Federal Occupational Health Management



Policy areas

Organisation name Federal Office of Personnel (FOPER)

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Contact person: Rolf Simon


The need for occupational safety and health protection measures is not restricted to the world of industrial production, but is becoming increasingly apparent in the services sector, with its very specific stress and hazard characteristics. This is particularly true of complex administrative systems that exhibit a very wide and multifaceted spectrum of activities.

The growing proportion of older workers and the need to preserve the ability of employees to perform effectively up to statutory retirement age (or indeed beyond) place the issue of occupational health in a new light. In keeping with a growing level of health awareness among the population as a whole, employee awareness of their employer’s duty of care is on the rise. As well as being an important driver of operational success, occupational healthcare management is also increasingly becoming an important part of an organisation’s image.

There is an inherent conflict between insistence on rigorous measures to ensure occupational safety and health protection on the one hand, and the call for soft measures that will promote the health of employees generally on the other. This has dominated the discussion on occupational health in the services sector for many years, at times in a paralysing way. In addition to the question of costs, attention has increasingly focused on the importance of an integral occupational health management function.

The onus is on employers to identify any threats to the safety and health of their employees, take corresponding protective measures and put in place the necessary regulations. They should provide employees with the necessary instruction, and subject the protective measures and mechanisms to regular review. The directive on the consultation of occupational doctors and other occupational health specialists as drawn up by the Federal Coordination Commission for Occupational Safety (FCOS Directive 6508) specifies this obligation on the part of the employer. It prescribes advice by occupational health specialists in keeping with occupational circumstances and the particular threats that apply.

According to the Federal Supreme Court, the employer must take measures to avoid excessive stress at the workplace, in keeping with their duty of care. Possible measures to prevent stress include improvements to work organisation, discussions with employees, the scaling-back of overtime, flexible working hours, the review of workloads, promotion of a positive working atmosphere and recognition of employee achievements.

In addition to the general new challenges that arise in connection with occupational health management, administration-specific developments also flag up a need to act:

  • In its regular system controls in the AUs of the Federal Administration, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) identified shortcomings compared to the private sector.
  • As work becomes increasingly complex, so too do the demands made of employees rise. According to statistics drawn up by the Occupational Health Service of the Federal Administration, there has been an increase in psychological stress in particular as a result of the intensification of work, time pressure, uncertainty and work-specific conditions.
  • Also identified were shortcomings in the systematic compilation of health-related information and data sets. There was no evidence of either cost transparency or options for managing costs. Among other things, a health monitoring function needed to be established and agreements with external service providers renegotiated.
  • Various different health management systems, each with their own specific characteristics and orientation, were being operated alongside one another in an uncoordinated way. Some AUs demonstrated a high level of expertise, while others lacked awareness of and commitment to the issue of occupational health.

For this reason, among others, the Federal Office of Personnel (FOPER) decided to establish a Federal Occupational Health Management (FOHM) function, which would:

  • meet the statutory requirements in every respect;
  • be organised in an exemplary and cost-conscious way;
  • involve all relevant players;
  • help to control health costs;
  • strengthen the motivation and health of employees, as well as their confidence in their employer;
  • contribute to the positive image of the Federal Administration in the eyes of the public and the labour market.

The FOPER set up and developed the FOHM function together with the various departments, administrative units (AUs) and social partners. This process also required close cooperation with specialist national bodies such as the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), as well as exchanges of ideas on best practice solutions with the private sector. It is tailored to the needs of the Federal Administration, and incorporates various special solutions already in place for AUs with special needs in the area of protection (e.g. the ABC Laboratory in the defence sphere) into an all-encompassing system. It draws on existing knowledge and capabilities within the various areas of the Federal Administration, which have in some cases been developed over many years, and deploys these for the benefit of the Federal Administration as a whole.

The purpose of the FOHM function is to preserve and promote the health, motivation, well-being and, by extension, the effectiveness of Federal Administration employees. In addition to prevention and reintegration following illness or injury, this also encompasses measures to promote health, whereby these measures also have repercussions for work organisation, management and individual health behaviour.

The FOHM function is now up and running as an efficient instrument with formal certification from the Federal Coordination Commission for Occupational Safety (FCOS). As well as being broadly based, it is supported by the entire Federal Administration and fulfils all regulatory requirements without exception. The FOHM function is overseen by a central specialist unit for occupational health management in the FCOS, which manages and coordinates the task areas of occupational medical assistance, occupational safety and health protection, health promotion and occupational case management.

For the operation of the FOHM function, the sheer size of the Federal Administration (37 000 employees) and the large number of AUs require clear internal structures, processes and responsibilities to be defined. Very careful attention needs to be paid to internal communication and the training of staff.

To this end, one contact person for occupational safety and health protection (COPOSH) and one health officer (HO) were defined for each AU. They were provided with the corresponding instructions, and trained in the execution of their role in a targeted and consistent way through seminars stretching over several days.

In parallel with this development, the spectrum of training on health themes was broadened through the Federal Administration Training Centre (FATC) with a view to raising the awareness of the workforce as a whole regarding this theme. There was great interest in this issue, and a dramatic expansion of the number of courses was required.

With the assistance of health statistics drawn up by each administrative unit, and based on the criteria for the operation of the FOHM function, the steering group of each AU can illustrate the success of the measures taken. This includes the need for further activities and is compiled in a health report, drawn up on the basis of FOPER guidelines and then submitted to management.

The personnel strategies for 2011 to 2015 and 2016 to 2019 recognise that the preservation of employees’ health and their ability to perform effectively represents an increasing challenge for the Federal Administration.

Thanks to the FOHM concept, the groundwork has been laid for establishing and reinforcing the occupational medical assistance, occupational safety and health protection, health promotion and case management areas throughout the Federal Administration. The affected parties have been involved right from the start, drawing on both preliminary work undertaken previously as well as existing resources. Structures, processes, roles, responsibilities and tasks have been clearly defined. The necessary expertise and implementation experience have been ensured through the use of specialists.

This concept is already fit for implementation in other public institutions both in Switzerland and elsewhere. In many respects, the threat portfolio of the Federal Administration mirrors the threats that exist in the cantons and communes. The training provided to COPOSHs is SUVA-certified and recognised in all branches of industry within Switzerland. The checklists and directives are multifaceted, in keeping with the diverse nature of the threat portfolio. The solution can be integrated seamlessly into the management cycle of an administrative unit or other organisation.

Other areas of public administration in Switzerland have already shown great interest in the FOHM concept. As far as the FCOS is concerned, the solution is both successful and exemplary. Subject to certain adjustments, the solution developed for the Swiss Federal Administration could certainly be transferred to and implemented in public sector administrative organisations outside Switzerland too.

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