US Department of Labor | 3 January 2017
Column: Worker Safety, a Sustainability Essential
When you think about “sustainability,” what comes to mind? Energy consumption, emissions reductions, polar bears, recycling, the triple bottom line? Most commonly, it is a concept that has been associated with the environmental effects of activities and decisions, but sustainability is about more than being green; it is also about people.
Through sustainability, organizations strive to balance the three P’s—people, profit, planet—to achieve long-term success and viability. Organizations of all sizes across the country and around the world have embraced sustainability as a way to showcase their values, measure effects and outcomes, and increase their competitive advantage.
Organizations cannot be sustainable without protecting the safety, health, and welfare of their most vital resource: workers. Currently, workplace safety and health may be acknowledged in sustainability strategies, but its importance is rarely emphasized. Integrating safety and health into these innovative and proactive strategies provides a transformative opportunity to achieve a truly sustainable organization.
Consistent and reliable metrics are one critical part of this transformation. In sustainability, everyone knows that what is important gets measured and what is measured gets done. Without the integration of consistent and reliable safety and health metrics into sustainability strategies, any discussion of these issues is just lip service. Efforts, such as those by the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability, are paving the way for occupational safety and health and sustainability professionals to measure and report more effectively on safety and health progress.
Embracing safety and health as a cornerstone of sustainability is good for workers and good for business. A stronger commitment to safety and health can benefit workers by decreasing the number of illnesses, injuries, and fatalities; increasing their engagement and satisfaction; and enabling them to be productive participants in the organization and their communities. When emphasizing the safety, health, and welfare of workers, businesses also see benefits in decreased costs associated with workers’ compensation payments, training, and recruitment; increased productivity and quality; and improved reputational and financial performance.
In the US, occupational illnesses, injuries, and fatalities cost the economy an estimated USD 200 billion annually. This provides a tremendous impetus for innovative strategies and industry leadership for advancing workplace protections and enhancing organizational performance by leveraging the power of the sustainability movement. Integrating safety and health into sustainability strategies can transform an organization into one that strives to protect the environment for future generations, ensures long-term economic viability, and allows all people to thrive.
Read about sustainability from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration here.
David Michaels is the current assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. John Henshaw served as the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health from 2001 to 2004.