A sustainable new working life – Sustainable Work

The structures of the Swedish labour markets are rapidly changing, and challenge current systems to ensure sustainable working conditions. These changes are not monitored sufficiently through current information systems based on surveys and workers’ compensation claims.

The aims of the programme are to:

  1. Assess trends in working conditions throughout the labour market, overall and with stratification to cover heterogeneity associated with e.g. age, gender, and ethnicity
  2. Explore the health impact of working conditions in a life-course perspective, taking the full complexity of multiple exposures into account
  3. Systematically explore the impact of different approaches to governance, from the changes in the institutional framework to soft-law and knowledge alliances.

The proposed programme will establish a comprehensive set of job-exposure matrices (JEM) on various occupational exposures and employment conditions, gender balance and training opportunities linked to data on occupational titles, company size and industry. These data will be matched to a data base including the entire population in Sweden in the LISA-register from 1990 and onwards, and outcomes (health, work participation etc.) from national registers. A series of longitudinal epidemiological studies will be performed of determinants for entry, exit (and re-entry) into work, as well as health-impact assessments of various work environment factors. Finally, the efficiency of different approaches to governance of the work environment will be systematically explored in a series of studies performed in close collaboration with major stakeholders on a local and national level (e.g. social partners, schools, municipalities, and national governing bodies).

The programme is financed by FORTE and is performed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers, involving experts in occupational epidemiology, social epidemiology, law, labour economics, work organization, exposure science, biostatistics, and computer science.

Contact persons

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Maria Albin

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Theo Bodin

Assistant Professor

WP1 - A National Job Exposure Matrix

The overall aim of this work package is to develop a National Job Exposure Matrix and to assess the prevalence and time trends of exposed workers in Sweden with emphasis on employee as well as employer characteristics. The multidimensional Job Exposure Matrix includes physical, chemical, psycho-social as well as precarious employment exposures. The National Job Exposure Matrix is ​​based on measurement reports from Swedish workplaces regarding noise, air pollution and chemicals. The Swedish Labor Force Surveys are used to derive levels of heavy lifting, psychosocial stress and precarious employment conditions. The basis for vibration exposure comes from the vibration database which contains measurements on vibrating tools as well as measurements of whole body vibrations. All of these parts are merged into a multifactorial job exposure matrix. The matrix is ​​then applied on a national register of the working population in Sweden. Prevalence and time trends of the different exposures are evaluated in relation to individual factors such as age, gender and level of education as well as factors relating to companies and industry, such as number of employees or ownership.

The National Job Exposure Matrix will also be a key part in WP2 were these exposures are studied in relation to exit from the labor market.

The National Job Exposure Matrix - SWEJEM

WP2 - Life Course Working Conditions, Health and Work Participation

Work related health problems most often develop over a long period of time. In order to get a fuller picture of how associations between work related exposures and health emerge over time, we need information on work environment and employment contracts collected over time.

A national database with longitudinal design

In this part of the research program we will construct a large national database with longitudinal design for studies of the associations between work and health, and for studies on associations between non-standard employment contracts and health outcomes. Focus will be on risk factors for poor health and labour market exclusion over the whole life span. Exposure to different aspects of the work environment will be classified from job exposure matrices and attributed to the study participants based on information on occupational titles collected in censuses between 1960 and 1990 and on register information collected yearly from 2002 and onwards.

We will investigate how the accumulation of social and individual risk factors affects health outcomes in older workers and its bearing on their exclusion from the labour market from a life course perspective. Another important objective is to investigate the possible interaction between risk factors from different periods in time in producing negative health outcomes among workers over their life courses. We are especially interested in exploring whether interaction between health status and working life exposures can produce worse health problems and/or exclusion from the labour market. The aim is to examine the following associations:

  • The association between amount of negative work load, poor health and risk of early exit from the labour market.
  • The association between changes in exposures over the life course, poor health and exit pathways from the labour market.
  • The association between long and short-term exposure from non-standard employment, poor health and risk of early exit from the labour market.
  • Determinants of labour market establishment and exit among immigrants.

WP3 - The work injury insurance, classification based on predicted risk and public procurement

The work injury insurance

WP3 consists of three parts. The first part deals with the fact that Sweden has a social security system where the work injury insurance is a secondary insurance that complements other social insurance. It is also a compensation system where compensation comes from both social and occupational insurance. This is a complicated system and it leads to underreporting of work injuries and some people missing compensation they are entitled to. We are currently working on an article, where we will present and analyse the complex Swedish system. A second article will compare the compensation schemes in different countries – the Nordic countries and a few other countries. This comparison provides a basis for analyzing how different systems leads to different results in terms of reporting and thus indirectly to prevention. In a third article, the focus will be the situation of foreign-born in terms of work injuries. This study will be done in collaboration with WP2.

New algorithms for classifying companies based on predicted risk

The second part of WP3 deals with the fact that limited resources makes it important that the Swedish Work Authority direct its inspections towards the companies with the highest risk of having a hazardous work environment. This is a common approach worldwide, but the methods to classify companies beforehand based on predicted risk are complicated. The methods used today lack precision and therefore acceptance among inspectors. In this part of WP3, we will explore the possibilities to develop new algorithms for decision support which have a higher accuracy than the currently used inspection index, and that could be used to identify both industries and individual companies with a high risk of work-related ill health and for early detection of so called “emerging threats".

Using labour clauses in public procurement

The third part of WP3 deals with the legal framework for public procurement and the possibilities to use labour clauses in public procurements. The value of the Swedish public procurement is approximately 20 percent of GDP, which make it highly probable that labour clauses in public procurements will have a huge effect on working conditions during the performance of a public contract. The result of the research will be presented in a number of legal scientific articles, the first to be published in 2017, laying the legal ground for the following articles.

WP 4 - Knowledge alliances

Although there are many known health risks connected to work, the use of this knowledge to prevent occupational injuries in occupational training and in working life is insufficient. In this part of “A sustainable new working life”, the aim is to create knowledge alliances between experts/researchers and people working in certain sectors in order to develop more effective ways to improve the work environment and in other ways reduce health risks. We will initiate and evaluate various applications in a municipal setting, in different branches of industry and at vocational high schools.

In one subproject, we evaluate an effort to promote health among employees in a municipality in Stockholm County. The aim of this effort, which through dialogues between managers and employees clarifies the employees' work assignments, is to find successful ways to reduce psychosocial and organizational stress in working life.

In some cases trade associations, employers and trade unions collaborate in work environment improving activities. In one subproject, we will create knowledge alliances with the construction, healthcare/welfare, and hairdresser/stylist branches respectively. The purpose is to analyze, evaluate, further develop and disseminate the experiences and knowledge of successful ways to improve the work environment both within and outside these branches.

Students from vocational high schools often have insufficient knowledge of occupational risks and of how to perform your work in a safe and healthy way. This increases the risk of them getting occupational disorders while still in school or early in their professional life. In one subproject, we will examine how to develop education about work environment matters through knowledge alliances with schools, vocational teachers and internship counsellors to promote healthy work at school, during internship and later in professional life.

Anna Persson