About the report
The pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) has had a major impact on working life. There is a great need for knowledge of the pandemic, for which reason the Agency is conducting analyses based on newly collected data from the Swedish business sector concerning how work is organized and how work environment management is handled, along with health and safety measures applied during the coronavirus pandemic. In this report, the Agency presents the results of analyses based on responses to our survey concerning the coronavirus pandemic.
In the fall of 2020, the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise conducted an electronic survey concerning how work was organized and how work environment management was handled prior to the pandemic in 2019, as well as some overarching questions regarding health and safety measures applied in 2020. The survey was sent to enterprises in both the business and public sectors. The survey responses from the management of private companies regarding health and safety measures in 2020 are used in the report. The responses are combined with register data on company structure as well as education and staff structure. The analyses include about 2500 private companies. Both selection and statistical processing were carried out in such a way as to allow the study results to be generalized to the Swedish business sector at large. This approach has been tested with favorable results. The analyses focus specifically on the various industries in the business sector but are intended to help illustrate the overarching health and safety measures that companies in the Swedish business sector applied during the pandemic.
Three different health and safety measures are included in the analyses. More than half of all companies in the Swedish business sector did not take any specific measures to address the corona pandemic other than to remind their employees to wash their hands more often and maintain social distancing on the premises. Companies in goods-producing industries were more likely than their service-producing counterparts to state that they have limited their health and safety measures to reminding employees to wash their hands more often and maintain social distancing on the premises. The other half of the companies in the Swedish business sector either applied several different health and safety measures or primarily adopted telework. The incidence of telework is higher in the service industries and lower in manufacturing, but there are also large differences in incidence among the various industries involved in the production of goods and services. Telework is most prevalent in knowledge-intensive industries involved in the production of both goods and services, with an average of 25% of companies in the business sector adopting this health and safety measure as the primary intervention in the first year of the pandemic. The incidence of several different health and safety measures is roughly the same in the various industries: the average proportion in the Swedish business sector is just over 20%. Accommodation and food service activities are a noteworthy exception, where twice as many companies (44%) applied several different health and safety measures.
In addition to presenting the actual incidence of health and safety measures in the report, the analysis also includes information about whether and how different production conditions contribute to explaining the incidence of the three health and safety measures (washing hands more often and social distancing on the premises, several different health and safety measures, or mainly telework). One of the production conditions is the main industry production activity (measured as the various industries). Another production condition is the size of the company, which indicates its strength, resources, and complexity. Further included factors are related to staff, such as education level, which represents a measure of the technological level of the company and the quality of the work tasks. Other aspects of staff structure are age, gender, and foreign background.
One key finding of the regression analysis is that a high average incidence of these three measures during the pandemic in an industry does not mean that the industry’s focus of production activity explains the incidence of the health and safety measures applied. The actual incidence of the measures for each industry differs from the extent to which the main focus of production activity in the industry can explain the incidence. A high incidence of health and safety measures can generally be attributed to the proportion of women and the average age in companies in the business sector. For one of the measures, washing hands more often and social distancing on the premises, education level also contributes to explaining the incidence.
For example, the actual incidence of the health and safety measure of washing hands more often and social distancing on the premises is highest in the goods-producing industries, but only in a few cases does the focus of production activity contribute to explaining the incidence; these cases are in the service industries cited as contributing to the high incidence of the measure. This suggests that the level of this measure can largely be explained by other production conditions, especially within the goods-producing industries. In general, the incidence of the health and safety measure of washing hands more often and social distancing on the premises in the business sector is attributable to other production factors: large companies, higher education level, higher proportion of women, and higher average age in the company.
The results of the analysis also indicate that a high incidence of telework as a health and safety measure during the pandemic in a given industry does not mean that the main focus of production of these activities is synonymous with the underlying cause of this incidence. In fact, those production activities that cite this measure actually have low incidence. In general, however, a high proportion of women and low average age within the company are cited as contributing factors for the measure telework in the business sector.
The focus of production activity in some industries can contribute to explaining why several different measures have been adopted; they can be found in both goods-producing and service-producing industries, such as the capital-intensive manufacturing industry and agriculture and within two knowledge-intensive service-producing industries. In general, small companies also contribute to explaining the incidence of several different measures. The single factor that helps to explain the measure most clearly is high average age: the higher the average age among the staff, the higher the incidence of several different health and safety measures.
A summary of how companies in the Swedish business sector report that they conducted operations in 2020 complements the overview of the three health and safety measures and the results of how different production conditions contribute to explaining their incidents. The majority of the companies report that they continued to conduct business as usual during the first year of the pandemic. These companies are more likely to be found in the goods-producing industries than in the service-producing industries. Nevertheless, there are companies in both the goods and service sectors that report that they did not conduct business as usual. Twice as many companies in the service sectors report this observation, compared with their counterparts in goods production. In contrast, the proportion of companies reporting that they plan to resume, expand, or start new operations is the same or almost as high in the service sectors as in manufacturing. On average, 36% of companies in the business sector cite the coronavirus pandemic as the main reason for the impact on the scope of their business activities.