Your responsibility for the work environment

The employer, in practice the most senior management, is responsible for the work environment in the workplace. Senior management rarely has sufficient control over how work is performed in the various parts of the organisation, which is why it allocates the practical work of environment responsibilities to managers who are closer to the operational level.

Although tasks related to the work environment are allocated (delegated) to managers in the organisation, ultimate responsibility for the work environment still lies with senior management.

The employer must ensure that all employees have a good work environment and can perform their jobs without risk of accident or ill health. The basic rules on how work environment management is to be conducted can be found in the provision on systematic work environment management, AFS 2001:1.

Employees’ responsibility

Employees also have a certain degree of responsibility for the work environment. This may involve following instructions and using protective equipment.

The work environment representative’s responsibility

The health and safety representative, also known as the work environment representative, does not have any responsibility for the work environment but must check and collaborate on the work environment on behalf of the employees.

As an employee, you can turn to the work environment representative with questions and suggestions concerning the work environment. This can include both the physical working environment and the organisational and social working environment. The work environment representative can then raise the issue in collaboration with others.

Allocation of work environment tasks to you as a manager

The allocation of work environment tasks can be done verbally or in writing but is also to a certain degree a natural part of the managerial role. If you have ten employees or more, the allocation must be in writing, but we recommend a written allocation regardless of the number of employees. Ensure that you have the necessary skills, authority and resources to perform your work tasks in accordance with the requirements of the Work Environment Act.

A written allocation makes it clear to everyone who is to do what.

The allocation of work environment tasks should include:

  • by whom, and to whom, tasks are delegated
  • a definition of the area of responsibility and activity
  • a description of the work environment tasks assigned
  • the possibility of reallocating tasks to others
  • authority and resources
  • date and signature of manager and subordinate
  • a description of how responsibility for work environment tasks can be returned (see Returning responsibility).

Consequences and liability

If someone suffers ill health or an accident as a result of your failure to perform your work environment duties, in the worst case it could lead to a fine or imprisonment.

It is rarely the act itself that is the reason for the prosecution, but rather the failure to act, that is, that the manager has failed to remedy risks or that they have been negligent. The question of who is legally responsible is determined by several factors designed to establish whether the manager responsible had the practical means to exercise their responsibility. This is solely and ultimately decided by the courts.

Returning of tasks

In principle, work environment tasks are part of your job as a manager, and declining to deal with them means that you cannot fully perform your managerial duties.

If you feel that you are not in a position to perform your work environment duties, you must make this known in writing. This is called ‘returning’, and may occur if you feel, for example:

  • that you do not have the right skills for the work environment task
  • that you have not received training on work environment issues
  • that you do not have the human and financial resources to take on that responsibility
  • that you do not have the necessary autonomy to make your own decisions on work environment issues.

The purpose of returning a task in writing is to correct deficiencies and make the employer aware of the conditions that are lacking for you to be able to perform your work environment duties.

Several employers with responsibility

Responsibility for the work environment can be shared by several employers.

For example, the person who contracts out staff is responsible for long-term work environment management, such as rehabilitation and training, of the staff that are contracted out.

The person who contracts in staff must ensure that the work environment and the equipment available to them do not pose a risk to those working in the workplace, whether they are contracted or employed.

If employees of several employers work in the same workplace, for example on a construction site, special rules apply to the coordination of work environment responsibilities. Find out what applies to your organisation.