New research of the top 50 manufacturing firms listed on IndustryWeek’s Top 500 list from 2009 suggests that while reporting about sustainability and corporate responsibility is increasing, few companies utilize their EHS results as part of these externally reported metrics.
In an article in the Journal of Safety, Health and Environmental Research, authors Michael Behm , PhD, CSP, associate professor at Eastern Carolina University and Arthur Schneller, a health compliance officer with the North Carolina Department of Labor, examined EHS metrics and discovered that there is a perception among major corporations that external stakeholders are not interested in EHS, because it is perceived as an internal issue rather than an external one. However, the authors note, good EHS performance, management and practices are linked with business value, making it more important than ever for companies to report EHS performance externally. Publicity about stellar EHS performance creates goodwill and demonstrates ethical standards, according to Behm and Schneller.
“Investment firms are also interested in OHS performance,” say Behm and Schneller. “Goldman Sachs (2007) found that Australian investors could have profited using OHS measures as a signal for an investment strategy. This strategy can extend to supply chain relationships, which can be enhanced and assured they are in line with sustainable principles, and can lower the risk of supply chain disruptions due to OHS issues.”
According to the authors, companies that are focusing on sustainability need to include EHS. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a network-based organization that has developed world’s most-widely used sustainability-reporting framework. Behm and Schneller note that workplace safety and health is recognized within GRI, making safety professionals an important part of the triple bottom line. The four EHS-related performance indicators listed by GRI:
- Rates of injury, occupational diseases, lost days and absenteeism and total number of work-related fatalities by region.
- Education, training, counseling, prevention and risk control programs in place to assist workers, their families or community members regarding serious diseases.
- Percentage of total work force represented in formal joint management-worker health and safety committees that help monitor and advise on EHS programs.
- Health and safety topics covered in formal agreements with trade unions.
In their article, titled, “Externally Reported Occupational Health and Safety Data Among U.S. Manufacturing Firms,” Behm and Schneller address skepticism about environmental voluntary disclosures, which has been labeled “green washing.” In the EHS realm, Behm and Schneller label this concept “worker washing.” Companies that under-report worker injuries or downplay workplace safety issues among investors are guilty of “worker washing,” according to them.
Behm and Schneller recommend companies focus on creating meaningful employee involvement in EHS that would serve as a path forward for firms seeking to legitimize EHS efforts as part of creating and reporting business value.