Safety and health in the workplace
The main principle of the Occupational Safety and Health Act is that employers must promote the safety and health of work on their own initiative. Safety requires management, which is why the act requires extensive responsibility over occupational safety and health from employers. Employers are thus responsible for all occupational safety and health activities of the workplace.
Employer’s obligation to investigate and prevent occupational hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to monitor the working environment on a constant basis and to identify the hazards and harms that are typically present in the environment. If the employer lacks the required expertise, the services of external experts must be used.
The employer must study all accidents, health hazards and other incidents and prevent them. They must also monitor the impact of all actions performed on the health and safety of work and, if necessary, take additional measures.
Furthermore, the employer must provide their employees with orientation training regarding the conditions and correct working methods of the workplace.
Occupational safety and health is an essential part of planning
The employer is obliged to take occupational safety and health into account already in the planning phase. The plans must support the safety and health of the working environment and the work itself.
Working environment refers to:
- the structures of the workplace, workspaces and work and production methods
- the use of machinery, tools and other equipment
- the use of substances that pose a health hazard.
These must be suitable for the intended purpose and comply with the requirements of occupational safety and health legislation.
Where appropriate, the plans must also take into account the employee’s personal condition (e.g., health status, physique, ability to work under pressure and physiological changes related to ageing).
In addition to the working environment, the planning and scaling of work must take the general physical and psychological properties of employees into account. Furthermore, the employer must make adjustments to support people with partial work ability, for example, to comply with the Non-Discrimination Act.
The planning of the working environment and the planning and scaling of work are also important if an employee’s health is jeopardised due to work-related stress. In such cases, the employer must investigate the hazard posed by the stress factor and remove or reduce its impact. Actions must be taken immediately when the employer becomes aware of the issue.
It is recommended for the employer to use the expertise of the occupational health care service provider while planning work and the working environment.
Adequate qualifications and prerequisites required from people responsible for occupational safety and health
At smaller workplaces, the entrepreneur is personally in charge of supervising and guiding the work of their employees. The entrepreneur is directly responsible for occupational safety and health. At larger workplaces, the responsibility is typically born by the person with the practical power to decide on these issues. In most cases, the employer allocates the supervisory power and the related responsibilities and decision-making power to supervisors. This also applies to the allocation of responsibility over occupational safety and health: the employer may appoint another person in charge of the tasks allocated to the employer in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
If the employer decides to transfer the responsibility over occupational safety and health, they must make it clear what the transfer involves. At least the employer’s industry, the nature of activities and the size of the workplace must be taken into account in the definition of tasks. The employer must ensure that the people responsible for occupational safety and health at the workplace have:
- adequate qualifications for the task
- sufficient orientation and instructions for the tasks
- appropriate overall conditions for carrying out their tasks (e.g., adequate power or rights to make rulings and decisions).
The occupational safety and health manager has an important task of supporting the employer and supervisors in acquiring expert occupational safety and health services.
Senior and middle management and supervisors are all responsible for occupational safety and health
The hierarchy of management can be divided into three groups: senior management, middle management and supervisors.
Senior management refers to the CEO and the management reporting directly to the CEO. The occupational safety and health tasks of senior management include:
- ensuring that all occupational safety and health matters at the workplace are arranged in compliance with legislation
- providing general provisions related to occupational safety and health
- ensuring that the material prerequisites for the supervisory system and occupational safety and health are secured and
- ensuring that qualified supervisors are appointed and trained.
Middle management refers to heads of departments and other persons in similar positions. The occupational safety and health tasks of middle management include:
- creating occupational safety and health guidelines
- ensuring that the supervisors have the capacities for providing work guidance and orientation
- ensuring that the equipment to be acquired is safe and compliant with the legislation and supervise its use
- organise practical occupational safety and health supervision in order to make the supervisors aware of which areas, equipment or persons of the workplace are under their supervision
- ensure that the supervisors perform supervision in practice and
- provide information about occupational safety and health.
Supervisors are directly responsible for supervising and leading the employees. Supervisors are typically responsible for only the tasks that can be performed by a supervisor who is present at the workplace on a daily basis to hand out tasks. The occupational safety and health tasks of supervisors are divided into supervisory and educational tasks. The occupational safety and health tasks of supervisors include:
- monitoring the working conditions
- monitoring machinery, equipment and devices
- monitoring working methods and the activities of individuals
- monitoring the general order
- eliminating any hazards detected
- protecting employees from hazards (e.g., by monitoring the use of personal protective equipment)
- providing employees with training about safe working methods and ensuring that they are applied
- guiding the employees and
- ensuring that the employees have adequate training and skills to carry out a specific task safely.
Occupational safety and health at common workplaces
A common workplace refers to a workplace where employees in an employment relationship with different employers or independent contractors work simultaneously or consecutively.
Common workplaces have an employer with the primary authority, who is responsible for:
- providing other employers and their employees and independent contractors with information about the workplace’s hazards and risks, safety instructions, fire, first aid and evacuation guidelines and the people responsible
- coordinating the activities of employers and independent contractors active at the workplace
- arranging traffic and transport at the workplace
- looking after the tidiness and order in order to ensure the general safety and health of the workplace
- taking care of other general plans of the workplace and
- ensuring the general safety and health of the working conditions.
Correspondingly, other employers and independent contractors are responsible for:
- informing the employer with the primary authority and other employers of the harm and hazards that their work may cause and
- ensuring on their own part that their activities do not compromise the safety or health of other people present at the workplace.
Furthermore, all employers must look after their employees in accordance with the obligations outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Regulations concerning common workplaces are specified in Chapter 6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which also includes specific practices applied at common construction sites. Regulations concerning the organisation of occupational safety and health cooperation activities at common workplaces can be found in the Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces.
Responsibility over occupational safety and health in industrial or business premises
In some cases, it is possible that there are more than one employer or independent contractor active in an industrial or business building but no employer with primary authority.
The employers and independent contractors active in such buildings have the responsibility to let inform each other about:
- any hazards or risks detected and the actions aimed at removing them and
- the need for coordinating efforts.
Mutual cooperation can, for example, highlight the need for common traffic regulations or for an agreement on how the threat of violence against employees can be prevented together.
In addition to the common obligations, each employer must look after their employees in accordance with the obligations outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.