Are investments in work environment financially profitable? Cecilia Österman, a postgraduate student, will answer that question in a newly started research project.
Background: Marine engineer with ten years at sea, work environment inspector at the Swedish Work Environment Authority, work environment engineer at Muskö Naval Dockyard, writer for Svensk Sjöfarts Tidning (Scandinavian Shipping Gazette).
Current commission: Post graduate student at the Institute of Shipping and Marine Technology at Chalmers Institute of Technology in Göteborg. Since December last year she has also assisted on the board at SAN.
Work environment is important because: A good work environment is the first condition for us to be able to do a good job. We must be given the right tools to work with, and that includes tools in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. Machines that work well and satisfactory equipment are important, but we must also be equipped with the right competence to match our tasks at work.
After 10 years at sea, working in shipyards and at the Swedish Work Environment Authority, the marine engineer Cecilia Österman has been given a postgraduate appointment.
At the Institute for Shipping and Marine Technology at Chalmers in Göteborg she will now be able to combine two of her great interests – shipping and work environment.
– Shipping is a fantastic industry, dynamic and international, and work environment issues are so extremely important. It will really be exciting to look at these issues in detail, she says.
She has to a large extent been able to decide on the subject of research herself: to study a possible correlation between investments made in work environment and companies’ profitability. She chose the area on the basis of her many years of experience in work environment, both in the shipping industry and land based companies.
– Work environment tends to be a bit of a side issue. Companies focus on profitability and production, which is quite understandable, and for this reason it is also important to raise work environment issues to that level, she says.
First study in the area
Nobody has previously examined the relationship between work environment and profitability in the shipping industry in the way that Cecilia Österman intends to do, although there have been a number of similar studies in land based companies.
Her favourite example is from the SSAB steelworks in Luleå. The physical work environment there was absolutely appalling.
Next to the smelting furnaces it was incredibly hot, while at the same time there was an icy draft from the open doors. The work was heavy and dirty, and many people were off sick. The company decided to invest 11 million kronor in making improvements to the work environment, an investment that was then followed up by a researcher over a period of three years.
– People stopped taking time off sick and suddenly we had a labour surplus of 20%. Downtime was reduced and we did not have a single major breakdown. In just over two years the investment broke even and after that time the company made direct savings of 5 million kronor per year. What was seen as only a cost by the company management was in fact a very profitable investment.
Cecilia Österman hopes that she will soon have such a good example to illustrate from the shipping industry. She is convinced that there is a correlation between work environment investments and increases in profits.
– As far as I’m concerned, there is a clear connection. I hope to be able to prove that to others.
Sound background in shipping
Cecilia was born in Stockholm and has a sound background in the areas of shipping and work environment. Her father was in the Navy and she became the first high school trainee ever on a Swedish naval vessel. She enjoyed life at sea so much that she decided to drop out of a four-year technical programme to start on a service and maintenance programme instead. She did her practical exercises on the Rosa Blanca and after that trip she was convinced that she had found the right business to work in.
– We sailed to countries such as Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, and we had quite a lot of time in the harbours. I learned lots and met many fantastic and knowledgeable people. When we came back to Göteborg after four months I hardly wanted to go ashore, she says.
Work environment fascinated her
After some years at sea she went on to study to be a marine engineer in Göteborg and then worked in different shipping companies before she decided to do something different.
– A work environment engineer had been onboard and held a course for us on asbestos. I thought it seemed really interesting so I decided to study to be a work environment engineer.
Her wide experience from the time as a work environment engineer and later as a work environment inspector with the Swedish Work Environment Authority, in combination with her years at sea, will come in very useful for her newly started research. Her doctoral dissertation will be completed within five years.