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Closing the Swedish National Institute for Working Life

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A review of the possible consequences of this radical decision

In October 2006 the new Swedish government announced, in its budgetary proposal for the fiscal year of 2007, its intention to close the Swedish National Institute for Working Life (NIWL). This action was taken within a short time of assuming office, and set a closing date of 30 June 2007. At a stroke the measures will eliminate several research establishments of the NIWL in Stockholm, Umeå, Östersund, Norrköping, Göteborg, Malmö and Visby with a staff of roughly 400 researchers, auxiliary staff and management/administration, and an annual state budget of €40 million, as well as research grants of about €6–8 million from diverse funding agencies.

The decision sent a shockwave through the international occupational health research community. The Swedish NIWL has a long-standing track record of producing high quality and highly relevant research. No coherent explanation has been offered for this drastic State intervention. Researchers and practitioners of the international occupational health community have expressed surprise to the cabinet and parliamentary members involved. From all sides feelings of sympathy and commiseration have been shown over the plight of our Swedish colleagues. Forced to accept as a fact this truly deplorable turn of events, we are, however, well advised to ponder its implications.


The NIWL was originally set up in the early 1960s as an institute for applied research, primarily addressing research and development (R&D) needs in working populations under the name of the National Institute of Occupational Medicine, directly subordinated to the Ministry of Labour. It was not part of …

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  • Competing interests: PW was professor (Occupational Epidemiology) to the NIWL in Stockholm from 1990–9.