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OSH Legislative Framework

The current fundamental and most important legislative act of the Icelandic OSH legislation is the Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace, No 46/1980, with subsequent amendments [1]. This act states that it is the obligation of the employer to instruct and inform the employees about accident and health hazards at their work places. Additionally, the employer has to organise sufficient education and training on safe work procedures for the employees. This regulation can be regarded as the national transposition of the EU Framework Directive 89/391.

In article 65 of the Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace, No. 46/1980, risk assessment is defined as the core element of a written OSH-programme: “The employer shall be responsible for drawing up a written programme of safety and health in the workplace. The programme shall include a risk assessment, cf. Article 65a, and a health protection schedule, cf. Article 66. Workers’ representatives shall be consulted, cf. Chapter II.”

In Iceland there is also legislation in force, which transposes individual EU OSH-directives, e.g. Directive 98/24 or Directive 89/656. Due to an EFTA-EU agreement, the approximation (to EU legislation) is far developed in some areas. In Articles 66 and 67 of the EEA Agreement between the EFTA and EU [2], both parties have agreed to support the improvement of working conditions. They have committed themselves to encourage improvements in health and safety. Minimum requirements shall be applied in all EFTA-States, but this shall not prevent any state from maintaining or introducing more stringent measures for the improvement of working conditions.

The EU DG for Enlargement [3] and the EFTA Surveillance Authority (EFTA SURV) regularly check the approximation of EFTA and EU-legislation and compare the legislative details in concordance tables. EFTA SURV states full transposition for the Framework Directive and for 22 individual directives. [4][5]

The respective EFTA legislation can be found in specific Annexes of the agreement:

  • Improvement of Safety and Health at Work Directive 89/391 = Annex XVIII, 8
  • Safety and Health Requirements for the Workplace Directive 89/654 = Annex XVIII, 9
  • Protective Equipment Directive 89/656 = Annex XVIII, 11
  • Manual Handling of Loads Directive 90/269 = Annex XVIII, 12
  • Display Screen Equipment Directive 90/270 = Annex XVIII, 13
  • Short-term Employment Directive 91/383 = Annex XVIII, 16
  • Medical Treatment on Board Vessels Directive 92/29 = Annex XVIII, 16a
  • Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive 92/57 = Annex XVIII, 16b
  • Safety and Health Signs at Work Directive 92/58 Annex XVIII, 16c
  • Pregnant and Breastfeeding Workers Directive 92/85 = Annex XVIII, 16d
  • Mineral-Extracting Industries (Drilling) Directive 92/91 = Annex XVIII, 16e
  • Surface and Underground Mineral-Extracting Ind. Directive 92/104 = Annex XVIII, 16f
  • Work on Board Fishing Vessels Directive 93/103 Annex XVIII, 16g
  • Indicative Limit Values Directive 91/322 Annex XVIII, 3a
  • Chemical Agents Directive 98/24 Annex XVIII, 16h
  • Explosive Atmospheres Directive 1999/92 = Annex XVIII, 16i
  • Chemical Agents at Work Directive 2000/39 = Annex XVIII, 16j
  • Biological Agents at Work Directive 2000/54 = Annex XVIII, 15
  • Protection of workers from risks related to carcinogens or mutagens Directive 2004/37 = Annex XVIII,
  • Occupational exposure limit values - Commission Directive 2006/15/EC Directive 2006/15 = Annex XVIII, 16jd, 3a, 16j
  • Minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to risks arising from physical agents Directive 2006/25 = Annex XVIII, 16je
  • Safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment Directive: 2009/104 = Annex XVIII, 10
  • Protection of workers from exposure to asbestos Directive 2009/148 = Annex XVIII, 5

Main legislative acts: Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in Workplaces, No. 46/1980, (Reglugerð um aðgerðir gegn einelti á vinnustað] last version from 2010 [6].

Occupational Safety and Health Strategies

The Strategy 2009 - 2012 was prolonged to 2013 and is available in Icelandic[7]. Currently the Strategy 2009 - 2013 is being assessing and evaluating and a new Strategy for 2014 - 2020 will be adopted.

Iceland also had an occupational safety and health strategy only from 2005 – 2007. The strategy included the basic starting points of occupational safety and health and nine objectives. These objectives were intended to apply to all sectors, all working environments and all employees without prioritisation [6] . These objectives are to:

  1. prevent on-the-job accidents;
  2. prevent work-related illness;
  3. promote systematic work environment management, which leads to continuous improvement of the work environment and increased well-being; and
  4. adapt workplaces to work skills.

Five of the objectives were dedicated to the role of the national Labour Inspection AOSH. The AOSH has a holistic approach towards occupational health and safety issues with integration into one institute of planning and administration, inspection, informatics and research. The five tasks were defined as follows [6]:

  1. to serve as a centre of knowledge and experience within the work environment;
  2. to base its work on skills, quality and co-ordinated work procedures;
  3. to seek for co-operation with workplace partners, occupational health care, institutions;
  4. schools and other actors within the work environment; and
  5. to be a developing workplace with satisfied and qualified employees to be run within specified economic boundaries”

There is a policy to ensure that inspectors have the required knowledge and ability to perform their tasks. According to the Nordic Scoreboard 2005 [8], Iceland obtained the lowest score of all the Nordic countries for preventive action at the enterprise level, i.e. five points out of eight. Iceland’s strategy stresses dominantly as means for general national action the labour inspection. Also Iceland’s OSH strategy frequently refers to inspections as the basis for action.

Social Dialogue

Social dialogue at national level

The tripartite social dialogue in Iceland is based on a long tradition. The tripartite social dialogue is carried out in consultation meetings between the Ministers of the Government and the social partners. The Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security is responsible for labour market issues within the administration and s/he and the experts working within the administration on labour market issues have regular consultation meetings with the social partners.

Most state councils and boards that are concerned with labour market affairs are composed of representatives of the government and of the social partners. Some of the councils and boards are stipulated by law, such as the board of the Directorate of Labour, the board of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the board of the Wage Guarantee Fund, the board of the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health, the Vocational Training Council and the Gender Equality Council. Furthermore, the Minister often appoints consultative committees or ad hoc committees on which the social partners have representatives to work on the solution of different issues (see also: Social dialogue in OSH).

The Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security also appoints the board of the Administration of Occupational Health and Safety for a term of four years. Two board members are nominated by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, one (is) nominated by the Alliance of Graduate Civil Servants, one (is) nominated by the Confederation of State and Municipal Employees, one (is) nominated by the Ministry of Finance, one (is) nominated by the Association of Local Authorities in Iceland, and two (are) nominated by the Confederation of Icelandic Employers.

The board shall make proposals to the Minister concerning improvements in the field of occupational health and safety, including whether there is a need for legislative amendments or the issue of regulations or other rules. The Minister and the Director shall seek for comments from the Board when preparing issue(s) of legislation, regulations and other rules on occupational health and safety issues. [3][4]

Social dialogue at sectorial level

Not applicable

Social dialogue at enterprise level

According to the Act 46/1980 on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplaces, the structure of the occupational health, and safety within enterprises mainly depends on their size. In enterprises employing one to nine people, the employer and/or his/her foreman shall work towards a good working environment and health and safety at the workplace, in close cooperation with the employees of the enterprise and their trade union representative.

In enterprises employing ten people or more, the employer shall appoint one person as a safety guard on his/her behalf and the employees shall appoint another from their group as a safety representative. Cooperatively they shall ensure that working environment, health and safety at the workplace is in accordance with this act. In enterprises employing 50 people or more, a safety committee shall be established. The employees select two representatives from their group and the employer appoints two representatives.

This committee shall organize activities concerning the working environment, health and safety within the enterprise, inform the employees on these matters, inspect the workplaces, and ensure that measures taken to improve the working environment, health and safety are fully effective.

OSH Infrastructure

OSH Infrastructure

The Icelandic OSH infrastructure is based on governmental enforcement authorities, i.e. a national labour inspection under the auspices of the Ministry of Welfare, and furthermore trained OSH personnel in enterprises, which has to be employed due to legal obligations.

Concerning safety and health issues on the sea and in the air, the Ministry of the Interior (before 2011, the Minister of Communication and Transport) is responsible for administrating maritime affairs. Under the Ministry, the Icelandic Maritime Administration (Siglingastofnun Íslands) is dealing with OSH issues on the sea or related to the sea and maritime economy, like operation of lighthouses and navigational systems, vessel registration and supervision of ship surveys, manning and certification.

National competent bodies

OSH authorities and Inspection services

The Icelandic OSH-capacities are predominantly allocated in the national labour inspection Vinnueftirlit ríkisins (Administration of Occupational Health and Safety, AOSH).

The typical tasks of labour inspections are conducted by the AOSH, which acts as an agency under the Ministry of Welfare. AOHS promotes preventive measures and health protection in the workplace by monitoring and surveying the work places. Furthermore, it carries out monitoring and market surveillance regarding machinery, equipments and devices covered by the Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace, No. 46/1980.

The AOSH carries out monitoring and enforcement activities to ensure that employers covered by this act provide a good working environment, health protection and safety levels for their workers. There are 61 employees (2011) working within the Administration of Occupational Health and Safety [9]. In Figure 1 the organigram shows the internal structure of the AOSH [10]:

Organigramm of the National Labour Inspection AOSHMinistry of Welfare

The main tasks of the AOSH are defined as follows [9]:

Inspection Both inspection and supervision ensure that the laws of health and safety in the workplace and regulations are followed. Also, special inspections of machinery and technical equipment, such as heavy-duty machinery or agricultural machines are conducted.

When employees of the Administration of Occupational Health and Safety inspect the enterprise, they shall contact the employer or his/her representative, the safety representative of the employees, their trade union representative, and the safety committees where they are operated. The named parties shall be assisted as much as possible.

The inspectors are obliged to consult the representatives of the two sides, employers and employees. Both sides have also the right to consult the labour inspections in the most convenient way.

Reviewing, measuring and testing AOSH performs and reviews measurements of noise, pollution, indoor air in the workplace, etc.

Training AOSH offers courses for managers, safety representatives and safety managers. These courses offer licence to operate heavy equipment, machinery and courses intended for drivers transporting dangerous cargo, and lectures and instructions on health and safety in the workplaces.

Publishing AOSH publishes newsletters, various training materials, instructions, posters and regulations.

Consultation The AOSH provides consultation regarding health and safety in the workplace, e.g. for safety representatives, safety managers, foremen, managers and employees.

Research AOSH is also conducting research in OSH-issues. Research is conducted on the topics of work, working conditions and diseases, well-being and accidents. Also, problems related to social risk factors are studied. These problems include mental and physical violence, excessive workload or incorrect organization of work and monotonous work.

The AOSH reports the number and type of their inspection activities. From 2007 to 2011 the following quantitative data are reported (Tab. 1): Table 1: Number and type of supervision activities of the National Labour Inspection AOSH from 2007 to 2011

Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Category of inspections / projects for technical supervision No. No. No. No. No.
Regular supervision – comprehensive revisions 2,319 1,931 2,161 1,508 1,152
Regular supervision - follow-up inspections 114 88 85 54 29
Adapted inspections – basic inspection visits 21 28 96 196 109
Adapted inspections – follow-up inspections - - 1 1 1
Limited inspections 956 876 738 916 854
Number of inspection conversations 3,417 2,936 3,094 2,686 2,154
Other technical visits 570 540 475 539 407
Measurements and instructions at visits 393 536 291 208 184
Investigation on work accidents 289 257 119 124 155

Source: Annual report of AOSH 2011 [11]

OSH services (external prevention services, technical control)

Occupational Preventive and Health Services

In Iceland only a few private occupational health services exist. They offer technical and medical support for enterprises in OSH-matters. The greatest part of training, consultation and supervision activities is performed by the AOSH.

The involvement of an external service provider as consultant is an obligation if the necessary skills and knowledge are not present in the enterprise, according to Article 66a of the Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace, No. 46/1980: “When the drawing up of a programme of safety and health in the workplace, including a risk assessment and a health protection schedule, calls for skills that the employer or his workers do not possess, the employer shall seek the assistance of suitably qualified service providers that have received the approval of the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health in this capacity (see also: OSH services). The OSH services cover the whole range of OSH activities of enterprises, from risk assessment to specialized technical advice.

Compensation and insurance bodies

Social Insurance Administration (Tryggingastofnun ríkisins)

The Social Insurance Administration is responsible for the recognition and compensation of work related accidents and diseases.

Occupational injury insurance covers employed persons working in Iceland and work aboard an Icelandic vessel or aircraft or a vessel or aircraft owned or operated by an Icelandic party. This type of work is equivalent to work in Iceland if the salaries are paid in Iceland. Self-employed persons are insured as well. Occupational injury insurance covers accidents caused by a sudden external event in the course of work, apprenticeship, rescue work and all forms of athletic training, exhibitions and competitions organised by a recognised athletic club under the supervision of a trainer. Anyone engaged in household work may ensure their entitlement to occupational injury benefits by making a request on their tax return at the beginning of each year.

The compensation involves:

• Healthcare and short-term cash benefits • Invalidity benefits • Survivor's benefits

(see also: International comparison of occupational accident insurance system)

OSH-organisation in enterprises

In line with the current basic legislative Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace, No 46/1980 it is the obligation of the employer to instruct and inform the employees about accident and health hazards at their work places. Furthermore, the employer has to organise adequate education and training on safe work procedures for the employees.

In article 65 of the Act risk assessment is defined as the core element of the enterprise OHS-measures. Based on the results of the risk assessment the employer has to draw up a written programme of safety and health in the workplace. In preparing this programme the employer has to consult workers’ representatives.

Education, training, and awareness raising

Legally required training for OSH representatives and OSH specialists

The implementation of the Framework Directive implies the general obligation on employers to train their employees and workers’ representatives.

In Article 8 of the Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in the Workplace, No. 46/1980, it is stated: “The employer shall ensure that those who are elected to handle the working environment, health and safety in his/her enterprise can have the opportunity to acquire necessary knowledge and education concerning working environment, health and safety in the workplaces.”

The OSH-education is mainly offered by the AOSH and is organised by their Department of Training and Information (DTI) in close cooperation with the specialists of the Special Departments. This education is mainly in the form of courses lasting one to three days.

There are several types of courses, different according to the target group:

  • Courses mainly designed for safety representatives (both representatives of the employer and the employees) in workplaces where the number of employees is 10 or more; these courses are also open to all wage earners and representatives of the workers’ union, elected at the workplace.
  • Courses designed for managers and foremen, both being highly responsible for OSH at the workplace. These courses last two to three days.
  • Courses are also designed for companies and institutions at their request.

Meetings on OSH are sometimes held at the workplace, both at the request of the company or the employees’ representative. The employees of the DTI also provide lectures on OSH in the workplace.

Courses are also organised by some special departments: The Heavy Equipment Department held courses for drivers of moving machines, lift trucks, cranes etc., and the Department of Chemicals and Industrial Hygiene held courses for drivers of hazardous substances and goods.

Awareness raising networks

Specialized technical, medical and scientific institutions

Standardization agencies

Icelandic standards are set by an independent association called Icelandic Standards (IST). IST publishes Icelandic standards and represents of Iceland in international and regional standards bodies. IST is the only national standards body in Iceland. Three sectorial standardization committees operate in the frame of IST: in the building sector, in the information technology sector and in the electro-technical sector.

Research institutes

Icelandic research institutes cover a broad range of sciences, from fish research to environ-mental issues [12]. However, there is only in exceptional cases (projects) a specialization on OSH-issues. Most research related to OSH is performed by the AOSH.

Institutions and organisations

Table 2: Icelandic institutions and organisations in the OSH field

Institution/ Organisation Websites
Ministry for Welfare
(Velferðarráðuneytið) (Icelandic) (English)
The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (Vinnueftirlit) https://www.vinnueftirlit/is/ (Icelandic) (English)
Icelandic Transport Authority (Samgöngustofa) (Icelandic) (English)
Social Insurance Administration (Tryggingastofnun) (Icelandic) (English)
Statistics Iceland (Hagstofa Islands) (Icelandic)
The Federation of Icelandic Industries (SI) (Icelandic) (English)
Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA) (Icelandic) (English)
Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) (Icelandic) (English)

Source: Overview by the author


[1] Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in Workplaces, No. 46/1980, (Reglugerð um aðgerðir gegn einelti á vinnustað] last version from 2010. Available at: English: Icelandic:

[2] Agreement On The European Economic Area, 15.11.2011 - Updated EEA Agreement, Main Part, ''(OJ No L 1, 3.1.1994, p. 3; and EFTA States’ official gazettes)'', Available at:

[3] Commission Staff Working Document: Analytical Report accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council. Commission Opinion on Iceland's application for membership of the European Union {COM (2010) 62} Available at:

[4] EU DG Enlargement, ''Screening report Iceland: Chapter 19 – Social policy and employment'', 2011. Available at:

[5] EFTA Surveillance Authority (2012), ‘Internal Market’, ‘Implementation Status’. Retrieved on 20 August, from:

[6] quote6


[8] Working Group European Strategy on Health and Safety at Work (2005), SCOREBOARD 2005. Retrieved on 20 August 2012, from:

[9] Vinnueftirlitið [Administration for Occupational Health and Safety (AOHS)], ''Ársskýrsla Vinnueftirlitsins fyrir árið 2011'' (Annual Report for 2011), Reykjavik 2012. Available at:

[10] ibid., p. 6

[11] ibid., p. 18

[12] Science Nordic (2012). Research in Iceland. Retrieved on 20 August, from:

Further reading

Icelandic Government:

Website on Icelands application for membership of the EU

EFTA Surveillance Authority

Select theme

Ellen Schmitz-Felten

Taina Paakkonen

Richard Graveling

Sigurdur Sigurdsson