Nordics: Employers' work environment duties

By Riikka Heinonen, Simon Soderholm, Pia Skovgaard Hansen


Work environment responsibility

In Finland, Denmark and Sweden, the employer is responsible for their employees' work environment. Occupational health and safety covers a wide range of areas, from the actual safety of the working conditions to the terms of employments and the employees' mental wellbeing at work. Measures must be taken, and assessed continuously, to prevent the risk of work accidents and work-related ill-health.

What is the responsibility with respect to agency workers?

Occupational health and safety has been in EU-wide spotlight, particularly with respect to agency workers, since use of agency workers has increased rapidly in the last decade.

The duty to ensure the occupational health and safety of agency workers is shared between the temporary-work agency – the employer of the agency worker – and the so-called user company. However, the user companies, as well as the temporary-work agencies, seem to be somewhat unaware of their shared obligation and the contents of it when it comes to the occupational health and safety of such employees, as the recently published report (in Finnish: Työturvallisuus vuokratyössä EU-hanke 2018, Loppuraportti) by the Finnish Occupational Safety Administration showcases.

According to the report, in Finland the main issue seems to relate to the lack of awareness concerning the user company's duty to provide information to the temporary-work agency. The user company must keep the temporary-work agency informed of all relevant circumstances relating to the workplace to enable the agency to fulfil its own duties in regard to the occupational health and safety of the agency workers. Corresponding requirements also apply in Denmark and Sweden.

Guidance can be helpful

Since ensuring the occupational health and safety at the workplace is each employer's statutory duty, the relevant measures undertaken should be considered carefully. The use of agency workers adds additional obligations which we have only been able to scratch the surface of in this article.

All correspondence with the supervisory authority and preparation for an audit by the supervisory authority should be well-considered. If the employer is not compliant with its work environment obligations, it may have fines imposed, among other potential consequences. In order to understand and ensure compliance with the obligations related to occupational health and safety – which is expressed in a somewhat unclear way in the legislation – legal assistance is something to consider. Bird & Bird's experts are at your disposal.