This study is about Swedish “safety delegates” (skyddsombud). The main function of a safety delegate (SD) is to represent employees in matters of work environment (health and safety including psychosocial aspects). The legislation concerning SDs is mainly found in the Swedish Work Environment Act (WEA) and in collective
agreements.This study focuses on the Swedish work environment legislation. It has a special focus on the SD’s power to influence the work environment. The SD as a legal institution was founded in 1912 and can be considered to be the first representative of local democracy in the work place. There are approximately 110 000 SDs in Sweden today.
An SD is almost always appointed by a local trade union. At first glance one can get the impression that an SD is just like any other trade union official, but the SD’s role is more complex. One question posed in this study is why is the role of the SDs so complex? In order to answer that question I have used traditional legal method complemented by a historical study. Another question posed in this study is, if the SDs can influence the work environment. In order to answer this question two empirical studies have been carried out. One study covers 200 cases when the SDs used their power to suspend work and another study covers 200 cases when the SDs used their power to request a decision from the Supervising Authority. Altogether 6 000 different factors have been analysed. The cases used in the study had been registered at the Supervision Authority (then called the Labour inspectorate, now called the
Work Environment Authority).
This study finds that the function of an SD is not only to represent the trade union, but also individual employees. Another function is to help the State to promote good work environment and to lessen public health costs. An SD can at the same time be regarded as a helper to the employee in order to promote good work environment. An SD
also has a special function of receiving and sharing information on matters relating to the work environment. My findings from the empirical studies were that that SDs could influence their employer and/or the Supervising Authority in 96 % of cases by using suspension of work and in 92 % of the cases when using requests for a decision from the
Supervising Authority. When comparing the SD’s power to request a decision and their power to suspend work, I found that the power to request was more effective in terms of influence. The SDs used their power many times for preventing matters relating to psychosocial problems such as violence, dissatisfaction with their boss or too great a work load with too little staff. Most of the suspensions of work and requests to the Supervision Authority were used by head or regional SDs. These powers were rarely used by women as women are less often appointed as head or regional SDs.
The position of an SD is strong from a legal point of view with respect to preventing work accidents and injuries. SDs are in the interests of everyone, from employees to employers and the State.