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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday issued a white paper documenting a link between workplace safety and sustainability and calling for safety to be fully integrated into sustainability initiatives.
OSHA sees workplace safety and sustainability as going hand in hand, even when the link is not discussed, and sustainability tends to focus on environmental concerns, according to the white paper.
“A building, no matter how energy efficient or healthy for occupants, is not sustainable if a construction worker is killed while building it,” the agency said in the white paper. “Furniture, no matter how responsibly the wood is harvested, is not sustainable if a woodworker loses a limb during manufacturing. The poultry supply chain, no matter how well free-range chickens are treated, cannot be sustainable when workers endure crippling musculoskeletal disorders while processing those chickens.”
On Jan. 1, 2016, 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals came into force, several of which have direct and indirect connections to worker and labor issues, including goal No. 8, which outlines decent work environment and economic growth goals, one of which is to “protect labor rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers,” the white paper said.
However, research by the Sustainability Consortium found worker safety and health is often left out of current sustainability discussions. For example, in mapping hotspots and improvement opportunities in product supply chains, the consortium’s methodology failed to identify any worker safety and health issues in the slaughter, processing and cooking of chicken — even though workers in this industry suffer elevated injury and illness rates, according to OSHA.
The white paper highlights ways to leverage sustainability to advance safety and health, including creating new partnerships to support integrated occupational safety and health and sustainability activities and enhancing interdisciplinary training and education for workers, the occupational safety and health community and business professionals.
Other steps include measuring the impact of safety and health performance on business outcomes, recognizing employers that successfully integrate occupational safety and health into sustainability efforts, and improving access to data on safety and health for sustainability reporting, according to OSHA.
“It is clear that more and more businesses are building the concept of sustainability into their operations,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said in a statement. “We believe the next innovation is integrating worker safety and health into these sustainability strategies.”
The white paper, directed toward both safety and health professionals, along with individuals and organizations engaged in sustainability, was developed based on more than 80 stakeholder conversations and review of articles, publications, reports and frameworks.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s safety and health program management guidelines for the construction sector set out a specific set of recommended practices for employers in this industry.