It’s no secret that having an effective workplace health and safety program in place invariably leads to big benefits, such as lower worker injury and mortality rates, a more engaged workforce and a sense of pride and loyalty amongst employees.
As startling statistics prove every year, however, not every business is completely committed to ensuring the health and safety of their workforce.1 Lax standards enforcement, hazard-laden workspaces and cut corners on machine maintenance are just a few of the ways employers routinely place their employees in the face of danger.
If the negative impacts on workers that result from such a philosophy – injury, mental illness, death, to name just a few – are not reason enough to get these organizations to place a greater importance on OSH, perhaps a developing trend will succeed in pushing them to action.
Evidence is mounting that investors are flat out unwilling to do business with organizations that don’t demonstrably place an importance on the human side of sustainability. Funding is instead flowing to those that DO exhibit a commitment to worker wellbeing. Health and safety is, therefore, now clearly a business issue, one that is playing a huge role in determining which outfits enjoy bountiful bottom lines rendered in black ink and which ones run the serious risk of rotting in the red variety.
The Human Side of Sustainability
In her seminar “Human Capital and Sustainability: Reconnecting With Sustainability,” delivered at the recent Health and Safety Matters virtual conference, Louise Hosking, president-elect of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), pointed to some telling figures that show how an effective EHS program is becoming an imperative for business success.
The growing membership numbers of a United Nations-backed initiative known as the Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) reveal the extent to which concern over Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors is rising among investors.
Hosking described the PRI as “an international network of investors working together to support the sustainability agenda, ensuring it is understood, supported and incorporated into their own investment decision-making and ownership practices.”
It was founded in 2006 with 63 members. By 2018 that number stood at just over 1,900. Today membership has swelled to over 3,000.
This notable rise in the PRI ranks is important, Hosking said, because this group influences decisions on where money is invested around the world, and its members are looking for more reliable, sustainable sources of growth.
“To sustain growth, productivity and profitability, investors and business owners are learning that they need to look after people at work and in their supply chains. It is the right thing to do, and it will [generate] competitive advantage, which makes it the smart business thing to do. Investors are investing in countries where safety and health at work are strong.”
As a result, more organizations worldwide are thinking about sustainability as future resilience, and “powerful interests in the marketplace are choosing partners based on how they do business, including how they look after people.”
The concept of sustainability – which Hosking said is associated most frequently with environmental issues but which is, in fact, “fundamentally about people…(and) the ways in which we treat one another and the decisions that we make” – is the focus of another United Nations-related initiative, the UN Global Compact. Its membership, Hosking pointed out, is another telling sign that health and safety is crucial for business success in the 21st century.
The world’s largest sustainability initiative, the compact has signed up more than 14,000 companies across 162 countries since it began in 2000. It is essentially a call to companies to align their strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption, and it take actions that advance societal goals.
Among its 165 targets for improvement, IOSH has identified 41 that are directly related to safety, health and good work. These goals are also providing a blueprint for how businesses can operate more sustainably at every level – and the world’s biggest investors are taking note, Hosking said.
“The UN sustainability goals are one of the bigger sets of global drivers that are influencing investment decisions by the world’s biggest asset managers.”
Demand For Safe Workplaces
Companies that fail to implement effective health and safety programs will also pay a price in the human resources area. Recent findings indicate that today’s top talent will not be willing to work for an organization that doesn’t have a proven track record of health and safety success.
A recent survey of small business employees found that the safety of the work environment was among the top criteria they consider when evaluating a new job offer. It ranked ahead of such traditionally important factors as the quality of potential coworkers and opportunities for professional growth.2
The global pandemic has made health and safety an even more important consideration for talented early-career job-seekers who are highly coveted by employers. Nearly 60 percent of respondents to another survey said they would turn down a job if the employer did not have clear health and safety protocols related to the COVID-19 virus in place.3
Speaking the Language of Leaders
As these forces being to push health and safety higher on senior leadership’s agenda, OSH professionals have a key role to play in ensuring that upward movement does indeed take place, Hosking said.
“There’s a business language spoken globally, to which OSH professionals must tap into,” she pointed out. To help them, her organization has developed the IOSH Competency Framework to act as a reference tool. It is split into three main areas:
- Behavioral, enabling OSH professionals to build successful and productive relationships
- Core, covering the skills, knowledge and behaviors to support and enable good decision-making in the workplace
- Technical, to enhance the capability to provide accurate and effective advice on safety and occupational health subjects.
“OSH professionals are already valued within organizations,” Hosking said, “but by encouraging them to concentrate on these areas of development, the Competency Framework can help them reach further within their organizations.”
1 A worker died every 99 minutes from a work-related injury in the U.S. in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
2 “Workplace Safety Can Give Small Business Owners a Recruiting Edge,” EMPLOYERS Survey, 2017
3 2021 Job Seeker Nation Report, Jobvite, 2020