Sustainability strategies, the ideal habitat for safety and health

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If i´d had to start from zero to develop the safety and health duties in an organization, It is clear to me which should be the path to follow: to develop a sustainability strategy.

A proper sustainability strategy brings as consequence a comprehensive safety and health management addressed to specific, practical, real and well traced objectives. All this, under the transparency (key concept) and responsibility principles, which are the ones demanded by the globalized and well informed society.

Thus exposed, someone may think that this is nothing new at all in the safety and health field, that this is the way in which things were done for ages. That these words are now well known. And this people is likely right.

But it is all about that, and something more. Sustainability strategies provide some concepts of client and and problem (objective) demarcation not reached neither the mandatory safety and health regulations or even the ISO/OHSAS standards.

1. Risk prevention, mandatory legislation, relevant administrations

In a first stage, risk prevention in companies is just driven by the compulsory regulations and its compliance is monitored by the relevant administrations. In this point, legislation and public bodies are the only target client of the corporate safety and health.

This has been the case traditionally, from the early codes of labor -thousands of years ago- to a few decades ago, when most of the current laws were developed.

Despite that there were and still are companies deploying an exemplary will to go beyond regulations -both when performing their own activities or enforcing their collaborators to do so-, this approach does not encourages the sound development of the OSH duties, turning the legal and administrative requirements into an end in itself.

This last was the prevailing scenario, being one of the causes of which safety and health may not be at the level of other fields, neither within the own companies or other professions in general.

There are companies that today remain in this stage 1.

2. Risk prevention for the client´s satisfaction

In a second stage, safety and health in the organizations start to be integrated in management systems from “client satisfaction” standards: quality and environment ISO standards and, above all, OHSAS 18001 standards on occupational safety and health. This happens since the 1980 and 1990 decades.

Under an ISO and/or OHSAS management system, in addition to comply with OSH regulations, safety and health becomes more consistent and professional since it is incorporated to key fields throughout organizations (production).

However, despite that the concept of client is extended, this continues being limited: corporate safety and health aims to get the recipient of provided products or services.

3. Sustainability strategies

Among the current trends emerging regarding organizations management, there is one deserving special attention by the safety and health professionals. It is all about sustainability strategies.

Despite that the sustainability strategies exist since similar time than the client satisfaction standards (1990 decade) [1], the implementation of labor, safety and health principles was gradual until the current situation, in which OSH and work-related topics hold a outstanding role throughout the common used standards (GRI G4).

GRIG4_guidelines_Part2_coverWithin this approach, which is expected to meet a huge evolution in the next ten years, specific OSH actions of the organization are conditional to aspects not taken into account neither by legislation or client satisfaction standards. These are:

  • an “actor analysis” which extends the concept of client to any entity interested and influencing the organization, what may include from pure trading clients, public administrations, suppliers, groups of interest or the society itself;
  • the “problem demarcation” (or “objectives demarcation”) which makes possible to focus systematically in the real key issues, to deduce their causes and establish specific measures to each cause.

There are lots of cases on sustainability strategies in which labor conditions are the key issue. In this same blog, you can read about one of the most famous cases in history, the case of the labor conditions in the Chinese suppliers of Apple (the full post series, here, in Spanish)

Among all the possible environments, the sustainability strategy is the one in which occupational safety and health may find its ideal habitat within the organizations and the society itself.

Soon or later, we will encounter in the third kind…

[1] WIKIPEDIA. 19 may 2014. Sustainability reporting. Consulted 08 jul 2014.
GLOBAL REPORTING INITIATIVE. G4 - Sustainability reporting guidelines. Reporting Principles and Standard Disclosures. Consulted 08 jul 2014.

2 thoughts on “Sustainability strategies, the ideal habitat for safety and health”

    1. Peggy, I think that, whether they like it or not, companies will increasingly have to go towards such topics -labor conditions, OSH, environment,…- as key factors of business development.

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