Occupational health and safety representatives keep it safe
Ville Sihvonen, who was recently appointed occupational health and safety (OHS) representative at the Hattula warehouse for FEON Oy, gets help from his coworker and experienced vice representative Juha Ljungberg.
What made you interested in working in occupational health and safety?
Sihvonen: It felt like a natural step. When I was working in the warehouse, I noticed several problems that I wanted to address. I’m not afraid to raise issues and demand that they’re fixed.
Ljungberg: I was a shop steward first, and then moved on to occupational health and safety. At some point my coworkers suggested I should run for OHS representative, and I took the challenge. I thought that somebody should be speaking for the workers who are mostly silent. I think everyone’s voice should be heard at the workplace. I suppose it’s a calling.
Sihvonen: It was easy for me to get involved because I’m also the shop steward at my workplace, so I have a good relationship with the employer.
What is the best way to get started with occupational safety and health?
Ljungberg: I went to PAM’s OHS training, and found it very useful. You don’t have to know much in advance, because there’s training and help available. I like to offer my help to new OHS representatives whenever they need it.
Sihvonen: I participated in OHS meetings as shop steward, so I have already worked on some of the issues. I’m also planning on attending the training in the near future.
What kinds of risks are employees facing at your workplace?
Sihvonen: Anything could happen here. We have big machines, roof cranes and saws. The warehouse has steel goods from tiny screws to seven-tonne machinery parts. The worst-case scenario is that some equipment would fall from the ceiling.
Ljungberg: We have also adopted the Elmeri OHS monitoring system to keep track of the work environment and processes. This enables us to check that everyone is wearing proper safety attire, for example.
How do you find problematic points and how do you fix them?
Sihvonen: Our OHS committee convenes and tours the shop floor four times a year to find problems. In addition to me, the OHS committee meetings include vice representatives, the head OHS official who is also our production manager, a representative of the employer and sometimes a representative from occupational health. Of course the employees will also report to me whenever they notice something at their work station that could be done better.
Ljungberg: These reports are listed on a list of problems which is then sent to the top leadership of the company. We list the person in charge of each issue and track the process of the cases until they are fixed.
What does it take to be an OHS representative?
Ljungberg: People skills, because you have to get along with everyone. You also need a bit of imagination so you can imagine what might happen and address issues before it does.
Sihvonen: I agree. It’s important to be able to work smoothly with both your coworkers and the employer representatives. You have to talk to your coworkers a lot and pay careful attention to what they’re saying. It’s also really important to keep up a good work atmosphere.
What could new and more experienced OHS representatives learn from one another?
Ljungberg: New OHS representatives have new perspectives. When you’re used to doing things in a certain way, it’s easy to forget that there are other ways. I’ve had the same job for so many years that I can also take things for granted.
Sihvonen: Now that I work in an office and not on the shop floor, I’ve noticed many dangerous things at the warehouse that I hadn’t even thought about when I worked there myself. It’s good that Juha and I meet every day at work. He has a great deal of experience, so I can always ask for advice and hints in various situations.
The occupational health and safety (OHS) representative
The occupational health and safety representative speaks for the employees in all matters relating to health and safety.
The employees elect the OHS representative from among themselves. According to law, the OHS representative must be elected at all workplaces with more than ten regular employees. Employees may also elect an OHS representative at smaller workplaces.
Anyone can stand as a candidate and vote in the OHS representative elections regardless of union membership.
Does your workplace have an OHS representative? Are you the future OHS representative at your workplace? Read more about the occupational safety and health elections and join us!