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Evaluation of A Work Environment Strategy for the Modern Working Life 2016-2020 (2020:4)

In several respects, the strategy has strengthened the implementation of the work environment policy

The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has been assigned the task of evaluating the Swedish Government's Work Environment Strategy for the Modern Working Life 2016-2020 as a policy instrument. Included in the evaluation is an analysis of the extent to which the design of the strategy and the commission which has been provided in conjunction with it provide the prerequisites for achieving the strategy's objectives and the overall objective of the work environment policy.

Statskontoret is of the opinion that the current work environment strategy has, in several respects, strengthened the Swedish Government's implementation of the work environment policy.

The assignments are essentially clear

A majority of the measures consist of assignments from the Swedish Government with clear descriptions of who should do what, and when. All assignments in the work environment strategy also have specific requirements for how and when the assignments are to be reported back. The social partner organisations are of the view that generally the strategy's three priorities are relevant and correspond to the prevailing challenges. Many believe that the priorities remain relevant even for the upcoming strategy period.

The social partner organisations have been involved via a forum for dialogue

The Swedish Government has set up a forum for dialogue for consultation with the social partner organisations, in order to involve them in implementing the strategy. The Swedish Government also met with the social partner organisations for preliminary talks prior to the strategy being developed.

The parties are unanimously positive about the dialogue forum. Statskontoret is of the opinion that the preconditions for being able to utilise the parties' knowledge and experience have increased via the dialogue forums. Among other things, the parties were given the opportunity to contribute to the formulation of the supplementary assignments initiated by the Swedish Government after the mid-term reconciliation of the strategy.

The cooperative efforts between public authorities have increased

Statskontoret is of the opinion that the strategy has contributed to increased cooperative efforts between public authorities, primarily via the assignments that link to situations of unhealthy competition where companies deliberately violate the health and safety work environment regulations for purpose of gaining a competitive advantage. Since 2016, several public authorities have participated in five regional authorities' joint collaborative teams. The collaboration teams have conducted several joint inspection initiatives, including in the construction industry and transport and haulage industry. One of the conclusions of the initiatives is that cheating, violations of rules, and criminality in the workplace are a common occurrence, and that the cooperative efforts among governmental agencies is therefore of significant importance*.

* Progress report for the public authorities' joint work against cheating, violations of rules other criminality in the workplace, p. 29

There is room for improvement

Despite the advantages of the current approach which we reported on above, we can conclude that there is some room for improvement for the upcoming strategy period.

In some parts, the governance of the Swedish Work Environment Authority has been too detail-oriented

The Swedish Work Environment Authority has been given primary responsibility for implementing the tasks decided upon by the Swedish Government with connection to the work environment strategy. Our investigation shows that the Swedish Work Environment Authority has experienced the assignments as relatively detailed and that they thus have partially limited the public authority's scope for action. As a result, the Work Environment Authority has not been able to put expertise to full use to solve the challenges that the work environment strategy describes. Statskontoret is of the opinion that the Swedish Government could have made better use of the Swedish Work Environment Authority's expertise in this area if the public authority had more room to influence the design of the assignments.

The objectives of the strategy has not been further clarified

The strategy's objectives are formulated at an overall level and have not been specified in more detail, for example by what results are to be achieved and when they should be implemented. There are also no specific targets or goals for the strategy's prioritised areas. Certainly the Zero Vision policy that aims to reduce the number of fatal accidents at work to zero and prevent accidents at work is considered as a goal in and itself, however it is not further clarified than that, and nor has a timeframe been established. All in all, the absence of concrete goals means that it becomes more all the more difficult for the strategy to function as the guidance for the work environment efforts that the Swedish Government has intended.

Statskontoret is of the view that in an upcoming strategy action plans should be linked to the long-term direction of the strategy, in order to specify how the established goals can be progressively achieved.

The Zero Vision policy has been assigned the highest priority

The area that has been assigned the highest priority, primarily in terms of financial resources but also in terms of political initiatives, is the Zero Vision Against Fatal Accidents at work and the prevention of accidents at work. Several of the parties point out that it is primarily male-dominated industries that are affected by fatal accidents and work-related accidents. Therefore female-dominated industries with other types of work environment problems, often with more long-term harmful effects, run the risk of being sidelined.

The priority areas Sustainable Working Life and Psychosocial Work Environment capture important challenges in the work environment area, however at the same time they are too broad to constitute any substantial guidance concerning how work environment efforts should be oriented.

The forum for dialogue can be further developed

Statskontoret is of the view that relevant parties have been involved in developing and implementing the strategy. The Swedish Government has consulted with the social partner organisations in a dialogue forum. The parties consistently convey positive reviews of the Swedish Government's initiative to establish a dialogue forum. However, Statskontoret is of the opinion that there is a real possibility to make even better use of the knowledge and experience of both the social partner organisations and the public authorities.

Among the social partner organisations, there is a desire that the meetings in the dialogue forum should be more action-oriented and focus on what has been achieved so far and consider if further measures are needed. The documentation and transparency between the meetings can also be improved.

The rules concerning confidentiality complicates matters and impedes the cooperation among public authorities

Statskontoret notes that although the strategy has contributed to increased collaborative efforts between public authorities, there are obstacles to effective collaboration. This is due to that there are privacy and confidentiality rules that impede the exchange of information between public authorities. The public authorities' progress report 2019 from the commission of countering cheating, rule violations and criminality in the working life shows that there are legal restrictions for compiling data from various public authorities and for being able to make selections in prioritised risk environments. Therefore, changes in rules would be needed in order to facilitate increased collaboration between public authorities*.

* Progress report for the public authorities' joint work against cheating, violations of rules other criminality in the workplace, p. 14

There are deficiencies in the monitoring of the strategy

The Swedish Government has not carried out a comprehensive follow-up with the aim of examining how the efforts concerning the strategy has contributed to the goals established for this. Several of the indicators used by the Swedish Government in the Budget Bill to annually present the state of the work within the working environment area can be linked to the three priority areas and assignments in the strategy. However, there is no overall assessment in the Budget Bill of the work on the strategy linked to the indicators.

The mid-term review conducted by the Government Offices in 2018 has not been documented in writing, which is why it has been difficult for Statskontoret to assess its outcome. The social partner organisations perceived that relatively little time was spent discussing how far they had reached in relation to the goals and what remains to be done.

Statskontoret's recommendations

In its work to develop a new strategy, Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Government:

  • delimits, concretises and formulates clear objectives for the prioritised areas
  • combines a comprehensive overall strategic orientation with concrete plans for action
  • establishes a systematic monitoring and follow-up to the strategy
  • governs the public authorities in a more trust-based manner
  • creates good preconditions for the public authorities to carry out the assignments they receive linked to the strategy
  • reviews and further develops the working methods in dialogue forums
  • removes barriers to effective collaborative efforts between public authorities
  • improves the coordination of work environment issues between the various policy areas.