and working conditions
- assessing the significance of the hazards for the health and safety of the workers.
The assessment of the current situation also takes into account the work-related hazards and working conditions identified in the workplace survey carried out by occupational health services. In order to carry out the risk assessment, the current state of working conditions and safety and health measures must first be described:
- the kind of work tasks carried out at the workplace
- the kind of work environment in which the work is done
- the kind of personnel, machinery, equipment, and methods that are used to do the work
- how the work is organized
- how the management of safety and health issues is organized.
Key content: the aspects of the working conditions that need improving and their correction.
The action program must contain:
- a description of the work and working conditions and their impact on the safety and health of the workers
- a description of what aspects of the working conditions need to be improved
- the responsibilities and authority of employers and supervisors in safety and health matters
- the obligations, responsibilities, and rights of workers in safety and health matters
- a presentation of the safety and health organization (e.g., people belonging to it and their duties)
- a presentation of occupational health services and their role in safety and health measures
- a description of how safety and health issues are taken into account in the day-to-day activities of the workplace, for example, how the following are organized:
- constant monitoring of working conditions, work methods, and the state of the work community
- orientation and work guidance in safety and health issues
- including familiarizing supervisors with their responsibilities and authority in safety and health matters
- investigation of occupational accidents, occupational diseases, and hazardous incidents
- consideration of the safety and health perspective
- procurements (e.g., machinery, tools, PPE, chemicals)
- changes (e.g., construction of new workspaces, changes in working conditions or processes)
- information on the employer’s safety instructions (e.g., instructions for using dangerous machines, instructions for dealing with incidents involving violence, night work and working alone, instructions for preventing inappropriate treatment)
- a report on measures for maintaining work ability
- the monitoring and updating of the action program (how, when and the person responsible).
The action program may also include a plan for achieving equality between women and men in the workplace (gender equality plan) and a plan to promote non-discrimination (non-discrimination plan). These plans are statutory for an employer with at least 30 regularly working employees.
The employer must take into account the objectives derived from the action program in the operations of the workplace and deal with them together with the employees or their representatives.
The employer must draw up a timetable, assign the persons responsible and reserve sufficient resources to address the areas that have been observed as needing improvement.
It is very important to commit the entire work community to achieving safety and health objectives. The employer must therefore ensure that the action program is communicated to the whole personnel and made available to them. For new employees, safety and health practices are taught as part of their orientation.
Management must oversee the implementation of the action program and keep up to date by monitoring the content of the program and the achievement of the objectives at regular intervals or in the event of a relevant change in circumstances.
The employer is responsible for ensuring that an action program is drawn up for the workplace and that the safety measures defined in it are implemented. The employer must consult their employees when the program is being drawn up and communicate it to the entire personnel.
The action program must be easily accessible to the personnel, for example, on the workplace’s intranet or some other place used for information purposes.
Employees must familiarize themselves with the workplace’s action program.
The action program describes which areas of safety need improving, and the related objectives and measures to ensure the health and safety of work.
When the action program is processed, the employees are usually represented at the workplace by safety representatives. In small workplaces, the action program can be dealt with together with the whole personnel.
Occupational safety and health inspection
The Regional State Administrative Agencies’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health strives to ensure that work is safe, healthy, and fair. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health directs the inspection activities. The Ministry provides guidance on monitoring tasks, the implementation of legislation and procedures for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
The primary purpose of the inspections is to monitor compliance with safety and health legislation. The target of an inspection is usually a place of work in which one or more employers operate. The target can also be, for example, a specific machine, an automation line, or a professional group. The Regional State Administrative Agency can carry out monitoring by remote inspections via a meeting application and can make document checks based on written material.
When selecting inspection targets, the Regional State Administrative Agency considers the observations made during previous inspections.
The Regional State Administrative Agency mainly carries out safety and health inspections in industries with the highest safety and health risks.
The inspection does not only concern monitoring, it is also about helping the workplace develop safety and health measures, working conditions, and safety management. The aim is to make permanent improvements in the workplace.
The purpose of the supervision measures is to promote cooperation between employers and employees in matters of safety and health by, for example, providing guidance on applying the legislation being monitored and by highlighting good practices. The inspection also deals with issues that the representatives of the workplace themselves wish to raise.
What is the objective of safety training?
The aim of safety training is to provide students with basic information on protection against the hazards and risk factors related to the work environment and to help companies achieve the Zero Accidents goal.
It is important that after completing safety training, the person can handle the tasks and responsibilities of the various parties involved in safety at the shared workplace.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act – teaching and guidance of employees
Section 14 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 23.8.2002/738 requires the following:
Employers shall give their employees necessary information on the risk factors and hazards of the workplace and ensure, taking the employees’ occupational skills and work experience into consideration, that
- the employees receive sufficient orientation to the work, working conditions in the workplace, work methods and production methods, work equipment used at work and the correct method of using it, as well as to safe work methods, especially before the beginning of a new job or task or a change in duties, and before the introduction of new work equipment and new work methods or production methods;
- the employees receive instruction and guidance in order to eliminate the hazards and risks of the work and to avoid any risk or hazard from the work endangering safety and health;
- the employees receive instruction and guidance for adjustment, cleaning, maintenance, and repair work as well as for disturbances and exceptional situations; and
- the instruction and guidance given to the employees is supplemented, where necessary.
For more information, see: The Occupational Safety and Health Act 23.8.2002/738