Time to act for occupational safety
An important part of Finnish working life are the occupational health and safety representatives – työsuojeluvaltuutettu in Finnish. These are people who are elected to represent the employees in matters concerning health and safety issues at the working place.
Cooperation on occupational health and safety (OHS) is based on law and written into the agreements between labour market organisations.
At workplaces with at least 10 regular employees, an OHS representative and two deputies must be elected. Att workplaces with at least 20 employees, OHS committees must also be established.
All these representatives are elected by a ballot. Everyone, who is employed on the date of the elections, has the right to vote. This also covers part-time and fixed-term employees and employees who have been temporarily laid off or who are on parental leave.
Any employee can also stand as a candidate. Detailed time limits for all the rules concerning elections are announced at the workplace. There must be at least seven days time to nominate the candidates.
In most workplaces, the elections take place in November or December. People elected usually serve a two-year term.
It is possible that salaried employees (white collar workers), covered by the collective agreement for salaried employees, will elect their own OHS representative and other employees (blue collar workers) their own.
At workplaces with at least 10 regular employees, an OHS representative and two deputies must be elected.
Employers have a duty to facilitate the elections. They shall distribute information, provide premises for carrying out the election and organise the elections together with their employees. Local Union branches are usually active in this regard.
In many cases no ballot is needed, as there is only one candidate for each task. This is called a consensus election and the election committee shall confirm the result.
Health and safety at work is a top priority. The task of the OHS representative is an important one.
This person must familiarise himself/herself with and monitor matters concerning the safety and health of employees, know OHS provisions and report any shortcomings and deficiencies detected to the management. Help from all employees is of vital importance.
When performing his or her duties, the OHS representative has the right to get relevant information from the employer and during this time be exempt from his or her regular tasks.
The OHS representative has the right to suspend any work that involves immediate and serious danger. This must be reported without delay to the employer.
Like shop stewards, OHS representatives have strong protection against dismissal. Defending workers and their rights should not lead to problems for those working for the good of everyone.
TEXT HEIKKI JOKINEN