Corridor chats and safety rounds important for work environment management 

Health and safety work on board must take place in accordance with systematic work environment management. The method is easy to use and works just as well for the physical work environment as for social issues, such as stress or bullying.

Systematic work environment management, or SAM as it is usually called in Swedish, is the regulation by the Swedish Work Environment Authority that describes how health and safety work must be carried out. The method has been developed to identify and remedy shortcomings and risks in the work environment before anyone becomes ill or injured. Malin Strömberg is a health and safety expert at the work environment organisation Prevent. She has wide experience of helping companies and organizations to get started with health and safety work. 

“Doing systematic work environment management is neither difficult nor complicated,” she says. “However, it is important that the managers who carry out such work are qualified in the field. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that managers and safety officers are given all the training required.” 

Systematic work environment management is usually illustrated in the form of a wheel with four sections: investigation, risk assessment, remedy and checking. The investigation part can vary from someone noticing a risk in their daily work to shortcomings observed during a safety round or through employee surveys. In cases where a risk cannot be remedied immediately, an action plan must be drawn up containing information on how the problem can be solved and when the action will take place. In the final step there is a check that the action has been carried out and the risk remedied. If not, new measures and checks need to be made. 

“In a company, it is rarely just one SAM wheel that is spinning, but several at the same time. And work environment management is never finished – it’s a constant process. On the other hand, you can complete individual situations,” Malin Strömberg explains. 

We humans are very different in how we see our surroundings and handle relations

While it is often quite clear how to use the SAM wheel for problems in the physical work environment such as high noise levels, slippery floors, oil exposure and so on, it is sometimes thought to be more difficult when it comes to social and organizational factors. According to Malin Strömberg, though, SAM is just as simple and useful for bullying or sexual harassment as it is for heavy lifting. What often complicates such work is more to do with the leadership qualities of individual managers and the employees’ ability to cooperate than with the SAM method itself. 

“We humans are very different in how we see our surroundings and handle relations. Not all managers are socially sensitive and may not notice if someone is feeling unwell. There are other managers who are cowards and hope that problems will disappear by themselves, but they rarely do.”   

If the immediate manager cannot handle a situation or if the manager is the cause of the problems, the issue must be taken up to the next level. 

“In such cases, you have to go to the boss’s boss. Go higher in the organization until you get the help you need,” is Malin Strömberg’s advice. 

The shipping management ashore is responsible for health and safety on board, and that responsibility can never be waived or delegated. However, the daily operation of such work is given to the officers on board for practical reasons and takes place in collaboration with the safety officers. Malin Strömberg says that collaboration is essential for good health and safety work. She recommends regular meetings between ship’s officers and safety officers to improve relations and to drive the work together. The rest of the crew must also be encouraged to take responsibility for their work environment. 

“For smaller details a quick chat may be sufficient – you grab your boss or your safety officer when you see them in the corridor and say that a colleague seems to be down or an emergency exit is blocked. At the next level, there are appraisal talks where we discuss what works well and what needs to be improved.”  

Malin Strömberg also believes that safety officers and managers should set aside half an hour a week to share information and raise issues with each other. It gives payoffs in terms of cooperation and the managers get a good insight into the atmosphere among the personnel. Safety officers are often better informed than managers about relations between staff members, she says.  

“Lastly, we have more formal meetings with safety committees where there is an agenda to follow and minutes are taken. All companies with more than fifty employees must have safety committees – and this number is not just for the colleagues in your own department. But don’t focus too much on specific meeting days; if you have something you need to discuss between two regular safety committee meetings, arrange an extra meeting. And if there is nothing to discuss at a regular meeting, then cancel it.” 

Help, support and training 

The Work Environment Authority
There is a starter pack on the Work Environment Authority website for those who want to get started with systematic work environment management. The starter pack contains a guide with important reminders, a handbook with examples of how to create and document procedures and templates that can be downloaded and filled in. The starter pack is available at av.se. Write “startpaket sam” in the search box and select “arbetsmiljöhandbok”. 

The SAN work environment course 
Last autumn saw the advent of a new work environment course on the SAN website, which gives a basic introduction to systematic work environment management on board. The course is free, open to everyone and can be found at san-nytt.se. 

Prevent
There are many templates, checklists and courses on work environment that you can use free at prevent.se. Prevent is a non-profit organization owned by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, LO and PTK and works to promote health and safety at work. 

Swedish Transport Agency
The Swedish Transport Agency is the inspection authority for health and safety on ships. In August 2019, the authority published a handbook on systematic work environment management in shipping. The handbook is available at transportstyrelsen.se using the search words “vägledning systematiskt arbetsmiljöarbete”. 

How to get started with health and safety work – step by step

Are there no procedures for health and safety checks on board or are they simply not very efficient? Malin Strömberg, project manager at Prevent, explains how to get started with systematic work environment management. 

Knowledge: As a manager or safety officer on board, you need to learn what systematic work environment management is all about and how to implement it. It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure you learn what is needed. Read the directions by the Work Environment Authority on this issue (AFS 2001:1). There are twelve paragraphs with clear explanations that describe systematic work environment management. Courses are always good for improving your knowledge and you can find free webinars and other material at Prevent and the Work Environment Authority on this subject.  

Assign roles: Consider who is responsible for running work environment management on board, who needs to be involved and who should do what. This is very important. Without a clear division of roles, work environment management will not be effective. If there are more than ten employees in the organization in question, the division of tasks must be documented in writing.  

Create routines: It is important that there are clear routines for the work on board, so that everyone knows how things should be done and who does them. In work environment management, for example, routines are needed for incident reporting, first aid, threats and violence, bullying and harassment, rehabilitation and other related issues. 

Collaborate: Work environment management must be carried out collaboratively, involving ship’s officers and safety officers. Create forums where you can meet regularly and take up work environment problems. Meeting for half an hour each week means that you get to know each other better and you can understand each other’s roles better. Encourage the rest of the crew to be observant of health and safety issues and report any shortcomings. 

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