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Introduction

National strategies are vital policy instruments to enhance the effectiveness of an OSH system by defining the key priorities and actions for improving workers’ health and safety.

The Commission called on the Member States to update and draw up their national OSH strategies in line with the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027 - in cooperation with social partners - to ensure that the new measures are applied on the ground.

According to the Work Environment Ordinance[1] the Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket)[2] is authorised to issue and enforce secondary regulations (directives). The secondary regulations issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority are compiled in the Authority's own regulations (Arbetsmiljöverkets författningssamling, AFS) which defines more closely the requirements to be met by the work environment. The directive on Systematic Work Environment management (Systematiskt Arbetsmiljöarbete)[3] is an example of a strategic regulation enforced by the Swedish Work Environment Authority. The role of the Swedish Work Environment Authority is more closely defined in the Work Environment Authority (Standing Instructions) Ordinance[4].

Basic Information

The current Swedish document is: En god arbetsmiljö för framtiden – regeringens arbetsmiljöstrategi 2021-2025[5]

With the English version: A good Work Environment for the Future – the Government work environment strategy 2021–2025[6].

The work environment strategy sets out the Government’s long-term policy focus in this area over the next five years.

Previous strategy and its English version are:

  • En arbetsmiljöstrategi för det moderna arbetslivet 2016–2020[7]
  • A Work Environment Strategy for Modern Working Life 2016–2020[8]

Background and the perceived problem

Defining the perceived problem:

Background for the strategy has been collected, among others, from OSH research and knowledge as well as from  a close dialogue between the government and the social partners and relevant national OSH authorities. On 18 April 2019, the Government tasked the Swedish Agency for Public Management with evaluating the Work Environment Strategy. The Swedish Agency for Public Management submitted the report Evaluation of a Work Environment Strategy for Modern Working Life 2016–2020 to the Government in January 2020. The Government has taken the conclusions of the Swedish Agency for Public Management’s evaluation into account in producing this strategy and as a result, this strategy contains more clearly delimited areas and four concrete priority areas.

The world of work is constantly in a state of flux. Modern working life makes higher demands of employees’ skills and capacity to handle information and solve problems. The Swedish labour market has become more polarised between, on the one hand, people with higher education and longer experience who find it easier to find work and, on the other, people with limited education and little or no experience of work who find it more difficult to gain a foothold in the job market. Lifelong learning, switching career and skills development are becoming increasingly important and a central part of creating a longer and sustainable working life.

In recent years, the Government has considerably raised its ambitions as regards working life. The Government’s Work Environment Strategy for Modern Working Life 2016–2020 mapped out the long-term direction of policy and national work environment efforts.

 

Main characteristics and objectives of the OSH-strategy (activity plan)

The overall goal of the working environment strategy is achieving “good working conditions and opportunities for development at work for both women and men”, as well as building a “work environment that prevents ill health and accidents and prevents people from being excluded from work and [...] which contributes to the development of both individuals and businesses”.

Quote, Minister for Employment Eva Nordmark: “The ambitions for work environment policy need to be higher. Everyone working in Sweden should have a work environment that allows them to be able to and to want to work for a full working life. In the Government’s new work environment strategy, we are raising the ambitions for work environment policy. We are presenting policies for security, development, and good health at work”

The strategy aims at having a sustainable working life, together with safety at work and respect for laws.

It echoes the European Pillar of Social Rights and the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work.

Details of the strategy and activity plan

Priorities:

The four pillars of the working environment strategy are:

  • Sustainable working life – everyone should be able to, capable of and want to work for a full working life.
  • Healthy working life – working life should contribute to development and well-being.
  • Safe working life – no-one should risk their lives or health because of their job.
  • A labour market without crime and cheating – a poor work environment should never provide a competitive

A new ‘vision zero’ that no one should die because of work

The Government is broadening the vision zero for fatal accidents from an objective that no one should die at work to no one should die as a result of work. This not only entails a vision of zero workplace accidents that lead to death, but also of zero work-related mortality due to chronic ill health, unhealthy stress, cancer and suicide, for example.

Work environment in the gig economy and working from home

Regardless of whether services are provided via apps or work is conducted at home from the kitchen table, there should be no uncertainties with regard to responsibility for the work environment. Everyone who works in Sweden should have a good and safe working environment. The work environment regulations will be reviewed with the aim of clarifying who is responsible for the work environment in situations where this is currently unclear.

Work environment regulations to be reviewed from a gender perspective

When the Work Environment Act entered into force in the 1970s, working life was different from today. Even though the legislation and regulations have been updated over the years, there is reason to review how work environment regulations can be improved to strengthen the work environment in sectors that are dominated by women. One question that must be considered is whether financial penalties are required in more areas than today.

Further steps to stop criminal activity in working life

The Swedish Work Environment Authority makes the assessment that the number of companies that systematically breach work environment regulations to gain competitive advantages is increasing. Multi-agency cooperation has increased the ability to stop actors that breach the work environment and other regulations. This work will continue and be intensified, including through more multi-agency controls.

Increased knowledge about the work environment – from school to research

Research and knowledge concerning what creates a good work environment and a sustainable working life will continue to be prioritised. To contribute to reducing the number of work-related accidents and other forms of ill health in working life, learning about working life at school is important. Work on work environment expertise will be enhanced.

Actors and stakeholders

Ministries and their departments and national authorities (particularly the Ministry of Employment), unions and employers organisations on a national and sectoral and professional level. The Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket ) and the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise (Myndigheten för arbetsmiljökunskap) have a particular role as government agencies in the work environment area. For this reason, the Government has decided to instruct these agencies to develop action plans to implement the strategy in their respective areas.

The Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise presented in an action plan for 2020 to 2025, measures planned and initiated in 2021 to 2022[9]. The strategy and the agencies’ action plans will be followed up through the Government’s work environment forum, annual feedback reports from the agencies and when accounting for results in the Budget Bill.

Resources and timeframe

The strategy covers the years 2021-2025

No specific resources are connected to the strategy however, governmental directives and an annual letter of appropriation guide the follow up of the strategy in the Swedish Work Environment Authority and the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise. Specific resources may be connected to specific directives during the timeframe.

Evaluation/lessons learned

The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) is the Government’s organisation for analyses and evaluations of state and state-funded activities. Statskontoret has been assigned the task of evaluating the Swedish Government's Work Environment Strategy for the Modern Working Life 2016-2020 as a policy instrument[10],[11]. Included in the evaluation is an analysis of the extent to which the design of the strategy and the commission which has been provided in conjunction with it provide the prerequisites for achieving the strategy's objectives and the overall objective of the work environment policy.

Statskontoret is of the opinion that the current work environment strategy has in several respects strengthened the Government's implementation of work environment policy. The Swedish Government has set up a forum for dialogue for consultation with the social partner organisations, in order to involve them in implementing the strategy.

The Government has set up the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise and launched a decade-long national research programme managed by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte). Significant increases in resources in recent years have led to the Swedish Work Environment Authority conducting almost 10 000 more inspections in 2019 compared with 2016. The Government has also made a concerted effort to tackle fatal accidents at work. Multi-agency efforts to combat cheating, breaches of regulations and work-related crime have been stepped up.

The Government has taken the conclusions of the Swedish Agency for Public Management’s evaluation into account in producing this strategy and as a result, this strategy contains clearly delimited areas and four concrete priority areas. Although some specific Government assignments have been given to the national OSH authorities in connection with the strategy, the strategy is essentially based on the authorities themselves developing their own action plans with concrete measures to achieve results within the four priority areas. The results are to be reported to the Government annually with a written status description of work in progress, results of measures taken, and, if necessary, updates of the action plans.

Drawing up the prioritised areas for the strategy has included holding a number of dialogues with representatives of the labour market partners, the Swedish Work Environment Authority and the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise.

The results of the previous strategy will be taken into account in the Budget Bill for 2022.

Developments in the field of working life, including the work environment, are presented in the Government’s reporting of results to the Riksdag in the annual Budget Bill. The strategy will be followed up in the Budget Bill, which also presents the Government’s policy focus for the year ahead. The work environment strategy is to be seen as the Government’s long-term policy focus in this field.

An evaluation of the work environment strategy will start in 2024.

Following indicators are used in the Budget Bill regarding occupational health and safety:

  • Number of fatal accidents at work.
  • Number of reported occupational accidents.
  • Number of occupational diseases reported.
  • Percentage of employed people who have the opportunity to learn new things every week and develop in the profession.
  • Percentage of employed persons who believe that systematic work environment management is ongoing at the workplace.
  • Number of ordinances and inspections carried out by the Swedish Work Environment Authority.
  • Number of injunctions and prohibitions, notifications of indictment and penalties imposed in the field of occupational safety and health.

 The objectives are qualitatively defined in the strategy. The wording consists of examples like improve protection for workers, improve health and safety, expand and increase number of checks, improve collaboration, prevention, strengthening, sustainable working life, high employment rate, job satisfaction, gender equality etc. The objectives are not accompanied by quantitative targets. However, ‘Zero fatal accidents’ can be regarded as quantitative target. The Government is expanding its zero vision for fatal accidents from a target of no-one dying at work to no-one dying as a result of work. This new zero vision also incorporates other work-related mortality due to, for example, longer illness, cancer, or suicide.

Relationship to EU Strategic Framework

The Strategy echoes the European Pillar of Social Rights and is in line with the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work. Although the Swedish strategy was developed before launching of the new EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work  it covers all topics of it.

Key objective 1 of the EU Strategic Framework (Anticipating and managing change) is covered in the:

Priority area “sustainable working life” :

  • When using new, digital tools it should be clear who takes responsibility for health and safety at work. Everyone is to be able to and want to work a full working life Better utilising the skills and experience of older people is a central aspect in achieving working lives that are longer and more sustainable.

Priority area “Healthy working life”:

  • With more people working from home, light must be shed on the work environment from the perspective that the workplace is flexible, and on the consequences poorly designed workplaces have for individuals in terms of both physical and psychosocial aspects

Key objective 2 of the EU Strategic Framework (Improving prevention of work-related diseases and accidents) is covered in

Priority area “Safe working life”:

  • new vision zero: no-one dying at work; no-one dying as a result of work.

Priority area “safe working life”

  • Hazardous substances in workplaces need to be restricted and handled correctly and threats and violence at work need to be taken seriously.

Priority area “Healthy working life”:

  • Abusive behaviour, harassment and bullying are unacceptable in the workplace

Key objective 3 of the EU Strategic Framework (Increasing preparedness – responding rapidly to threats) is not covered by this strategy. The recognition of COVID-19 as occupational disease is not part of the strategy.

References

[1] The Work Environment Ordinance SFS 1977:1166. Available at: https://www.government.se/government-policy/labour-law-and-work-environment/19771160-work-environment-act-arbetsmiljolagen/ (non-official translation)

[2] The Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket, AV), home page. Retrieved on 13.11.2022, from https://www.av.se/

[3] The Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket, AV), home page. Retrieved on 13.11.2022, from https://www.av.se/

[4]  Work Environment Authority (Standing Instructions) Ordinance 2007:913. Available at: https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/forordning-2007913-med-instruktion-for_sfs-2007-913

[5] En god arbetsmiljö för framtiden – regeringens arbetsmiljöstrategi 2021-2025. Available at: https://www.regeringen.se/regeringens-politik/arbetsmiljostrategin-2021-2025/

[6] A good work environment for the future – the Government’s work environment strategy 2021–2025. Available at: https://www.government.se/legal-documents/2021/03/skr.-20202192

[7] En arbetsmiljöstrategi för det moderna arbetslivet 2016–2020. Available at: https://www.regeringen.se/rattsliga-dokument/skrivelse/2016/02/skr.-20151680/

[8] A Work Environment Strategy for Modern Working Life 2016–2020. Available at: http://www.government.se/legal-documents/2016/05/skr.-20151680/

[9] Åtgärdsplan avseende ”En god arbetsmiljö för framtiden – regeringens arbetsmiljöstrategi 2021–2025”. Available at: https://mynak.se/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/aterrapportering_av_regeringsuppdrag_atgardsplan.pdf

[11] Utvärdering av En arbetsmiljöstrategi för det moderna arbetslivet 2016–2020. Available at: https://www.statskontoret.se/siteassets/rapporter-pdf/2020/2020-4.pdf

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