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Powerful work safety delegates

06.09.2007
Recent research has shown that Norwegian work safety delegates are not afraid to exercise their right to stop company activity. In 85 percent of cases, their action solved the underlying work environment problem.

“This study of the role and function of work safety delegates is the first of its kind”, says project manager Hans Torvatn of SINTEF, who does research on working life. Torvatn and his colleagues have gathered data from no fewer than 1647 Norwegian work safety delegates on behalf of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise and the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions. In Norway, companies with more than ten employees have been legally required to operate a safety delegate system since 1977.

“These results demonstrate that safety delegates are more important and more active than we had previously thought, and that they are regarded as partners by company management. Our main finding is that delegates actually make use of their strongest weapon – their right to call a halt to operations, and that this seldom produces negative consequences in the form of sanctions or career damage for them,” says Torvatn.

Twenty percent of the work delegates had exercised their right to halt operations, while as many again had considered doing so. Exercising this right contributed to a permanent solution of the problem in no fewer than 85 percent of cases. Those who had considered stopping operations said that management had promised to solve the problem in 70 percent of cases, and in 58 percent, the problem found a concrete solution without operations having to be halted.

“This shows that the right to bring work to a stop significantly raised the percentage of successful outcomes.”

Negative consequences

One of the questions asked by the researchers was whether the right to stop work led to sanctions or negative consequences for safety delegates’ careers.

“Here we come up against a sort of “whistleblower” problem”, says Torvatn. While as many as 84 percent of those whom we questioned were quite certain that their decision to call a halt to company operations had no negative effects on their careers, six percent wholly or partly agreed that their careers subsequently suffered. One out of every ten respondents answered that they were later subjected to sanctions.

“There is quite obviously a good deal of room for improvement in the management teams of these companies. Generally speaking , this is a matter of raising the level of consciousness regarding the rules of the game in Norwegian work life.

The right of Norwegian safety delegates to halt the activity of a company is something special in an international context. That the employees’ representative can demand such a stop on grounds of health, safety or the environment would be unthinkable in most other countries. But now we can confirm that we have a system that largely works in practice. This is probably due to the fact that we tend to have low levels of conflict in Norwegian companies”, says Torvatn.

The project was financed by the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise via the General Agreement Joint Measures Scheme.

Aase Dragland | alfa
Further information:
http://www.sintef.no

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