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By Marcus Hoy
Companies ordered to cease operations due to dangerous workplace conditions can expect to face more stringent fines in future, the Norwegian Labor Inspectorate said in a May 5 statement. Penalties for serious safety breaches are unlikely to be less than 50,000 kroner ($5,900), it said, and could be much more. The upper limit is 1.4 million kroner ($165,000).
The Inspectorate will issue more fines when the safety of employees working at height is compromised, according to the statement. Such breaches, which have led to an increase in the number of shutdowns in recent years, often involve the use of foreign labor in the construction industry. The Inspectorate believes increased financial penalties will reduce the number of offenses but gave no further details of the application or size of future fines.
Under the Working Environment Act, the Labor Inspectorate has the authority to suspend an activity or close down an entire workplace if evidence exists of an imminent danger to workers' lives or health. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, it received the right to impose so-called infringement fees on companies found to be in violation of health and safety rules. These increased powers, however, have not led to a decrease in violations.
“There has been a steady increase in the number of violations since we were granted permission to issue infringement fees,” Labor Inspectorate Director Trude Vollheim Webb told Bloomberg BNA in a May 15 statement. “We see violations of the provisions on working at height as very serious as they entail a significant risk of injury. Foreign workers are often involved in cases where breaches occur. We believe that higher financial sanctions will have a preventive effect and will lead to a better working environment in the long term.”
While penalties would increase, Webb said, the extent of supervision activities carried out by the Labor Inspectorate, including unannounced inspections, would remain unchanged.
The decision to hike penalties has the support of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), which has campaigned against so-called “social dumping” or the use of cheap foreign labor in industries such as construction.
“There are more factors contributing to the increase in workplace breaches than a lack of labor organization,” LO Advisor Avesta Gaskjonli told Bloomberg BNA May 17. “What can be said is that the degree of labor organization is low in the industries committing the most breaches. However, LO has also not recorded a drastic decline in member numbers in these industries.
“We support the increase in fines for serious violations of the Working Environment Act,” Gaskjonli said. “Serious violations of other regulations are resulting in significantly tougher punishments than we are seeing for work environment breaches.”
As well as detailing the tougher stance on penalties, the Inspectorate's statement provided information on workplace inspections in 2016. A total of 580 breaches of rules designed to ensure the safety of employees working at height were recorded, the Inspectorate said, and 736 breaches implying a general danger to employees' life or health.
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