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Agency analysis of the Swedish Work Environment Authority (2014:21)

On behalf of the Government, Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has carried out an agency analysis of the Swedish Work Environment Authority. We have carried out a general analysis of the authority's conditions, activities, performance and challenges. The analysis has also included the Government's steering of the Work Environment Authority.

The Work Environment Authority is to act for a good work environment

The Work Environment Authority shall in various ways act for a good work environment. It does so by formulating more specific rules based on the national Work Environment Act and EU legislation and by using inspection ) to ensure employers follow these rules. The Work Environment Authority will also produce statistics, inform and disseminate knowledge about work environment issues and disburse government grants. The authority has around 550 employees and appropriation revenues of SEK 527 for 2014.

Inspection in the form of inspections accounts for almost three quarters of the operations and is conducted in the authority's regional organisation. The previous structure of multiple separate authorities was earlier transformed into a single and uniform Work Environment Authority. The Government did this to increase the efficiency and flexibility of operations and via more uniform procedures achieve a more legally secure exercise of authority.

The authority fulfils its duty but can do so more efficiently

Statskontoret's assessment is that the Work Environment Authority largely fulfils its overall duties. Despite a reduction in the administrative grant by around 30 per cent from 2007 to 2009, its finances have been balanced. At the same time, productivity in inspection operations has increased continuously. In parallel with carrying out its core task, the Work Environment Authority has taken on new duties and tasks that the Government has assigned to the authority in the past five to six years. The central employers´ organisations and trade unions we have questioned are satisfied overall with how the Work Environment Authority carries out its duties, even if critical opinions on its operations have also been put forward. Statskontoret's assessment, however, is that the duties can be carried out more efficiently.

The reporting to the Government exposes problems in the chain of governance

Statskontoret's assessment is that the Work Environment Authority's annual report and budget proposal do not give the Government a sufficient basis on which to assess the results of the operations and what resources are needed for future operations. This is a result of a number of problems throughout the chain of governance; i.e., in the steering and follow-up of operations exercised by the Government as well as the authority itself.

The Work Environment Authority must develop its performance analysis

The primary explanation for the Work Environment Authority's annual report not providing an adequate basis is that the authority has not analysed the outcomes and achievement of objectives. The main focus of the continuous follow-up has thus far been on monitoring the productivity of the inspection operations. This means that other parts of the authority's activities have been neglected, such as the quality of activities and the associated costs. Furthermore, the authority has not evaluated its activities systematically. Weaknesses in the follow-up and the performance analysis in turn originate in the Work Environment Authority's internal governance. The authority has not managed to formulate concrete and realistic goals for what it can influence itself. Statskontoret therefore sees a need for the Work Environment Authority to develop both its performance management and performance analysis in order to improve its annual report. This is particularly important due to the Government giving the authority a relatively wide mandate to decide on the activities' content, focus and level of ambition.

The instruction should provide clearer prioritisations and expectations

Statskontoret's assessment is that the Government needs to review the Work Environment Authority's instructions. The purpose of the review should be to clarify which tasks the authority needs to prioritise based on the allocated resources and performance targets. With a clearer framework and clearer expectations, the chain of governance – as well as the authority's responsibility for the results achieved – will be more evident. This could also clarify the range of public commitment in the work environment area and what stakeholders, notably the social partners, can expect of the authority. However, providing a clearer framework does not mean that the Government should micromanage the authority´s activities.

In connection with a review of the instruction, the Government should also consider doing away with the advisory council and allowing the Work Environment Authority itself decide what type of supporting body and competence the authority requires. Statskontoret also believes there is cause for the Government to remove the Work Environment Authority's responsibility for the national knowledge function for working life and work environment issues.

The supervisory element of the authority's role is less prominent

If the Government wishes for the Work Environment authority to focus primarily on inspection (inspections), this should be clarified in the instruction. Inspection still dominates the authority's activities, but it gradually decreases in terms of personnel and resources. The longer this continues, the less prominent the supervisory element of the authority's role. If the resources spent on inspection activities decrease further, Statskontoret also deems that there is a risk that the authority may have difficulties upholding a regional organisation in the long term, given the current inspection methods.

Effective and uniform inspection still some way to go

In the past twelve months, the Work Environment Authority has taken crucial steps in the direction of a coherent and effective inspection. The ongoing internal restructuring process, which primarily concerns inspection operations, encompasses a new organisation, new working methods as well as a strengthened internal governance. The aim is that the authority will work more effectively and more uniformly with the support of modern IT tools.

Statskontoret's assessment is that the changes to be implemented are important because the resource situation requires them. They are also important for reducing the regional differences in the authority's working methods and thereby reducing the risk that the employers are treated differently in the exercise of authority. In the long term, it is also important to monitor that the changes in the working methods – e.g. less focus on industry-specific issues and less local presence – do not have negative consequences on the impact of the inspection.

Unclear whether inspections targets the right workplaces

The Work Environment Authority has an ambition, based on the Government's previous statements, to focus inspections on the workplaces in which the risk of ill health and accidents is greatest. However, Statskontoret sees no evidence that current workplace inspections reflect this prioritisation. As the supervisory operations require a large part of the authority's resources, Statskontoret considers it to be of the utmost importance that the funds are used efficiently. The authority can only visit a fraction of all workplaces each year, irrespective of the level of the allocation of appropriations. The Work Environment Authority should therefore investigate and propose to the Government which principle(s) should act as guidance for prioritisations and selection in its inspections and how the authority intends to steer towards these.

Big challenges in skills provision around the corner

As the working methods and professional roles are changing, the Work Environment Authority is in the coming years faced with a major generation shift. A quarter of the personnel will retire within the next five years. Extensive internal training of new recruits means that the recruitment of inspectors, above all, takes a long time. At the same time, the staffing situation is perceived as tight within a number of areas of activity. There may be advantages to the internal changes entailed by a new organisation, new working methods and strong internal governance coinciding with the generation shift. At the same time, this calls for a more coherent and long-term approach to skills provision. Statskontoret therefore deems the Work Environment Authority needs to develop a strategy for its skills provision.