Worker participation - Finland

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Pia Perttula, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland


Introduction

This article goes beyond the concept of involving workers in management processes [1] and broadens its scope to encompass information and consultation, mainly with regard to OSH-related matters in Finland on the following levels: national, workplace and voluntary. The administration of occupational safety and health in Finland is under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriö, Social- och hälsovårdministeriet) and the Regional State Administrative Agencies (Aluehallintovirasto, Regionförvaltningsverket). The Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health promotes the close collaboration of employers’ and employees’ organizations (i.e. the labour market organisations) and the Ministry. Regional State Administrative Agencies are in charge of the supervision and direction of standards and practices in the workplaces. [2]

This article describes both direct and indirect participation forums although the focus is on formal participation structures (legal instruments).

Regulatory framework for worker participation

Employee participation is stipulated in the European legislation referred to in Council Directive 2001/86/EC [3] and it complements the Statute on the European Company on the involvement of employees. There are several possible participation models based on agreements at in a workplace with the most important being board-level representation of employees. If there is no arrangement, a set of standard rules regulating worker involvement becomes applicable. The Finnish labour and occupational safety legislation applies to all employees working for Finnish employers. The majority of Finland's occupational safety and health legislation has been prepared under the initiative of the European Commission, in the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. There is an extensive body of legislation in Finland covering occupational safety and health. Legislation is prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) together with the Advisory Committee on the Preparation of Occupational Safety Regulations. The Ministry and the Board for the Ratification of the Validity of Collective Agreements decide on the applicability of collective agreements in Finland. Standards aim to follow best practices in the area of occupational safety and health. [4]

There are six Regional State Administrative Agencies. The agencies’ tasks consist of those performed by the former state provincial offices, occupational health and safety districts, environmental permit agencies and regional environmental centres. The agencies work in close collaboration with the corresponding local authorities. The agencies foster regional parity by implementing all legislative statutes, steering and supervision functions in the regions. The agencies ensure implementation of basic rights and legal protection, access to basic public services, environmental protection, environmental sustainability, public safety and a safe and healthy living and working environment throughout the regions. [5]

The main way of monitoring the control in the workplaces for the Administrative Agencies are the inspections at workplace. The purpose of the inspections are to determine whether the OSH regulations are being followed. The inspections are performed by the Agency’s inspectors in co-operation with the employers and employees. [5]

Information and consultation

At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 of ILO Convention C-155 [6]. Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R-164 [7] describes more specific rights and possibilities for employees and their representatives with respect to worker participation. Recommendation R-129 contains general recommendations on communication between employers and workers [8].

The European Directive 2002/14/EC [9] establishes a general legal framework for informing and consulting employees throughout the European Community. The directive makes it a requirement for employers to inform and consult employees via the workers’ representatives in the company, in three specific areas:

    1. The recent and probable development of the undertaking's or the establishment's activities and economic situation;
    2. The situation, structure and probable development of employment and any anticipatory measures envisaged;
    3. Decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations.

The main legal source for worker information and consultation on OSH matters on a European level is the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC [3]. Worker participation is a fundamental component of the OSH management framework promoted in this directive.

With regard to workers’ consultation and workers' representative rights the Finnish law [10] makes it possible for the employees to participate in and influence the handling of matters concerning safety and health at the workplace:

  • At workplaces where at least 20 employees work regularly, a safety commission is elected for a two-year period in order to co-operate in issues concerning occupational safety and health at the workplace. A safety commission consists of representatives from both employer and employees.
  • At workplaces where at least ten employees work regularly, the employees choose an occupational safety delegate and two vice-representatives from among themselves to represent them with employer. [10]


OSH and worker participation

In Finland the occupational safety and health authorities, such as Regional State Administrative Agencies [5], monitor that the working conditions meet the demands of the legislation. Representatives of workplace occupational safety and health committees co-operate with the authorities.

At the workplace level, the legislation designates the minimum level of occupational safety and health work. In addition to the minimum level, companies may provide safety training and create networking in order to improve occupational safety. For example, Finnish Zero Accident Forum is a voluntary based network of workplaces, which place a high value on occupational safety.

Collective agreement system

The Finnish labour market system is based on a long tradition of agreement and negotiation. The cornerstones of the Finnish labour market system are the comprehensive organisation of employees and employers, a strong tradition of bargaining and co-operation, and national incomes policy settlements agreed between the government and both sides of industry.

The bulk of Finland's international collaboration on occupational safety and health takes place through the EU, within the framework of the United Nations' International Labour Organization, and between the other Nordic countries. The ILO holds conventions and delivers recommendation regarding occupational safety and health. The governments, as well as parties representing the employers and employees are involved in the work of the ILO. [11]

Finnish labour market organisations – employer or empolyee organisations – exert a great deal of influence. Negotiations on salaries, wages and labour legislation are conducted between the government and the representatives of employees and employers organisations, which is referred to as the tripartite system (‘kolmikanta’). For example, the labour market organizations, negotiate about their members’ working conditions, and these include OSH issues. Freedom of organization is a statutory right in Finland. No-one can either be coerced into joining a union or harassed for being a member. This means that employment may not be terminated on the basis of membership in a trade union.

In Finland the central labour market organizations consist of three employee confederations (Akava – the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland, SAK - The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, and STTK - The Finnish Confederation of Professionals) and four employer’s confederations (EK – Confideration of Finnish Industries, KT - the Commission for Local Authority Employers, VTML - the Office for the Government as Employer, and Church Employers’ Commission).

The Labour market organizations – Employee Confederations

Akava - the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland Akava, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland, is a trade union confederation for those with university, professional or other high-level education. In Finland, the vast majority of individuals with high-level education are members of a trade union. More than 80 percent of Akava members have completed at least the lower university degree.

Akava has more than 30 affiliates with altogether half a million unionised members working as employees, entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals in either the public or private sector. The members join one of Akava’s affiliates based on their field of study, degree, profession or position. [12]

The Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions The Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions – SAK is the oldest employee confederation in Finland. SAK was founded in 1907. SAK represents the interests of more than one million members in 21 affiliated trade unions. SAK is the largest lobbying organization in Finland.

SAK is a confederation of 20 trade unions in industry, the public sector, transport and private services. These unions have a total of more than one million members, and the mission of SAK is to promote the emotional and material welfare of these individuals.[13]

STTK - The Finnish Confederation of Professionals The Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK is the third of the three trade union confederations in Finland, and its 18 affiliated trade unions represent approximately 608 000 professional employees. The members are working in the public sector, in private industry and in the private service sector. Nearly 70% of its members are women. Typical member groups are nurses, technical engineers, police officers, secretaries, bank employees etc. [14]

The Labour market organizations – Employer Confederations

EK – Confederation of Finnish Industries The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) is the leading business organization in Finland. Its mission is to create an internationally attractive and competitive business environment for companies operating in Finland.

EK represents and defends the interests of the Finnish business community – both at the national level, as well as in the EU. EK is centrally involved in labour markets together with its member associations.

EK represents the entire private sector and companies of all sizes:

  • 27 member associations;
  • 16,000 member companies across all business sectors;
  • Member companies produce over 70% of Finland’s GDP and over 95% of exports;
  • Member companies employ 950,000 workers;
  • Maintains regular contacts with all EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the European Union);
  • Offers its expertise about the Finnish business environment to decision-makers on the EU-level;L
  • Takes part in the social dialogue and, where European labour market organisations are involved, in the dialogue on working life issues. EK is also represented in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

EK is a member of the Confederation of European Business. [15]

The Office for the Government as Employer – VTML The national collective agreement for government employees is signed between the Office for the Government as the Employer operating under the Ministry of Finance and the bargaining agents. The local government agreement system covers all local and joint authorities and their 430 000 employees. In local government, collective agreements are contracted between the Commission for Local Authority Employers and the bargaining agents representing the personnel. The local government sector has five participating sectors, of which educational staff and physicians for instance have their own contractual provisions that take into account the special nature of their work. [16]

Local Government Employers – KT Finland has 320 municipalities and 136 joint municipal authorities. These local authorities employ about 441 000 employees, a fifth of Finland's employed labour force. The Local Government Employers association promotes the interests of Finland's municipalities and joint municipal authorities on the labour market. [17]

Church Employers’ Commission Church Employers’ Commission represents the employers of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. [18]

The Centre for Occupational Safety – TTK

The Centre for Occupational Safety (Työturvallisuuskeskus TTK) provides training, information, materials and development services based on the latest knowledge. TTK is the administrator of register of occupational safety personnel; it is responsible for maintenance of the register.

TTK’s activities and services are conducted in close cooperation with branch-related employers´ and employees´organisations in sector groups, branch committees and specialist groups.

The activities of the Centre are based on the agreements and regulations concluded by the Finnish Labour Market Organisations. The Centre is a co-operational organisation administered by these organisations. [19]

Company level

The aim of OSH co-operation is to promote communication between an employer and employees. The purpose of co-operation is also to provide the possibility for employees to participate in and influence in OSH issues at workplace.

The OSH co-operation in Finland is strongly based on legislation and the long tradition of agreements with labour market organizations. The issues handled in co-operation are regulated in the Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces [10]. A Act 44/2006 also defines the nomination of and tasks to be conducted by OSH committees, safety officer and safety delegate in a workplace.

OSH Committees in company level

At workplaces where at least 20 employees work regularly, an occupational health and safety committee needs to be established for a period of two years at a time. The safety committee consists of representatives from both the employer and the employees.

Selection of OSH committees

The number of committee members is four, eight or twelve, depending on the requirements set by the quality and size of the workplace. A quarter of the members represent the employer, a half of the members represent the larger employee group (e.g. manual workers) and a quarter represent the smaller employee group (e.g. professional workers).

The OSH representatives (paragraph 3.2.2) are members of the OSH committee. The other members of the committee representing the employees are elected from within the workplace. [10]

Tasks of OSH committees

Matters concerning cooperation at the workplace are discussed among the OSH committee. The members of the OSH committee have a right to propose issues to be handled in OSH committee. [10]

OSH representative at workplaces

In workplaces where at least ten employees work regularly, the employees choose an occupational safety delegate and two vice representatives from among themselves to represent them in the cooperation and to keep contact with occupational safety and health authorities. [10]

Selection of OSH representative

The OSH representative and the vice-representatives are selected through an election organised by the employees. The representatives are selected for a period of two calendar years, unless some other agreement has been made. The time and place of the election is agreed in advance with the employer. All employees at the workplace are provided with an opportunity to participate in the election. [10]

Tasks of OSH representative

The OSH representative should become familiar with the environment of the workplace, matters connected with the state of the work community and affecting the safety and health of employees, and he/she be acquainted with occupational safety and health legislation. The OSH representative participates in inspections and expert investigations relating to OSH matters at their workplace. In addition, the OSH representative steers the employees attention to matters that promote safety and health at work – the representatives have a promotional role. [10]

Rights of OSH representative

The OSH representative is entitled to have access and become familiar with such documents in the possession of the employer which concern safety and health at work and are connected with the state of the working environment and the work community.

The OSH representative is entitled to have access to the employer’s copy of the agreement between the employer and the occupational health care organisation.

According to Act 44/2006, the OSH representative has the right to receive appropriate training for carrying out the co-operational duties. Furthermore, the OSH representative has the right to interrupt such work that causes immediate and serious danger to an employee’s life or health. In such cases, the OSH representative should inform the employer about any interruption to the work. [10]

Co-operation at workplaces

The Act 44/2006 [10] states the co-operation in OSH issues at workplace. The issues to be handled in cooperation between employer and employee include:

  • Issues affecting the safety and health of any employee
  • Principles and manner of investigating risks and hazards at the workplace
  • Development objectives and programmes relating to workplace health promotion
  • Issues on the organisation of work or workload or any essential changes in these matters
  • Need and arrangement for training and guidance
  • Statistics and other follow-up information relating to work, work environment and the state of the work community. [10]
Co-operation between authorities and employees

Workplace inspection carried out by OSH authorities is conducted at the workplace whenever the employer, the OSH representative or the OSH committee so requires, if the circumstances mentioned in the request give cause for it.

In Finland, OSH authorities perform inspections whenever a serious occupational accident (causing disability more than 30 days) occurs. An investigation of occupational accidents is performed in co-operation with the employer and OSH representative of the workplace. In the investigation, the course of events and the causes of the accidents and the measures for preventing similar accidents, are analysed. [10]

Co-operation between employer and employees

Workplaces are required to have a policy on how to handle co-operation in OSH matters, and all workers need to be aware of this policy. Co-operation between employer and employee is basically performed by two principle processes:

  • In direct co-operation between the worker and his/her manager
  • In the OSH committee meeting.
Co-operation between health care unit and employees

According to the Occupational Health Care Act (1383/2001), the employees have the duty to attend a medical examination unless she/he has a good cause to refuse. At the start and as well at a later stage of the employment, the examination is performed for: investigating the employee’s working capacity or functional capacity for the purposes of the health requirements associated with the job.[10]

A workplace investigation is performed by health care unit periodically. The OSH representative as well as the OSH manager take part in the workplace investigations in co-operation with the health care unit.

Indirect worker participation

In addition to the co-operation determined by legislation, many workplaces have their own specific ways encouraging of worker participation in OSH issues. For example, these ways are handling near miss reports in team meetings, management’s safety walks where workers have an opportunity to point out any concerns about OSH, chalistenic exercises during work-hours in order to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, etc.

Measuring safety

Many workplaces follow the safety level by undertaking certain participatory measuring methods .Measuring is usually performed by workers or their representatives, trained in using the methods.

The Finnish TR-method for measuring safety level and quality at construction sites has proven to be a successful method. The TR-method is a standardised and validated safety monitoring method. Both behavioural-based and condition-based safety aspects are observed during a site walk, and the safety index is calculated as a percentage which can vary from zero and up to one hundred. [20] The method involves criteria about safe working and working environment and the observer checks whether the criteria is being met or not. TR-method is an observation method which can be used at any construction site and the method is suitable for routine use [21]. The experience of measuring safety with the validated TR-method has revealed a correlation between the observed safety index and the accident rate, i.e. a high safety index as an observation result indicated a low accident rate [22].

Standardised safety observation methods are widely used in Finnish construction sites and industry. In the construction industry, the TR-method is commonly used as a means of safety observation. A safety contest was conducted based on the TR observation method between the years 1996-2006 and the results confirmed the validity of the method as an indicator of safety in the construction industry [23]. Another standardised observation method is ELMERI and it has been developed for industrial sites. The ELMERI method is also valid for predicting the accident rate, i.e. a high safety index points to a low accident rate and vice versa [24].

Finnish Zero Accident Forum

One special way for promoting occupational safety in the workplaces is the Finnish Zero Accident Forum which is a voluntary-based network for workplaces who share common interest in preventing accidents. It is open to any workplace, regardless of its size, field or level of occupational safety. What is important that they should have a genuine desire to improve safety and strive towards zero accidents. Membership of the Zero Accident Forum means that the management and staff of the organization are committed to improving their own occupational safety and carrying out the work it entails. [25]

The Forum consists of companies and organizations of various sizes from different fields of industry. Some companies can boast that they are at the top level in occupational safety, even by global standards, while others may still be fairly poor workplaces in that respect. However, the main principle of the forum is to learn from each other, even from different industries and other business sectors. [25]

As Forum members, workplaces receive information about best practices from other workplaces and an opportunity to learn from the top international workplaces. The seminars organized by the Zero Accident Forum as well the Forum’s own extranet function as channels for free communication, where the members receive support and tools for improving their own safety at work from experts and other workplaces. [25]

The Forum contact person from each member organisation is encouraged to share access to the Zero Accident Forum extranet for other employees at the workplace. Many organisations send their OSH representative to the Zero Accident forum seminars and training, and thus they are in a key role in promoting the newest information into practice at their workplaces.


General evaluation

There are more than 300 000 enterprises in Finland, and the proportion of small enterprises (number of personnel 0-9) is 94% [26]. This is a challenge while promoting OSH issues for Finnish workplaces. Larger workplaces have more resources to spend in OSH issues.

A study of kitchen workers [27] showed how musculoskeletal disorders could be decreased by improving ergonomics through co-operation from the workers. The intervention consisted of workshops where problematic work tasks were analysed and improvements were discussed. The approved changes were afterwards introduced in kitchens. The load and stress of the workers were analysed via a questionnaire which was filled in regularly. The workers' experience was that the musculoskeletal symptoms were decreased because of the changes in ergonomics.

A study for rail traffic control workers [28] is another example of worker participation in their own well being at work. The investigation was made in the transformation of work in heterogenous collaboration network and the impact of the changes in the working was studied from the standpoint of the workers. The workers participated in the project via interviews and by participating in workshops. The results showed that an essential element in any joint development intended to support well-being at work is the participation of employees in both assessing their situation and establishing the direction of the development.

The Finnish Zero Accident Forum is rather a unique example about how different size workplaces may create a network around occupational safety issues. The member workplaces are surveyed occasionally and the feedback has shown that those workplaces who actively participate in Zero Accident Forum, have also experienced improvements in their worker participation safety functions, such as initiative safety suggestions and minor accident reporting [29].


References

  1. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) (2012). Home page. Retrieved on 7 December 2012, from:[1]
  2. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. (2013). Home page. Retrieved on 4 March 2013, from: [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Council Directive 2001/86/EC of 8 October 2001 supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees. Available at: [3]
  4. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. (2013). Home page. Retrieved on 4 March 2013, from: [4]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Regional State Administrative Agencies (2013). Home page. Retrieved on 4 March, 2013, from: [5]
  6. ILO Convention concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the working environment C155, 1981. Available at: [6]
  7. ILO Recommendation concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the Working Environment R 164, 1981. Available at: [7]
  8. ILO Recommendation concerning communications between management and workers within the undertaking R 129, 1967. Available at: [8]
  9. Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation, OJ L 080 , 23.03.2002, p. 0029 – 0034. Available at: [9]
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (2006). Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces 44/2006. (Unofficial translation). Retrieved on 4 March 2013, from: [10]
  11. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. (2013). Home page. Retrieved on 4 March 2013, from: [11]
  12. Akava - Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland (2013). Home page. Retrieved 4 March 2013, from: [12]
  13. SAK, Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (2013). Home page. Retrieved 4 March 2013, from: [13]
  14. STTK - The Finnish Confederation of Professionals (2013). Home page. Retrieved 5 March 2013, from: [14]
  15. Confederation of Finnish Industries (2013). Home page. Retrieved 5 March 2013, from: [15]
  16. The Office for the Government as Employer (2004). The Finnish public sector as an employer. Retrieved 5 March 2013, from: [16]
  17. Local Government Employers (2013). Home page. Retrieved 7 March 2013, from: [17]
  18. Church Employers’ Commission (2013). Home page. Retrieved 7 March 2013, from: [18]
  19. The Centre for Occupational Safety (2013). Home page. Retrieved 8 March 2013, from: [19]
  20. 3TOnline. OHS Performance Monitoring, TR method. Retrieved 6 June, from: [20]
  21. Laitinen, H. and Ruohomäki, I., ‘The effects of feedback and goal setting on safety performance at two construction sites’, Safety Science, Vol. 24, 1, 1996, pp. 61-73.
  22. Laitinen, H., Marjamäki, M., Päivärinta, K., ‘The validity of the TR safety observation method on building construction’, Accident Analysis & Prevention, 31 1999, pp. 463-472.
  23. Laitinen, H., Päivärinta, K., ‘A new-generation safety contest in the construction industry – a long-term evaluation of a real-life intervention’, Safety Science, 48, 2010, pp. 680-686.
  24. Laitinen, H., Rasa, P.-L., Räsänen, T., Lankinen, T., Nykyri, E., ‘ELMERI Observation Method for Predicting the Accident Rate and the Absence Due to Sick Leaves’, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Supplement 1, 1999b, pp. 86-88.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (2013). Finnish Zero Accident Forum. Home page. Retrieved 15 March 2013, from: [21]
  26. Statistics Finland (2013). Enterprises. Retrieved 10 June 2013, from: [22]
  27. Riihimäki, H., Leino-Airas, P., Viikari-Juntura, E, Takala, E.-P., Malmivaara, A., Mutanen, P., Haukka, E., Pehkonen, I, Ketola, R., Hopsu, L., Virtanen, R., Dazie, S., Holtari-Leino, M., Järvinen, T., Lehto, R., Luukkonen, R., Miranda, H., Nyberg, M., Nykyri, E., Nykänen, J., Ojajärvi, A., Ranta, A., Sillanpää, J., Stenholm, S., Syvänen, S., Ergonomiaintervention vaikuttavuus - satunnaistettu kontrolloitu tutkimus. Työsuojelurahaston loppuraportti. (in Finnish), 2008. Available at: [23]
  28. Ala-Laurinaho, A., Heikkilä, H., Piispanen, P., Seppänen, L. ,. Network transformation, knotworking and work related well-being in rail traffic control: Final report of the SUJUT project – supporting smooth collaboration work related well-being and individuals’ choices within the rail traffic control network (summary in English), Liikenneviraston tutkimuksia ja selvityksiä 17, 2012. Available at: [24]
  29. Virta, H., Liisanantti, E., Aaltonen, M., Nolla tapaturmaa –foorumin vaikutukset ja kokemukset. Tutkimusraportti (in Finnish), 2009. Available at: [25]


Links for further reading

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER): Managing safety and health at work, European Risk Observatory Report, 2010. Available at: [26]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), 2012, Available at:[27]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2012-13 – Working together for risk prevention, 2012, Available at: [28]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety in SME’s: strategies for employee information and consultation. The case of Belgium, 2010, Available at: [29]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety at work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, 2010. Available at: [30]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Social dialogue and working conditions, 2011. Available at: [31]

Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Workplace employee representation in Europe, 2012. Available at: [32]

ETUI - European Trade Union Institute, The impact of safety representatives on occupational health. A European perspective. Report 107, 2009. Available at: [33]