The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health. Performance Audit

The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health (Vinnueftirlit ríkisins) has played a key role in health and safety in the workplace in Iceland since 1981. The Administration has done a good job in educating and informing people in these matters and should place increased emphasis on this work in the future. Moreover, it is important that the institution prioritise its projects in order to concentrate on administration and leading projects in the field of health and safety in the workplace, and withdraw from specialist services that other parties are capable of providing.
The Administration has a wide range of regulatory responsibilities within the community, including company, machinery and market regulation, as well as training, advisory services and research. The institution’s resources and energy are widely dispersed and it may also be regarded as inadvisable that the same party be responsible for regulating, advising and research in the same field. The National Audit Office considers that the Administration ought to concentrate on particular key aspects of its work, for instance administration and leading projects in the field of health and safety in the workplace, and allow others to offer specialist services and consultancy regarding health and safety. This would not only conform to government policies concerning the monitoring of public bodies, but also to the arrangements that exist in most neighbouring countries.

In this context, the National Audit Office advises that investigations should be made to ascertain whether part of the regulation of industrial machinery performed by the Administration could be moved to an accredited inspection body and its administration moved to the Road Traffic Directive (Umferdarstofa). By this we mean the regulation of moveable machinery, mechanical equipment that is fixed to vehicles and other vehicles that are driven outdoors, and which are to a large extent compatible with the vehicle inspectorate. The National Audit Office believes that such an arrangement would be both more economical and more efficient than the current setup, and, in addition, more convenient for those who use the service. At the same time, the administration of employment rights with regard to heavy machinery could be moved to the Road Traffic Directive, which already issues driving licences.

In the same way, the Office considers that it would be natural for the Administration’s market supervision of a range of machinery and equipment to be carried out in co-operation with the Consumer Agency (Neytendastofa which would unify the authorities’ supervision of markets. The Consumer Agency would negotiate with accredited inspection bodies concerning monitoring and ensure co-ordination in that field, while the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health would peruse the data that the monitoring reveals and continue in its regulatory role on behalf of the authorities.

Regarding company regulation, the Office recommends that the Administration progresses at full speed with the implementation of so-called adapted regulation, whereby the main emphasis is placed on the responsibilities of employers for constant occupational health and safety arrangements within their companies. In this regard, it is important to set numerical and scheduled objectives concerning the number of companies that have made risk assessments and inform employers of their legal requirements and responsibilities for making such assessments. The Office highlights the need for the company regulator to take into account published inspection handbooks to ensure co-ordinated regulation and co-ordinated actions in response to deviations.

The National Audit Office regards improved data collection and research into the influence of the Administration as important for making easier assessments of developments in these fields in Iceland, both with respect to other countries and to the targets that have been set. The Office recognises that the Administration’s initiative and involvement in the establishment of the health and safety research unit was a positive step in that direction and time will tell whether this unit can relieve the Administration of carrying out this sort of research; there are a number of reasons against doing this within government institutions.

Finally, the Office asserts that the board of the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health has not adjusted to its changed role as a consultative body and this has impeded communications between the institution and the Ministry of Social Affairs. Our recommendation is that the board be discontinued and replaced by a special health and safety council made up of representatives from the employment sector. The council will act as an adviser to the Minister but will have no direct connections to the institution. An arrangement of this type is in accordance with the Ministerial administration common in Iceland. Furthermore, the National Audit Office considers it necessary that the performance management agreement reached between the Ministry of Social Affairs’ and the Administration in 1998 is used to full effect as a management instrument, e.g. by linking the agreement to measurable performance objectives that the Ministry can monitor and respond to.