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What is the work environment?

The World Health Organization WHO has defined work environment as follows:  


"Work environment is a summary term for biological, medical, physiological, psychological, social and technical factors that affect the individual in the work situation or in the workplace environment."

In other words, it covers all aspects of daily working life. Given the amount of time we spend at work every day, it is indisputable that when a workplace lacks structure, harmony and security, we risk being exposed to ill health. If not immediately, then at least in the long run. 

The work environment tree

The regulations that govern the work environment in Sweden consist of different types of rules, legislation, ordinances and regulations. Laws and regulations are the roots of the tree. The trunk consists of the ongoing, systematic work involved in the work environment and the foliage consists of ordinances. 


The central legislation in this context consists of the Work Environment Act and the Work Environment Ordinance. It states the purpose of the work environment and the basic risk assessment - no one should risk becoming ill or dying as a result of their work. Thus, these legislations do not provide very specific guidance on how to achieve a good work environment, this has been left for the Government to solve.

The Government has done this by giving permission to the supervisory authority, the Swedish Environment Authority, to describe more thoroughly how the basic values in the legislation are to be applied in more practical terms. This is done through the Swedish Work Authority's regulations. Different industries and businesses face distinct risks and challenges. As a result, the regulations are adapted to cater to the specific needs that apply respectively to individual industries and businesses. Today there are about a hundred regulations,   abbreviated "AFS".

However, there are regulations that are "universal" in the sense that they apply to all businesses, whether you are standing in a mine, working in a car repair shop or sitting in an office.

These include:

  • Systematic work environment work - SAM (AFS 2001: 1)

  • Organizational and social work environment - OSA (AFS 2015: 4)

These two regulations are by far the most central and are a prerequisite for being able to work successfully in the work environment.

Below are regulations that everyone should know:

  • Workplace design (AFS 2009: 2)

  • Working at a monitor (AFS 1998: 5)

  • Buller (2005: 16)

  • Work adaptation and rehabilitation (1994: 1)

  • Load ergonomics (AFS 2012: 2)

  • Minors' work environment (AFS 2012: 3)

  • Solo work (AFS 1982: 3)

As stated, there are about a hundred regulations, which means that there are many other AFSs that you must know and work by. This is especially true if you work in more physical work environments that include truck use, chemicals and high altitudes, etc.

Well-being factors

Working as an employer feels like an uphill battle to most people, at least initially. This is partly because it is a big responsibility to take on and partly because it is an extensive job to maintain. It can certainly be perceived negatively as a role that is oriented toward solving problems.  

Ensuring that the workplace is a positive space for you as an employer, as well as for your employees, is essential. This can be achieved by adopting well-being practices and procedures that aim to provide an optimistic picture of business life and of future prospects.


Well-being should be a focus point. Paying attention to factors that can assist in the maintenance of good health is important in order to create a healthy work environment. 

The following are examples of health factors:

  • Having a common goal

  • Providing employees with social support at work as well as in their free time

  • Making employees feel involved in the development of the business

  • Having present managers that support colleagues when the health of their relatives is a cause for concern

  • Offering functional equipment

Physical working environment

Traditionally, discussion of the 'work environment' chiefly related to the physical work environment. This is owing to the fact that during large parts of the 20th century in Sweden, the work environment posed a significant risk to employees' physical health; conditions in many cases could be life-threatening. In the 1970s, the work environment was expanded to include 'the soft work environment'. In 1977, work environment legislation was reformed to also cover workers' mental health and prosperity._cc781905-5b3b6 -5-bd-314

Psychosocial work environment - the organizational and social work environment, OSA

The psychosocial work environment is primarily regulated under the 'Organizational and Social Work Environment' regulation. The more 'abstract' work environment falls under this concept, i.e. the concerns of subjective perceptions and the mood of the workers. Naturally, it is therefore more difficult to come to terms with what is required in order to make employees feel secure in order for them to be honest about the factors that disturb their psychosocial work environment. 

Achieving a good psychosocial work environment is very important for achieving good well-being and profitability.

AFS 2015: 4 on organizational and social work environment focuses on three areas:

  • Arrangement of working hours

  • Workload 

  • Victimization

If any of these factors are deficient, employees can struggle to find a satisfactory balance between their work and private life. With the boundary between work and free time becoming less distinct, especially with more employees working from home, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that the arrangement of working hours is managed appropriately and that employees are well informed on what to do and which tasks to prioritize. 

Systematic work environment work - SAM

The importance of having a systematic work environment cannot be stressed enough. The whole working system is built around this concept. 


AFS 2001: 1 on systematic work environment work consists of twelve sections with accompanying comments. We recommend that everyone, managers and employees alike, become familiar with and follow these provisions. This regulation is by far the most important individual regulation to keep an eye on.


The regulation prescribes and describes the systematics and recurring nature of the work environment. It stipulates that the work must be a natural part of the business and take place in collaboration with the employees and the union.

Broadly, a systematic work environment is about regularly evaluating the business from a risk perspective. As a result, risks relating to ill health should be suitably defined and active effort should be made to minimise or preferably remove the risks completely. 

This can be achieved with the use of recurring risk assessments alongside associated action plans. It can be said that the systematic work environment work is like a wheel, consisting of four spokes:

  • Examination/evaluation of the business

  • Risk assessment

  • Addressing attentional risks

  • Control / follow-up

Work environment and working from home

Working from home has long been viewed as an employment benefit. However, as a result of the pandemic, working from home has become less of a luxury. Many have been longing to return to the office and to once again connect with colleagues and customers on a more personal basis.


It is important to remember that as an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees' work environment is appropriate even when employees work from home or otherwise remotely.

This responsibility applies to both the physical and the psychophysical work environment. You as an employer must ensure that employees do not risk injury or ill-health as a result of work outside of the workplace.

A prerequisite for success in achieving a good working environment is cooperation and dialogue between the employer and the employees.

  • Have pronounced meeting routines in place and maintain normal working hours, rests and breaks in order to minimize the stress that major changes often create.

  • It is always advantageous to remind employees to try to find a working position that is good for them. It is also beneficial to emphasize the importance of moving from time to time - standing up, stretching and taking a breath etc.

  • If possible - offer employees to bring home keyboards and mice, and maybe even a screen and office chair.

  • Try to communicate as much as possible - use phone calls and video conferencing for example. Emails are effective but not as personal.

  • As a manager, be aware of other aspects of employees' lives outside of work.

Work environment management - an ongoing job

To succeed in this important job, it is important to understand it in every respect. It is important to understand that everything is connected - everything from ergonomics, the arrangement of working hours, overtime frequency and well-being. 

It is also crucial to ensure that all employees cooperate and collaborate with their managers in terms of achieving a good working environment. To succeed in this, care must be taken to ensure that everyone understands the importance of the work, understands their rights and obligations and has a clear picture of what the delegation chain looks like.

The delegation chain

No one can do everything. To succeed you must delegate responsibilities to others. The individuals with the most knowledge of the business area and the associated challenges and risks are the right candidates to have the responsibility delegated to them. 

Note that delegation in this context does not imply any shift in the allocation of formal responsibility. It is always the employer who has the formal responsibility for the work environment.

A prerequisite for being able to delegate responsibility is that the employee receives the right knowledge and powers to be able to deal with the given task.

* the monthly cost for Standard is SEK 50 / million turnover, however at least SEK 799 / month. 

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