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1.11The new regulation on the organisational and social work environment will result in healthier workplaces. The new regulation will enter into force next year in the maritime sector, but the Transport Agency calls on all shipping companies to introduce it now.

After many years of rising sick leave due to stress, victimisation and other social factors, on 31 March the Work Environment Authority launched a new regulation in this area. It is a consolidation and tightening of existing rules that were previously divided into several different areas.

”The new regulation makes these issues much clearer,” says Christina Jonsson, head of unit at the Work Environment Authority. We need to focus more on social ill-health.

Three areas of focus

The regulation addresses three main areas: unhealthy working hours, unhealthy workloads and discrimination. In the past, these types of problem were described as psychosocial. They are now called organisational and social work environment issues. The intention is to encourage holistic thinking and highlight the link between physical problems and work conditions. For example, a cleaner’s painful shoulders may sometimes be due to a strained working position and how the work is organised; maybe there are far too many cabins that need clean bedding in a short period of time. The work with social and organisational issues must be carried out in the same systematic way as in the physical work environment, with identification, risk assessment, measures and monitoring. Many people think it is difficult to attack social work environment problems, but Christina Jonsson believes that it can be relatively easy.

”I think that we should work with objectives, just as we do in other areas. Sit down and discuss how things are at the moment, and how you want them to be in the future. Then draw up an action plan and link different measures to the objective.”

”If you carry out employee surveys, it may be best to link the objectives to them. For example, decide that you want to have the most satisfied staff compared with other, equivalent workplaces and then work on it.

But it is not often that a single team and its manager have the mandate to solve all work environment problems they face. Sometimes approval is needed from a superior manager or the board of directors. For example, there may be too few employees in the group and new staff are needed to create a reasonable work environment. But the new regulation gives strong supporthere, too,” says Christina Jonsson.

Sick leave is expensive

”The negative effects of unhealthy workloads have never been as clear as now. If it isn’t possible to solve a problem locally, it must be taken up higher in the organisation, maybe all the way to the senior management. We must create a sustainable working life, and both politicians and managers are needed to provide the right conditions.”

She is very doubtful about the idea of investments in the work environment being unprofitable.

”Instead we should calculate what an unhealthy work environment costs, with lower productivity and poorer quality. Plus there is the risk of more sick leave and higher staff turnover, which are definitely expensive.

From the maritime sector’s point of view, it will take a year or so before the new regulation takes effect. But Christina Östberg, work environment coordinator at the Swedish Transport Agency, sees no reason to wait with its introduction.

”I urge everyone to start using it straight away,” she says. Take the opportunity to ride on the wave of information about the regulation that the Work Environment Authority is now spreading.

Linda Sundgren

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