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Knowledge and efforts needed for a better work environment

| By Berit Kvam

We all want a working life we can live with. How do you achieve that? We have asked people in workplaces which have won awards for good work environments, experts and others who are serious about the work environment: what is needed to create change for the better?

Not long ago skeletomuscular strain was the greatest threat to a healthy working life. Now psychosocial problems have taken over. Yet we still struggle with injuries and accidents in more traditional workplaces. Different generations of work environment problems exist side-by-side, while new ones emerge. 

Nano technology is a new threat. An increasing number of people are exposed to nano particles at work. The scope of the threat remains unknown. That's why experts say the greatest risk is ignorance about the materials we handle and how we handle them. The Nordic Institute for Advanced Training in Occupational Health has been at the forefront of doing something about this, by organising courses in nano safety since 2010.

Regardless of the challenges facing our work environments, change for the better is possible. Just look at the award-winning examples from Denmark and Sweden in this month’s theme. 

Young people are most at risk in the labour market and suffer more accidents and injuries. “I follow safety instructions,” says Mathias Schou Sørensen. He works for the supermarket chain Netto which has focused on community, training and feedback in order to improve the psychological work environment. The chain is now nominated for the 2014 Danish Work Environment Award.

Workers at the Karlstad Hospital in Sweden tell us about how they transformed ward number 6 to embrace patient-focused care, which also resulted in an improved and more innovative work environment. They recently received a major award for their transformative work. 

Nothing happens by itself, says Eva Vingård, Professor Emerita at the Uppsala University. She has identified thirteen factors which contribute to a healthier workplace. Key among them is good leadership, fairness and good communication. 

Eva Vingård thinks the interest in preventive work environment efforts is growing, and believes the main reason is the fact that psychosocial issues now represent our largest work environment problem. Psychosocial problems are easier to prevent than to fix at a later stage. That is good to know when the latest Eurofound research shows one in four workers have psychosocial problems. 

What is needed? Knowledge and cooperation, but most importantly a systematic effort to make a changing work environment become better.


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