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Fact book on working environments and health 2021

Fact book on working environments and health 2021 uses national data sources to provide an overview of the current situation and latest developments with respect to working environments. Working environment revolve around how the work is organized, planned and carried out. Most employees consider their own working environment and health to be good, and they report high level of job satisfaction and motivation. Nevertheless, there are still some industries and occupations in Norway with challenging working environments, so there is an ongoing need to implement informed preventive safety measures and to adapt work to the needs of individuals.


Both in Europe and Norway, there is a focus on working environments as an important tool for ensuring a sustainable working life, which allows as many people as possible to enter the workforce and as few as possible to drop out of it. In 2019, there were just under 2.8 million people in the labour force, equivalent to slightly over 70 percent of the population. A total of 3.7 percent of the workforce was unemployed. The proportion of people not in work is highest amongst the young and the old, and there is also a correlation with years of education completed and having an immigrant background. Both the sickness absence and withdrawal from work life are higher in many industries with the potential to improve preventive safety with respect to specific working environment conditions.

New technology is being introduced in many parts of the economy and its impact varies across industries. The content and organisation of people’s work is changing more frequently and quickly than in the past, placing greater emphasis on employees’ knowledge and on skills such as learning ability, teamwork and willingness to change. The pandemic may have acted as a catalyst for these changes, and over the past year remote working and digital interaction have become more common, affecting working environments in various ways. When there is a change in working practices, it is important to retain the positive aspects of working environments, while also detecting established, new and emerging risks.

Over time, the working environment is affected by both small, gradual changes and large, wide-ranging ones. Norwegian employees report having a high level of job satisfaction and motivation. Workers have to meet high expectations and face frequent restructurings, but most people also feel that they have a high degree of control, good career development opportunities and lots of support from their colleagues and managers. Over the most recent three-year period, there has been an increase in the frequency of restructurings, role conflicts and effort-reward imbalances. There has also been an increase in the proportion of people reporting unwanted sexual attention, particularly in the youngest age group. Meanwhile, violence and threats remain prevalent in many occupations, particularly in the health and social care sector. For traditional risk exposures such as heavy lifting, vibrations, loud noises and inhaling chemical and biological agents, the situation can generally be described as stable. These exposures remain common in many occupations, particularly in the primary sector, manufacturing and construction, which have seen employment growth and where a large proportion of employees are non-resident migrant workers. Over the coming years, many industries and jobs will undergo change in response to the need for a greener economy.

Occupational health comprises both widespread health problems that affect many people and more serious occupational illnesses and injuries that affect fewer people. The most common diagnostic category is musculoskeletal disorders, but mental health problems have seen the biggest increase in recent years, both as a cause of sickness absence and with respect to people on disability benefits. These two diagnostic categories are responsible for over 60 percent of sickness absence. Lung and airway problems remain the most common symptoms investigated by occupational health services, and the most important work-related conditions are asthma and COPD. Contact dermatitis is the most common occupational skin disease, and the prevalence of skin problems has remained unchanged. Each year, doctors report around 80 new cases of occupational cancer to the Registry for Work-related Diseases. There is still a high prevalence of occupational injuries in several industries, and young men and foreign employees are particularly at risk. Noise injury is the occupational injury most frequently reported to the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority and Petroleum Safety Authority Norway.

The sickness absence and withdrawal from work life are important parameters for measuring inclusive working life. In general, sickness absence has been relatively stable in recent years, but it varies significantly between industries. Under the IA agreement (2019–2022), employers’ and employees’ organisations have chosen seven industries for the introduction of targeted measures to reduce sickness absence and withdrawal from work life. Industry-specific trends show that the proportion of people reporting certain psychosocial factors in the working environment has increased in several of these industries over the past ten years. The proportion of people reporting being mentally exhausted at the end of the working day is rising in several of the industries, and there are signs that the prevalence of work-related mental health issues is increasing. This supports the need for preventive working environment activities in these industries, but our analyses also show a need in other high-risk industries.

The potential to improve preventive safety in relation to specific working environment factors, backed up by descriptions of the challenges faced by various industries in relation to the working environment and health, provides a good basis for basic preventive safety activities in the workplace. Most Norwegian enterprises perform regular risk assessments of their own working environments, and they report holding regular discussions on the working environment with employee representatives and safety representatives. That provides a good platform for preventive safety measures, but there are significant differences between enterprises across industries, and the working environment challenges they face also vary. In high-risk industries and occupations, there are high levels of both working environment exposures and health problems, illnesses and occupational injuries, which indicates significant potential to improve preventive safety measures.