Norwegian 101: Health, Safety, and Environment (Helse, sikkerhet og miljø)

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

The Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority (Arbeidstilsynet) created the Working Environment Act (Arbeidsmiljøloven) in 1977 to protect (å beskytte) the health (helse) of employees in a variety of work settings in Norway. The Act (loven) applies to (gjelder for) all land-based operations (landbaserte næringer) who have employees, and not only provides rules (regler) which attempt to prevent hazardous (farlig) and strenuous (hard) work but also gives employees the right to influence (rett til å påvirke) their own working situation. Therefore, all workplaces are required (pliktig) to have an elected safety representative (et valgt verneombud). If there are fewer than (dersom det er mindre enn) 10 employees, they can have a written agreement between the leader of the company (bedriftsleder) and the all the employees (alle ansatte) stating that they will not have a safety representative for the next two years; elections (valg) or written agreements (skriftlige avtaler) are re-negotiated every two years. When a company has over 50 employees, they must have a special work environment committee (arbeidsmiljøutvalg).

One element of creating a safe working environment (et trygt arbeids­miljø) is risk assessment (risikovurdering) as a means of preventing body strain (belastningslidelser), injuries (skader), and accidents (uhell). Possible hazards (mulige farer) or situations (situasjoner) that might be evaluated are risks involving chemicals (kjemikalier), sound (lyd), dust (støv), radiation (stråling), and machines (maskiner), as well as interactions with fellow employees (andre ansatte) and customers (kunder). So, for example, if you are working with noise (støy), you have the right to have a hearing test (hørselstest); if working with dust you have the right to have a lung test (lungefunksjonstest); or in a day care (barnehage) with small children, you are entitled to a vacation (just kidding). Employers are also required to provide training (opplæring) when necessary (når det er nødvendig) to insure (for å sikre) a safer working environment.

At workplaces where toxic (giftige) or hazardous (farlige) substances are used or produced, it is particularly important (er det spesielt viktig) that employers and employees are both familiar with (kjent med) the safety regulations (sikkerhetsbestemmelsene) and that they comply (følger) with them. Therefore certain types of businesses such as garages (bilverksteder), day cares, and those in the mechanical industry (mekanisk industri) are required to use occupational health services (bedriftshelsetjeneste / BHT). A BHT can be staffed by nurses (sykepleiere), doctors (leger), occupational hygienists (yrkeshygieniker), and physiotherapists (fysioterapeuter) or occupational therapists (ergoterapeuter), and acts as an advisor (rådgiver) to its member businesses (medlemsbedrifter). It is, however, the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority that determines (som avgjør) if a business is following the letter of the law (lovens bokstav). Failure to do so (unnlatelse av å gjøre dette) can result in orders (ordre) to correct the situation within a given time limit (innen en gitt frist), fines (bøter), shutdown of operations (nedleggelse) or police action (politiaksjon).

My husband, Morten Håvan, has been working as an occupational hygienist (yrkeshygieniker) for Inneherred HMS, a BHT, for over 17 years, so I asked him how things have changed (hvordan ting har endret seg). “There is a greater focus (større fokus) on efficiency (på effektivitet) and profit (lønnsomhet) in businesses (i bedrifter) and in general,” he comments. “That can mean that the stress level (stressnivået) for employees increases (øker) and so more things can affect health (så flere ting kan påvirke helse), resulting in a greater need (større behov) for occupational health services (bedriftshelsetjenester).” I asked him what he thought employers could do for overall employee health (generell ansattes helse): “Have a BHT (bedriftshelsetjeneste), and we will guide them (veilede dem).”

Further information in English:
• The Working Environment Act: www.arbeidstilsynet.no/artikkel.html?tid=79289

• The Working Environment Act booklet (2002): www.arbeidstilsynet.no/binfil/download2.php?tid=97753

• Site specifically geared towards foreign workers in Norway: www.arbeidstilsynet.no/fakta.html?tid=240098

• The Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority: www.cite.gov.pt/asstscite/downloads/noruega/Labour_authority_Norway.pdf

• The Working Environment Guide (interactive): www.arbeidstilsynet.no/workingenvironmentguide/

This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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