As Oprah famously said during her holiday specials, "You get a new car! And YOU get a new car! And YOU get a new car!!!" It might not be a new car, but OSHA and the National Safety Council's Campbell Institute are looking at new ways to approach EHS and sustainability. Both organizations released white papers in December that examine the relationship between occupational safety and health and sustainability.

OSHA’s new white paper, “Sustainability in the Workplace: A New Approach for Protecting Worker Safety and Health,” highlights the importance of including worker safety and health in the growing movement toward sustainability and corporate responsibility. The Campbell Institute – the National Safety Council’s center of excellence for environmental, health and safety management – has released a new white paper titled “Profiles in Sustainability: Business, Community, and Environment” to demonstrate the connection between worker safety and health and “true” sustainability.

Triple Bottom Line

Some call it the triple-bottom line: leveraging people, planet and profits to achieve sustainability goals. Ideally, sustainability strives to balance social, environmental and economic considerations to achieve long-term corporate success and viability.

In the past, sustainability efforts focused on environmental issues, such as resource usage and emissions reductions. Attention abviously now is turning to other aspects of sustainability, including occupational safety and health.

“It is clear that more and more businesses are building the concept of sustainability into their operations,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “We believe the next innovation is integrating worker safety and health into these sustainability strategies.”

OSHA’s white paper highlights ways in which sustainability can be leveraged to reimagine and identify innovative approaches for advancing safety and health, which include:

  • Creating new partnerships to support integrated OSH and sustainability activities;
  • Enhancing interdisciplinary training and education for workers, the OSH community and business professionals;
  • Measuring the impact of safety and health performance on business outcomes;
  • Recognizing employers that successfully integrate OSH into sustainability efforts; and
  • Improving access to data on safety and health for sustainability reporting.

Sustainability Is More Than Green

“It has become increasingly clear that sustainability must go beyond ‘green’ efforts,” said John Dony, director of the Campbell Institute and director of environmental, health, safety and sustainability at the National Safety Council. “Campbell Institute members know there is a strong link between occupational safety and health and sustainability that organizations need to recognize. Businesses are only as sustainable as their people. ”

The white paper, which contains real world experiences of eight Institute members – AES, Cummins, FCA, ISN, Mosaic, Owens Corning, United Rentals and USG – outlines their best practices for developing and managing sustainability efforts. It explains how sustainability implies a corporate responsibility not only to the planet, but also to the organization's people by protecting worker health and safety, and to profitability by ensuring a viable business for many years to come.

Five common areas were identified among the research participants, including:

  • Defining sustainability according to a “triple-bottom line” approach.
  • Using recognized standards to report on sustainability.
  • Expressing a need for more and better metrics for return on sustainability efforts.
  • Finding better leading metrics for sustainability and more ways to correlate environmental sustainability with safety.
  • Developing aspirational yet attainable sustainability goals.

According to OSHA, further engagement between the agency, the worker safety and health community and the sustainability community can help identify new paths for promoting a culture of safety and achieving a workplace that is truly sustainable.