“It’s not much use if you end up dying from going to work”
After 25 years in the position, Marianne Hokland is stopping as the faculty's coordinating occupational health and safety manager. Here she looks back on a quarter of a century during which employee safety has been both a labour of love and also a lot of elbow grease and cooperation.
"Looking back, it seems very obvious and pretty simple," says Marianne Hokland with reference to the time in 1992 when she and the former safety manager drew up fire and evacuation instructions for the Bartholin Building. She got the drawings of the building and sat down with her little Mac. Using MacPaint, she made the fire and evacuation instructions, which were then printed, framed and hung up by all the lifts. And there they remained for 18 years.
Marianne Hokland, who is today emeritus professor at the Department of Biomedicine, explains how health and safety was not an area that was in any way prioritised in the 1990s. So when a ministerial order arrived stating that so-called workplace instructions had to be made, Marianne Hokland simply began writing them herself.
"We started from scratch and began where we found the most immediate need for a better and safer work environment. For me as a researcher, that was in the laboratory where we were working with toxins and radioactive isotopes," she says and elaborates: "I wrote down the worst risks and made instructions about how to protect yourself in the laboratory. It was sporadic, and quality-wise it wasn’t like it is today, but it was really necessary and I felt the need to do something about it."
The instructions to raise safety levels and improve the working environment typically arose from problems and dangers in her own laboratory. But in time, her work on the instructions really took hold and ended up being a much bigger task, because there was of course plenty to get to grips with, as she says. And then she began looking around in the University Park.
Not a one-man show
Although Marianne Hokland was one of the initiators when it came to formalising occupational health and safety at Health, the actual turning point came when she looked towards the Aarhus School of Dentistry, which was not part of the faculty at the time, and met their occupational health and safety manager, Erling Østergaard.
"Erling was a goldmine. He was skilled, well-organised and had a fantastic eye for health and safety challenges. The Aarhus School of Dentistry was – and still is – at the forefront when it came to a healthy and safe work environment, maybe because they also deal with patients," suggests Marianne Hokland. She joined forces with Erling Østergaard and they worked together as chair and vice-chair respectively of the faculty's occupational health and safety committee for almost 15 years.
“We were a super team. We worked closely together and regularly discussed what we needed to get changed or put on the agenda. We collaborated with all the occupational health and safety representatives from the departments and built a fabulous committee, which really gave health and safety a big shove in the right direction. Ensuring a good work environment is not a one-man show, and to succeed you need to do your homework properly," emphasises Marianne Hokland.
In this way, the instructions spread from the Bartholin Building, where Marianne Hokland worked, to the other parts of the Department of Biomedicine and across the faculty, so that instructions and guidelines became standardised.
From print to database
Looking back over the last quarter of a century, Marianne Hokland views the standardisation and digitisation of instructions and guidelines as one of the major advances. If someone needs to learn about the handling of e.g. ethanol, employees across the university can now look up the information in the shared KIROS database and find the same guidelines. This is not least due to the productive collaboration with NAT and TECH in the university's chemicals network.
Marianne Hokland also points to the permanent appointment of an in-house chemical consultant as a milestone for the faculty. The position is currently held by Lina Waldstrøm Asmussen, who is responsible for preparing all the risk assessments, instructions for use and descriptions that are required by the Danish Working Environment Authority – such as e.g. which gloves must be used and when to work in a fume cupboard.
What about MeToo?
When Marianne Hokland talks about working on the faculty's work environment, the subject is often fewer accidents and the safe handling of chemicals. But what about the psychological work environment?
"A good psychological work environment is certainly not unimportant, but it’s not much use if you end up dying from going to work! A safe and healthy physical work environment is the actual foundation, and once you’ve ensured you don’t get eczema or are blown up, then of course we also try to help with stress and MeToo," says Marianne Hokland and refers to a well-functioning collaboration on the psychological work environment with the Faculty Liaison Committee (FSU) – e.g. on constructive communication which still appears as an issue in the workplace assessments.
We don't need to reinvent things
Despite the successes, there is still a great deal to be done according to the outgoing chair.
"We didn’t quite make it with one of my personal preoccupations, which is a one hundred per cent non-smoking work environment. And I can also see great perspectives in greater collaboration with the other Danish universities. It would be really good to have the same strategies and identical guidelines for things like handling carcinogenic substances. That could save time and improve quality. We don't all need to reinvent the same things every time," says Marianne Hokland, who is satisfied with her efforts over a quarter of a century:
"I've spent a great deal of my life trying to create a good, healthy and safe work environment, and I can see that it’s been worthwhile. We’ve ensured that both employees and managers have a significantly greater focus on the work environment compared to when I started, and this is both important and absolutely necessary."
Come full circle
Marianne Hokland retired at the end of February. On 1 May this year, the post of coordinating occupational health and safety manager will formally pass to David Kraft, who is associate professor at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health and the department's long-standing occupational health and safety manager. And Marianne Hokland is pleased with the choice of David Kraft:
“I’ve worked together with David for many years. He does a tremendous job and has some good visions for the area. He is a great choice when it comes to the employees' health and safety, and as he’s also Erling Østergaard's successor at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health, we’ve in a way come full circle. It’s going to be really good.”
- The faculty’s Occupational Health and Safety Committee (FAMU) plans and coordinates occupational health and safety work at the faculty.
- The committee comprises representatives from both management and employees from each department and from the administrative centre, a representative from the PhD students, a permanent chemical consultant and the coordinating occupational health and safety manager, as well as the Dean who is the chair of the committee.
- The Occupational Health and Safety Committee at Health reports to the faculty management team and to the university’s Main Occupational Health and Safety Committee (HAMU).
- The members of the Occupational Health and Safety Committee are democratically elected, and the coordinating occupational health and safety manager is appointed by the Dean following expressions of interest.
- The coordinating occupational health and safety manager is in charge of working with the faculty's work environment and is appointed for a three-year period with the option of extension.
- A total of 7.5 hours a week are allocated to the function of coordinating occupational health and safety manager.
- On 1 May, associate professor David Kraft, Department of Dentistry and Oral Health, is the faculty’s coordinating occupational health and safety manager.
- Find out more about the faculty’s Occupational Health and Safety Committee on the website.