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Power and capacity for change?

Systematic occupational safety and health management in gendered public operations

Time: Fri 2021-06-04 13.00

Location:, (Swedish)

Subject area: Technology and Health

Doctoral student: Karin Sjöberg Forssberg , Ergonomi

Opponent: Docent Anna Fogelberg Eriksson, Linköpings universitet, Institutionen för beteendevetenskap och lärande

Supervisor: Docent Annika Vänje, Skolan för kemi, bioteknologi och hälsa (CBH); Professor Karolina Parding, Luleå Tekniska Universitet, Arbetsvetenskap


Despite legislation, regulations and extensive efforts from the Swedish Work Environment Authority, there are major shortcomings in public organisations´ work environments. This thesis describes and deepens the understanding for organisational conditions that contribute to, or constrain, systematic work environment work in gender-segregated public organisations. The thesis is based on four sub-studies, conducted on the basis of an interactive, qualitative approach. Two studies examine how employees, safety representatives and managers in, homecare services and technical maintenance, describe and interpret work environment challenges, gender and organisational conditions for workplace learning, and systematic work environment work. The third study examines how inspectors and managers from the Swedish Work environment Authority perceive these issues based on the experiences of hundreds of inspections in gender-segregated organisations. The fourth study focuses on organisational conditions that enable – and those that constrain – systematic work with gender-aware and gender-equal working methods in a municipality. The fourth study is based on interviews with managers, strategists, employees and politicians. The thesis´s total empirical basis consists of 79 in-depth interviews as well as documentation from dialogue and analysis seminars. The results show that unequal working conditions make work environment work more difficult, and that a good work environment is a matter of power and capacity for change. Strong gender norms constrain systematic work environment work, where mandatory parts such as participation, analysis, documentation, risk assessment and incident reporting are limited due to gender stereotypical norms. Moreover, weak structures for learning limit opportunities for learning and development, as well as opportunities to obtain necessary work environment knowledge. Furthermore, lacking structures for systematic joint learning processes limit opportunities to make visible, and change restrictive gender norms. An overall conclusion is that creating effective systematic work environment work is complex. Effective systematic work environment work is enabled by gender-awareness and organisational change competence, characterised by organisational readiness for learning, supportive structures and a culture that enables learning and change. As gender is going on at different levels, interacting and reinforcing each other, one conclusion is that gender-aware learning processes need to be initiated and implemented at individual, organisational and operational levels. This thesis contributes, theoretically, by combining different fields of research (gender and organisation, situated learning and organisational change) that allows for a novel and in-depth understanding of why systematic work environment work is so difficult. More specifically, combining gender theory with theories of situated learning in communities of practice and organisational change, make power relations visible and deepens the understanding of how women and men learn doing gender, of how failure can be understood, as well as what necessary conditions for systematic work environment work and development towards good working environments are. The results point at a number of challenges, which made visible, can, serve as a starting point for both policy and practice in the work of developing systematic work environment work and thereby good work environments in public operations. The thesis highlights organisational conditions that constrain and enable such work.