Boliden Harjavalta focuses on preventing disability cases in advance
A few years ago, copper smelter Boliden Harjavalta started to systematically improve well-being at work. As a by-product, the average retirement age increased by three years. And not a single employee has retired on a disability pension for years.
Boliden Harjavalta, formerly Outokumpu Harjavalta Metals, already had several well-being-at-work practices in place. At a smelter, there is simply no option. Smelting and refining copper and nickel concentrates is demanding, and the work environment is accordingly harsh.
“Employees may have to work close to molten metal, with temperatures reaching up to 1,300–1,400 degrees Celsius. Most employees work in five shifts, and are exposed to heavy labour,” explains HR Manager Reijo Salminen.
Project results in a more systematic approach
In autumn 2010, Boliden Harjavalta assumed a more systematic approach to well-being at work, as the employer federations and trade unions in the technology industry launched a common project, called ‘Good work – longer career’. Boliden Harjavalta enrolled as a pilot company in the project.
Salminen reviews a list of measures that Boliden Harjavalta has implemented since. The 20-item list includes:
- continuous development discussion training for the entire personnel
- more open communication: summaries on management team meetings published for the entire personnel
- updating of job descriptions so that responsibilities and authorisations are clear for all
- job rotation when possible
- improvements on ergonomics, safety and well-being at work
Permission to continue working past retirement age
One of the measures is very simple, yet revolutionary.
“We have strongly emphasised that you are allowed to continue working after turning 63, if you want to. It is now more morally acceptable to continue working than before,” Reijo Salminen says.
Earlier, it was not really acceptable to work beyond your retirement age. Employees over the age of 60 were supposed not to ‘steal’ jobs from younger employees.
“This culture has now changed. No one is forced to retire. Instead, when someone brings up retirement, I ask them if they could go on working, unless they have health issues. Often they choose to stay a little longer.”
No disability pensions
Boliden Harjavalta has adopted a model for early support, which helps to prevent potential health and workability problems. The company’s occupational health care centre plays a key role in this. Employees’ well-being and ability to work is monitored continuously, and employees are informed about rehabilitation opportunities. If need be, work in production is adjusted and moderated.
Thanks to these measures, not a single person has retired on a disability pension in recent years. This is also reflected in pension contributions: the contribution category for disability pension is down by two.
Additional days-off on the agenda
Despite the improvements, work in production can still be very demanding.
“Due to the physical stress, it is impossible to go on working until one’s late 60s. Working conditions need improving, and measures have already been taken. We’ve had ideas for improvements, and some of them have been carried out while others are still waiting,” says OHS representative Jarmo Hämäläinen.
One of the ideas on the backburner is additional days-off. In Hämäläinen’s view, the work load could be reduced with a years-of-service leave or similar.
“We will continue bringing this idea up,” Hämäläinen pledges.
Job rotation reduces work load
Job rotation is being used, especially in the physically heavy jobs. ‘The hardest job is that of the smelter tappers, who control the melt level in the furnace. Most of them participate in the job rotation scheme.
“Some workers rotate after two or three days, and others every day. It helps to reduce the physical load and static working postures,” says Hämäläinen.
Five-shift work gets harder with age
Working in five shifts gets harder as one gets older. If several elderly employees happen to work in the same shift, it is impossible to arrange lighter shifts for all of them. In that case, the company tries to arrange days-off so as to avoid night shifts.
“But if there are few employees in a shift, it makes the equation difficult,” Hämäläinen points out.
In spite of the hard production work, Boliden Harjavalta is an attractive employer. It has a reputation of looking after its employees and paying salaries and wages on time.
- smelts copper and nickel concentrates, refines copper
- personnel totals 410
- 276 production employees, 125 office and managerial employees
- employees aged over 51: 117
- more than 90 people will retire within ten years
- average age of personnel 41.5 years
Text: Riitta Gullman
Photos: Boliden Harjavalta