The Swedish Work Environment Act requires that the employer take actions necessary to secure a safe and healthy work environment, including physical, social, psychological, organizational, and technical factors, and that the employer and employees should collaborate to achieve a satisfactory work environment (SFS, 1977). It is mandatory for the employer to manage the work environment in a systematic manner (AFS, 2001). Noteworthy, however, is that not more than 53% of the Swedish working population states that there is an ongoing systematic work environment management at their workplaces (Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2008). Systematic work environment management includes regular investigations of working conditions, risk assessments, sickness and accident prevention, yearly follow-ups, routines, and work environment policy, with the goal of achieving a satisfactory work environment. These tasks are often allocated between employees (e.g., human relations personnel, safety delegates); still, the employer always retains the final legal responsibility for the work environment (AFS, 2001). This article addresses the professional roles of managers and safety delegates in work environment management, and examines their perceptions of the extent to which different work environment factors are being attended to in small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies.
The motivation for this study began after realizing that our own experiences of different workplaces indicate that managers and safety delegates feel differently about the safety and work environment at their companies. Such anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that there are perceptual differences between the two professional roles. The Swedish Work Environment Authority (2003; 2008) has data that indicate that the two groups hold opposing views about the prioritization of the work environment at their companies. We considered there to be a gap in the scientific literature about potential differences between professional roles and perceptions about occupational health and safety (OHS) and work environment management, and overall in studies examining to what extent the work environment gets prioritized. Methodologically, we wanted respondents to comment on the prioritization of many work environment factors, in contrast to the survey from The Swedish Work Environment Authority (2008), in which managers and safety delegates considered the existence of systematic work environment management by the prevalence of risk assessments, documentation, execution of adjustments, and action plans. In this study we also wanted respondents from the same company, so that it would be possible to perform pairwise, intracompany comparisons with manager and safety delegates, and not only carry out a general comparison of the two groups from several companies.
To clarify, this article addresses perceptions of work environment management according to two professional roles, manager and safety delegate. We aim not to establish what prioritization of the work environment is desirable, but to elucidate how well respondents perceive their own company in meeting OHS demands in work environment management.
What is known about companies' prioritizations of the work environment? Managers experience something that Duijm, Fiévez, Gerbec, Hauptmanns, and Konstandinidou (2008) call a “conflict of priorities,” because they (of course) handle many tasks other than just the work environment, and this conflict is more likely found in smaller companies. The manager is often the sole person looking after work environment activities, due to a small company's two-level organizational structure, consisting of the manager and the employees (Antonsson, Birgersdotter, & Bornberger-Dankvardt, 2002). Company owners typically consider production as the most important commitment, which therefore has a higher priority than does the work environment (Duijm et al., 2008; Fredriksson, Bildt, Hägg, & Kilbom, 2001; Håkansson & Isidorsson, 2006; Karltun, 2004). Managing safety and environment has been described as a constraint by managers, and not as a main objective (Håkansson & Isidorsson, 2006). For small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the number one priority is daily survival, to keep on being functioning and profitable (Friedmann, Miles, & Adams, 2000; McKevier & Gadenne, 2005). In cases where companies are motivated to promote the work environment to improve health and safety, they often do not associate such attendance with business performance (Dul & Neumann, 2009). Generally, for a company to prioritize its work environment management, there need to be apparent and detectable effects in the work environment from the efforts taken (Eklund et al., 2007). It is true that it is the perceived advantages for companies that are essential to the decision making regarding priorities (Rosén et al., 2007). One lesser-known advantage of maintaining a good work environment is its role as an attractive incentive for potential employees, which of course also is an important consideration when recruiting new staff (Åteg et al., 2009).
The safety delegate represents the employees regarding safety and work environment matters and should have particular insight into implementation of safety culture and a satisfactory work environment. Safety delegates are normally appointed by the local trade union organization (SFS, 1977) and, through tasks and training courses in assessing the work environment, they have knowledge of the concrete handling of OHS in the organization. Managers and safety delegates have different roles at work, but are still linked in cooperation when managing the work environment. In the biannual work environment surveys from Statistics Sweden and The Swedish Work Environment Authority, safety delegates and members of safety committees rate systematic work environment management higher than managers do, in terms of the prevalence of risk assessments, documentation, execution of adjustments, and action plans. This is true for the investigated years 2007, 2005, and 2003, except for the execution of adjustments in 2003, when employers rated the prevalence higher (Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2004; 2006; 2008). In 2002, employers and safety delegates differed in their opinions about whether the management of their organizations had a strong interest in work environment activities; 80% of the employers, and 60% of the safety delegates, agreed that they had (Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2003). This finding means that available information so far indicates no uniform agreement between the two professional roles regarding the work environment.
There are data showing trends in perception for the years 2003 to 2007 when the working population was asked about the presence of systematic work environment management in Swedish organizations, with 49% in 2003, 52% in 2005, and 53% in 2007 stating that there was systematic work environment management at their workplaces. Moreover, the frequency of risk assessments, documentation, execution of adjustments, and action plans have also increased over the years 2003 to 2007, according to both safety delegates and employers (Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2004; 2006; 2008). In 2002, both safety delegates and employers responded that the work environment at their workplaces had become better, when thinking back to some years before, with 50% of the safety delegates and 60% of the employers believing it had improved (Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2003). This study also examines the perceptions of prioritizations now, compared with one year earlier. Asking about one year earlier is done to investigate whether there is a time trend in how the respondents perceive the prioritizations.
Companies have overlying objectives, in addition to fulfilling the legal commitments regarding the work environment. The “conflict of priorities” (Duijm et al., 2008) affects the management of the company at every level, and different interests compete for the most attention, as stated earlier in text. Given that companies set priorities, one interest of this study is also to learn more about how rankings of company interests might appear. For instance, how would interests like branding or profitability be prioritized within a company?
The aim of this study is to investigate the attention and priority that work environment factors receive within companies, as perceived by managers and safety delegates at SMEs. The study focuses on three questions: 1) Are there differences between managers' and safety delegates' perceptions of how they rate prioritization of work environment factors? 2) Do managers and safety delegates perceive the company's current prioritization of the work environment to be similar to its prioritization one year earlier? 3) Which areas of company interest do managers and safety delegates, respectively, rank as most important?
MATERIALS AND METHODS
A questionnaire (see Appendix) developed by authors was distributed by post to 420 individuals, one manager and one safety delegate in each of the selected 210 manufacturing companies in a county in central Sweden. Respondents rated different work environment factors according to their perceptions of the factors' priorities at the companies where they worked.
The sample was selected from a self-service credit-reporting bureau database (www.uc.se, 2008). Eligible companies were manufacturing companies in a county in central Sweden, based on the Swedish industry branch classification (SNI) from Statistics Sweden (in turn based on the European Union classification, NACE). Manufacturing companies employ the majority of the workforce in the study group county (www.uc.se, 2008). The second inclusion criterion was companies employing 10 to 249 people, which is the European Union standard for SMEs (Commission of the European Communities, 2003). SMEs make up 99% of all companies in the European Union and employ more than two-thirds of the total workforce (European Network for Workplace Health Promotion [ENWHP], 2001). All companies that fulfilled the criteria (n = 210) were included in the sample. The managers who participated in this study were either the executive manager or the personnel manager of the company. The safety delegates in this study were employees who had been appointed to the position by their peers, holding it alone or as one of several other safety delegates at the company.
Table 1 describes the characteristics of the study group. Of the sample of 420 respondents, 249 (59%) answered the questionnaire, representing 142 (68%) of the 210 companies in the sample. The gender distribution was approximately 80% men and 20% women. Approximately 50% of the study group were 36 to 50 years old. Approximately two-thirds of the companies in the study group were small-sized companies (10–49 employees), and one-third were medium-sized companies (50–249 employees). Respondents included 125 managers and 124 safety delegates.
Table 1. Characteristics of the Study Group (n = 249)
The development of the questionnaire went through several stages. An initial inventory of existing questionnaires that potentially could have been used to answer the study questions gave no satisfactory match. Appropriate thematic items from these questionnaires were selected to a list. To these we added recurrent items from scientific literature and legislation concerning work environment and its managing, which gave us a list of approximately 130 different items. After sorting and narrowing down the number of items with a mind-mapping approach, it was possible to select and form 43 questions relevant to this study. The first 42 questions were chosen to include different aspects of seven work environmental themes so that each theme was indexed by six questions. The classification into seven themes derived from an extensive literature search in scientific reference databases, gray literature, and legislation on work environment. The seven themes were 1) physical working conditions, 2) psychosocial working conditions, 3) organizational improvements, 4) work environment routines, 5) communication and interaction, 6) management, and 7) health and prevention. To test reliability for the indexes, a Cronbach's alpha measurement was conducted, and all indexes scored >0.7, ranging from 0.777 to 0.912.
In addition to some demographic data (gender, age, job title), the final questionnaire (see Appendix) consisted of two parts. In one of the parts the respondents were to rate the 42 questions described earlier on a horizontal visual analogue scale (VAS) by marking an X to indicate current conditions and a vertical bar for conditions one year earlier. The VAS was without any dividers. The VAS was chosen as it is considered to be easy and quick for respondents to fill out (Torrance, Feeny, & Furlong, 2001). The 42 questions had an overall initial phrase (“To what extent does your company…”) followed by a second part (e.g., “… strive for gender equality?” or “… strive to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders?”). The two endpoints of the scale were titled no priority whatsoever (left side) and highest possible priority (right side). To perform the analyses, the VAS was later divided into ten equidistant parts, and the markings were transformed into numbers ranging from 1 to 10.
In the other part of the questionnaire, the respondents were asked to rank six common areas of interest for companies, and one optional write-in entry, by numbering the items 1 to 7, according to the priority they perceived their companies to give each area. The company interests were 1) physical work environment, 2) branding, 3) psychosocial work environment, 4) profitability, 5) economic goals (other than profitability), 6) environmental work, and 7) a blank line giving the option to add a seventh area.
The questionnaire was tested in a pilot for face validity, and adjustments were made before sending it to the respondents because the questionnaire had not been used in any previous research.
Data collection was performed during December 2008 and March 2009. A written reminder was sent after seven weeks, followed by telephone calls and a second written reminder. During the telephone reminders to the companies, we took notes to record the most frequently stated reasons for declining to participate in the study. They were (in descending order) 1) there is no time; 2) there is no time since the world economic recession has affected us; 3) we always get way too many questionnaires; and 4) we simply do not want to. In a nonresponse analysis, the nonrespondents were ascertained to be proportionally distributed among the ten different municipalities in the county, as well as among four different divisions in company size (10–19, 20–49, 50–99, or 100–249 employees). Thus, we regard the sample as being representative of manufacturing SMEs in the studied county.
Statistics and Analyses
The data were analyzed using SPSS 18.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL). The nonparametric Kruskal–Wallis test was conducted to test equality of medians in the seven indexes of work environment among the cohorts of persons in different roles (managers vs. safety delegates) and gender. Significance level was set to 0.05. Analysis of variance testing was done to verify results from the Kruskal–Wallis test. Chi-square tests and Student T tests were conducted to compare means for two groups of cases, for example, between current ratings and one year earlier, and between managers and safety delegates. The Mann–Whitney U test was used to test the two cohorts, managers and safety delegates, on the ranking priority variable.
Normal distribution was verified by a Kolmogorov–Smirnov test. The Wilcoxon signed rank test was used to make pairwise comparisons of the mean, as set by VAS, among the related cohorts, managers and safety delegates, working at the same company. The median and mean scores of the questionnaire are called VAS-score in the Results section.
Managers' and Safety Delegates' Perceptions of Work Environment Prioritization
Of the 249 participants in this study, there were 106 pairs of one manager and one safety delegate from the same company. Pairwise, intracompany comparisons with managers' and safety delegates' VAS scores showed that managers rated all indexes significantly higher (p = <0.05, Wilcoxon). Also, when comparing both groups with all respondents, without dividing them into pairs of the same company, managers rated all indexes significantly higher (p = <0.05, Kruskal–Wallis), as shown in Figure 1. The managers considered the work environment to be prioritized higher overall than did the safety delegates, which also shows that the safety delegates' and managers' ratings were more like the ratings of their counterparts at other companies than like those of their correspondent at their own companies.
The index with the highest VAS-score for managers was communication and interaction. That was also the index in which the two groups had the greatest VAS score differences in their ratings. Work environment routines was the highest-rated index among the safety delegates. Organizational improvements got the lowest ratings from both groups.
Perceptions About Work Environment Prioritization Currently and One Year Earlier
Comparisons of all respondents with current and one-year retrospective ratings of the work environment indexes as two separate groups (current included 249 ratings, and one-year retrospective included 195 ratings, because of missing data) showed that all the indexes had significantly higher VAS scores for the current status than for one year earlier (p = < 0.05, Kruskal–Wallis), as shown in Figure 2. This applied to both the group of managers and the safety delegate group, and suggests that they considered the work environment to get more priority currently than it did one year earlier at the company at which they work. For both currently and one year earlier, the index communication and interaction got the highest VAS score ratings. The lowest VAS score–rated index was organizational improvements, currently, as well as one year earlier.
Comparing men and women, no significant differences were found regarding priorities and perceptions of the different work environment indexes or how work environment priorities were perceived currently versus one year earlier.
Rankings of the Areas of Company Interests
Of the various areas of company interest, profitability showed to be the most prioritized objective of the companies, according to the majority of respondents. The median rank score and the total rank score (all rankings summarized, where a lower figure means greater prioritization) for managers and safety delegates are presented in Table 2. For managers, profitability was followed by physical work environment, psychosocial work environment, environmental work, economic goals (other than profitability), and branding. For safety delegates, profitability was followed by physical work environment, branding, economic goals (other than profitability), environmental work, and psychosocial work environment. Table 3 shows how often each area of company interest was ranked as the number one priority, presented as a percentage. Profitability was ranked by 54% of the managers as the number one priority, whereas 66% of the safety delegates ranked it as the number one priority at their companies.
Table 2. Rankings of the Areas of Company Interest
Missing data for three managers and two safety delegates.
Physical work environment
Psychosocial work environment
Economic goals other than profitability
Thirty of the respondents used the blank line on the ranking question for other things and wrote most commonly (in descending order): product quality, well-being at the workplace, and customers (customer contact and development). It was a little more common for managers than for safety delegates to write in well-being at the workplace.
There were significant differences between managers and safety delegates on physical work environment and on psychosocial work environment (Table 2), with managers ranking both indexes higher than safety delegates did (p = <0.05, Mann–Whitney). Also, both managers and safety delegates perceived psychosocial work environment to be less of a priority than physical work environment.
Of the 42 different VAS questions used in this study concerning the work environment, the three highest-rated and the three lowest-rated questions, taking both groups together, are presented in Table 4, with both median and mean VAS scores. The single question that received the highest mean rating was the prevention of risk and accidents, whereas leadership development received the lowest mean ratings.
Table 4. Three highest and three lowest current rated questions, by both managers and safety delegates (n = 249)
To what extent does your company…
… work toward risk and accident prevention?
… provide employees with both positive and negative feedback?
… have open communication and dialogue?
To what extent does your company…
… engage in dialogue-style performance review?
… support work-life balance?
… engage in leadership development?
This study surveyed the perceptions of managers and safety delegates at small- and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises regarding the prioritization of different work environment factors at the companies at which they work.
Differences Between Two Professional Roles
Managers perceived the work environment to be a higher priority for the company than safety delegates did. This finding is somewhat in line with a study by Håkansson and Isidorsson (2006) in which a head safety delegate at a company perceived the work environment to get low priority. At the same company, however, the production manager considered it to be easy to be heard by the management about investing in improvements to the work environment. Other similarities to our findings are found in a British study conducted in 2004 with 26,000 respondents from SMEs (Forth, Bewley, & Bryson, 2006). Data from the 2004 survey were compared to earlier data from 1998; managers believed that there had been some good improvements in the “climate of employment relations,” but employees reported only modest improvements.
In our study, the two professional roles, manager and safety delegate, differ in their perceptions of the work environment at their companies. Managers seem to be more optimistic about the prevalence of work environment management, which is shown by Forth et al. (2006), Håkansson and Isidorsson (2006), Swedish Work Environment Authority (2003), and our current study. In other cases, the safety delegates, not the managers, seem more optimistic about the prevalence of work environment management, as shown in the work environment reports from the Swedish Work Environment Authority (2004; 2006; 2008).
The explanation for differing perceptions may be the professional roles per se. In 1975, Newman studied perceptions of the work environment and the organizational structure at a company, using a questionnaire in which participants responded about their own perceived work environment. Newman's findings were that employees' perceptions of the work environment were more related to their location in the organization than to their personal characteristics. “In other words, one's perception of the work environment is more a function of where one is (in the organizational space) than who one is” (Newman, 1975). In our opinion, this explanation is partly applicable to our findings that managers and safety delegates rated the work environment differently. A phenomenon might be perceived differently depending on the person and the circumstances, and is therefore “situated” (Lave & Wenger, 2003). Even if managers and safety delegates in manufacturing companies work in the same context, the two groups have different roles and are influenced by different frameworks, which may contribute to different perceptions of their company's priorities of the work environment.
Another explanation for the differing perceptions between managers and safety delegates may be that they are loyal to different political agendas. Safety delegates are, as mentioned earlier, appointed by the local trade union organization, and their mission is to represent the employees on safety and work environment matters. Distinct worker and employer perspectives on OHS become evident in a study by Brun and Loiselle (2002) that compared two types of safety practitioners in a survey (practitioners representing employers and practitioners representing workers), and found that they differ in opinion about what kind of OHS activities should be prioritized. The employer-safety practitioners “share the employers' belief that precedence should be given to influencing individuals, their behaviours and work methods,” whereas the worker-safety practitioners “hold a more unionized view in that they would prefer to modify management practices and OHS policies” (Brun & Loiselle, 2002).
As a third explanation of the results that managers and safety delegates differ in their perceptions, we borrow a metaphor of parent–child and adult–adult relationships, first introduced by Harris (1970), that Hale (1995) suggests can be used to analyze professional and job relationships between people in different job roles. “Parent-child relationships are often immature and disturbed, particularly if one person is unhappy with their (usually) child role. They are characterized by power games and dominance rituals. On the other hand adult-adult relationships are mature and concentrated on mutual support and the achievement of common goals” (Hale, 1995). Hale used the metaphor in his study to discuss the role-relationships between general managers and OHS professionals, and suggests that the relationship between the two influence how OHS tasks are handled. Considering that 1) managers and safety delegates have different political agendas and 2) the results of the present study, we find it applicable to describe the role-relationship between managers and safety delegates as a parent–child relationship, in which both sides take dissimilar stances toward the commitment and prioritization of safety and work environment, and are true to the environment that nurtured them (managers in a management context and safety delegates in a production context). This notion also seem to fit with the anecdotal evidence that safety delegates often antagonize the management (with power games and dominance rituals), fight cost-saving schemes, and advocate for the interests of the employees in a safe and healthy work environment.
These explanations (professional roles in organization, political agendas, and parent–child role relationships) help to elucidate what empirically have been shown in this study, that managers and safety delegates do differ in their perceptions of to what extent different work environment factors are being attended to in small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies. The results establish the accuracy of that notion, but what remains uncertain is whether safety delegates generally always perceive the work environment less prioritized than managers do. The statistical testing of the data and information available (Brun & Loiselle, 2002; Forth et al., 2006; Håkansson & Isidorsson, 2006; Hale, 1995; Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2003) seem to support it. In contrast, there are the reports from The Swedish Work Environment Authority (2004; 2006; 2008) that show the opposite relationship, although only with descriptive statistics. The concept that safety delegates generally perceive the work environment less prioritized than managers do would need further research before any certain conclusions could be drawn.
Improvements in the Work Environment
Similarities in perceptions were seen in the groups of managers and safety delegates rating current work environment activities higher than they were one year earlier, meaning that they agree that there have been improvements in the work environment management over time. That both professional roles agree on improvement over time has been seen earlier in the work environment reports from The Swedish Work Environment Authority (2003; 2004; 2006; 2008). One explanation of why the current status and that of one year earlier were rated differently could be the motivation of the respondents to see some improvements over the past year, which could be a wishful-thinking bias (Raphel, 1987). It may also be explained by “time-slice errors,” the recall of a true event, but from a wrong time period (Hyman & Loftus, 1998), such that when a respondent retrospectively rated the conditions of one year earlier, events from, for example, two years ago or seven months ago might be recalled instead. Nevertheless, the strength in having the respondents rate current and one year before in the same measurement is that it reveals their perceptions of whether it is better or worse, simply according to which side of the current rating on the scale the marking for one year earlier should be placed.
The Prime Objective of Manufacturing Companies
Among the six different areas of company interest, profitability as an objective ranked highest in our findings. This finding is not surprising, because it is in line with previous studies. Peel and Bridge (1998) surveyed British SMEs and found profit improvement to be perceived as the most important objective for the 150 manufacturing companies in their study. The setup for their study was also similar; when the respondents were asked to indicate how important they considered a range of objectives to be at their companies, 74% of the respondents ranked “improving profitability” highest (comparable to the 54% of managers and 66% of safety delegates in our current study). Friedmann et al. (2000) and McKevier and Gadenne (2005) suggest that daily survival is the number one priority for companies, and Spence and Rutherfoord (2001) framed profit maximization as the top priority for many managers of small enterprises whom they interviewed. Interestingly, Larsson, Mather, and Dell (2007) concluded that more profitable companies put a higher priority on good work environment, with the possible explanation that such companies also have more resources to invest in OHS. This finding generates a question to be answered in further research: Is there a relationship between a company's economic success and workers' perceived work environment practices?
An alternative way to study perceptions of the work environment is to deal with individuals' perceptions and experiences of their own work environment. Avallone and Gibbon (1998) conducted a study of nurses' perceptions of their work environment using a methodology similar to the one used in the current study, but differing in one aspect, because we did not seek participants' perceptions of their own individual working climates, but rather a statement from the respondents about the whole company's prioritization of the work environment. The present study reveals how the respondents perceive the prioritization, but does not say anything about what they think of the priorities, whether they are good or bad, whether they are satisfied with them, or how the company, in fact, manages the work environment.
Regarding the ranking of different areas of company interest, we aimed to get a spontaneous snapshot of rankings for some areas that are often mentioned as objectives for companies. Although the areas included could have been more numerous or more specific, we anticipated that ranking is feasible when there are not too many items to match against each other. The possibility that respondents could interpret the interest economic goals (other than profitability) quite widely and differently might be a weakness of the ranking question. It was not explained to respondents that the phrase might imply, for example, turnover, debt ratio, and growth factor of the company.
The endpoints of the VAS used in the questionnaire could have been differently formulated. The endpoint highest possible priority was supposed to be understood to mean the highest priority, to the knowledge of the respondent, and should be compared to the other endpoint, no priority whatsoever. It is possible that the respondents interpreted the wording differently, although it is common in research for concepts or scales to be differently perceived among respondents. The endpoint formulations presented here are translations from the questionnaire (see Appendix), which was conducted in Swedish.
The VAS used in this study was in the analysis divided into ten equidistant parts, 1 to 10. VAS is commonly divided into 1 to 100, especially when used for pain estimations. We judged 1 to 10 to be satisfactory, and believed that there would not be any substantial advantages to using a narrower tuning of the scale. A VAS with two formulated endpoints has advantages as well as limits. One limit is the impossibility to dress the figures from the scale in descriptive words, because what one step on the scale more specifically means is not defined. We are aware of the debate in research about using the median or mean from a VAS scale and the use of nonparametric tests (see, e.g., Gardner, 1975; Marcus-Roberts & Roberts, 1987; Myles, Troedel, Boquest, & Reeves, 1999; Svensson, 2001); nevertheless, with our large number of respondents, we made the decision to proceed with nonparametric tests.
At the time of the data collection for this study, the world economic recession triggered in the year 2008 had begun to accelerate. This acceleration became obvious during the telephone reminders, as the potential participants in some cases referred to the recession as a reason not to participate in the study, indicating a tumultuous period for the manufacturing SMEs. It is difficult to draw any conclusions as to whether this has affected the study and the answers to the questionnaire in any systematic way. If it has, it is possible that the engagement in work environment issues was somewhat lower for the current rating, because the focus for many companies might have been to secure orders to survive. The response rate in this study (59%), however, is in line with former research using postal questionnaires (Baruch, 1999; Cummings & Savitz, 2001).
It can be difficult to compare results between countries. This study dealt with a Swedish context. The sample was designed, however, so that it could be used to represent a larger group and that the results could be generalized, which also are the assumptions for the statistical tests used in this study. Our interpretation is that these results apply to manufacturing SMEs in Sweden and to countries in the rest of the world with a similar type of political safety delegate that functions as an advocate for employees on health and safety in the workplace.
This article has dealt with managers' and safety delegates' perceptions of priorities of work environment factors at the small- or medium-sized manufacturing companies at which they work.
Anecdotal evidence and some earlier studies (Forth et al., 2006; Håkansson & Isidorsson, 2006; Swedish Work Environment Authority, 2003; 2008) suggested differences in perceptions between two professional roles, managers and safety delegates. Those indications and the lack of scientific literature on the subject led to the present study. The largest contribution of this article is in reinforcing the notion that managers and safety delegates differ in their perceptions about the extent to which the work environment gets prioritized at their companies. It is still uncertain though if safety delegates generally perceive the work environment less prioritized than managers do, or if this differs from setting to setting.
We conclude that the safety delegates' and managers' ratings were more like those of their counterparts at other companies than like those of their correspondent at their own companies. The majority of respondents in the study answered that profitability was the main objective of their companies, and almost all answered that there had been more prioritization of work environment issues compared to one year earlier.
We believe the findings of this study to be useful in better understanding the priority that manufacturing companies place on managing their work environments. A practical implication of our findings is that one may consider which individuals to confront in an organization when addressing companies on work environment issues, because the perceptions of the ongoing work environment management may differ within a company. This should have practical applications for both practitioners (e.g., ergonomists, OHS professionals) and researchers. Another practical implication is that both professional roles may want to communicate work environment actions more clearly to one another to limit the disparity in perceptions. A theoretical implication of our findings is that there is still much research that needs to be performed concerning the understanding of professional roles and their relationships when handling OHS tasks and planning work environment management in manufacturing enterprises.
To our knowledge, this study concludes for the first time that the two professional roles, manager and safety delegate, differ in their perceptions regarding to what extent different work environment factors are being attended to in small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies.
Translation of the original survey questions from Swedish.
Priority Rating Questions
Response alternatives: A VAS was provided beside each question with the endpoints: no priority whatsoever (left side) and highest possible priority (right side). The items were in a random order in the original questionnaire.
To what extent does your company…
Physical Working Conditions
Q1: … engage in physical working environment improvements?
Q2: … provide ergonomically designed eq- uipment?
Q3: … provide an adequate workspace?
Q4: … work to minimize physical workloads?
Q5: … provide ergonomically designed work station?
Q6: … provide the possibility for breaks and recovery?
Psychosocial Working Conditions
Q7: … promote a good psychosocial climate?
Q8: … support work–life balance?
Q9: … promote collaboration?
Q10: … promote job satisfaction?
Q11: … promote employee well-being?
Q12: … provide employees with both positive and negative feedback?
Q13: … engage in organizational improvements?
Q14: … promote development of worker competency?
Q15: … work toward effective workplace routines?
Q16: … permit flexible work times when required?
Q17: … strive for gender equality?
Q18: … strive for company diversity?
Work Environment Routines
Q19: … provide work environment routines?
Q20: … provide orientation and care for new employees?
Q21: … promote employee involvement in work environment management?
Q22: … provide a work environment policy?
Q23: … engage in continuous risk assessments?
Q24: … work toward clean and enjoyable workplaces?
Communication & Interaction
Q25: … have open communication and dialogue?
Q26: … promote internal communication and information transfer?
Q27: … promote free expression and discussion of workplace opinions?
Q28: … enable employee influence over the workplace?
Q29: … engage in dialogue-style performance review?
Q30: … support effective interaction between employees and management?
Q31: … work toward clear leadership?
Q32: … strive for clearly defined work tasks?
Q33: … engage in leadership development?
Q34: … promote clearly defined goals?
Q35: … promote company spirit?
Q36: … appreciate and apply employee innovation?
Health & Prevention
Q37: … promote total employee health?
Q38: … work toward reducing the amount of sick leave taken?
Q39: … provide access to physical training and health maintenance facilities?
Q40: … strive to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders?
Q41: … work toward risk and accident prevention?
Q42: … provide suitable tasks for workers on reduced capacity employment?
Priority Ranking Question
Response alternatives: 1–7
Q43: Please rank the following areas according to their order of importance at your company from 1 (highest importance) to 7 (lowest importance).
(i) Physical work environment; (ii) Branding; (iii) Psychosocial work environment; (iv) Profitability; (v) Economic goals (other than profitability); (vi) Environmental work; (vii) Other (specify)____________