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The Management of Occupational Health and Safety: Managers’ Perceptions of the Challenges, Necessary Support and Organisational Measures to support Managers

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisMonograph


Original languageEnglish
PublisherTampere University of Technology
Number of pages149
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-15-4056-1
ISBN (Print)978-952-15-4055-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2017
Publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Publication series

NameTampere University of Technology. Publication
ISSN (Print)1459-2045


The management of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the workplace imposes a regulatory, moral and economic obligation on organisations, while the successful management of OHS contributes to both employees’ well-being and organisational performance. Hence, aspects of OHS are increasingly embodied in the overall management system of organisations and included in the managerial activities. Managers at different organisational levels play a significant role in improving OHS, with their commitment to OHS being generally considered one of the most important factors that influence successful OHS management and culture. Nevertheless, the management of OHS may be very dependent on individual managers within organisations, whereas it should actually be based on regulatory requirements and organisation-specific OHS policies and procedures. There exists a need to support managers so as to achieve real advances in OHS. In order to support both organisations and managers in the continuous improvement of OHS, information regarding effective OHS management is needed. Accordingly, information is required concerning the challenges that managers face, as well as how they can best be supported in relation to OHS management.

This study discusses the management of OHS as an aspect of managerial work and from managers’ point of view. The qualitative study aims to develop new knowledge regarding the challenges and necessary support associated with managing OHS, as well as to suggest organisational measures that can be applied to support managers’ OHSrelated work. The results are based on the prior OHS literature and three empirical substudies. In sub-study 1, thematic interviews (n=17) and qualitative inquiries (n=55) were carried out with top, middle and frontline managers from three public service organisations (a governmental expert organisation, a municipal social and healthcare service unit and a public vocational education organisation). In sub-study 2, thematic interviews (n=49) were carried out with middle and frontline managers from five industrial companies (a chemical processing company, an energy production company and three industrial service companies). In sub-study 3, a literature review and related categorisation were supplemented with thematic interviews (n=17) in a governmental expert organisation. The results of the sub-studies were used in the construction of a conceptual framework of organisational measures intended to support managers with regards to OHS management. The study approaches OHS management from the managers’ viewpoint, which has only rarely been studied.

According to the participating managers, the most challenging OHS management situations found in public organisations are related to the psychosocial risks contained within the work environment. The managers considered their employees’ mental overload, instances of negligence and the consideration of individual needs to be difficult OHS issues to manage. Due to the current economic situation and the associated lack of resources, the managers perceived both pressure and concern in relation to their employees’ well-being. In the industrial organisations, managerial overload, production pressure and role conflicts were perceived as the main factors that hinder the managers' commitment to OHS. However, the managers did not request more resources from upper management, presumably due to the tight economic situation. In order to cope with difficult OHS situations, the managers focused on individual relations and emotional support from their immediate superior, their colleagues, and OHS and human resources (HR) professionals.

The conceptual framework of organisational measures intended to support managers in OHS management includes top management support regarding OHS management, uniform and simple OHS procedures, and the systematic development of OHS management. Developing consistent OHS attitudes and commitment among all the managers requires strong support on the part of top management. An emphasis on leadership development is important for managers to be able to motivate their employees’ OHS participation and compliance and, hence, improve OHS performance. Existing management development practices, for example, management training, can provide easy ways to incorporate OHS management and leadership perspectives into general management development. Developing the support, resources and understanding of managers in relation to OHS may considerably improve both employees’ well-being and the performance of organisations.

This dissertation contributes to the research by providing new knowledge regarding OHS management from the managers’ point of view, in the organisational context and in relation to organisational performance. Moreover, it provides a research-based conceptual framework for evaluating and developing OHS management within various organisations. The dissertation also provides a practical contribution by discussing OHS management as an integral part of general management and by pointing out the managers’ central role in improving OHS. Moreover, it suggests practical organisational measures to support managers and promote their consistent commitment to OHS.

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