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Freelance writer, editor and speaker and former head of Regulatory Magazines at Lexis Nexis.
November 18, 2022

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A perfect match? OSH and ESG

How does health and safety slot into the corporate sustainability agenda? Health and safety writer, editor and speaker, Louis Wustemann, previews a symposium next month seeking to find out.

The responsibility of business to show purpose beyond simply generating shareholder value is a live issue. Net zero emissions targets, the long tail of the pandemic and public disillusion with politicians and the media which sees many people rating their employers as more trustworthy than officialdom; all these create a context in which organisations’ social and environmental credentials are increasingly important. But where does health and safety management fit into the corporate sustainability agenda? That is one of the questions that delegates will consider at a symposium this month. The People Sustainability: The Future summit aims to look at how OSH contributes to businesses delivering social good and its place in human capital management.

The day of presentations, panel discussions and workshops will be held at County Hall, the former seat of London’s government, on 1 December. Convened by beauty products group L’Oréal, safety charity RoSPA and the sustainability umbrella group the Capitals Coalition, the summit builds on a previous event hosted by L’Oréal in Paris in 2019 when representatives of the investment community, OSH specialists and agencies specialising in ESG ratings came together to discuss the place of safety and health in social sustainability.

Influencing ESG

Kathy Seabrook is Ambassador for the Capitals Coalition and chair of its Human Capital in Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Project Group. She will chair a panel session on the role of health and safety in the ESG (environmental, social and governance) agenda, which shapes stock market investing and corporate pressure on supply chain standards.

“What we are going to do is help the attendees really understand how human capital, sustainability and occupational safety and health are connected,” says Kathy. “On the panel we will have three corporate representatives and Jennifer McNelly, CEO of the American Society of Safety Professionals. We want it to be real-world, so the questions we are asking are ‘How is this operationalised in your company? What do you feel the role of the occupational safety and health professional has in the course of sustainability, ESG and CSR [corporate social responsibility]?’”

She says the event will also consider the problem of language; the taxonomies used in ESG and OSH are “worlds apart, but we are really talking about the same thing. It’s as simple as impacts and risks being the same thing.”

The event will see the launch of a report sponsored by L’Oréal and researched by consultants ERM which will include an analysis of how the environmental elements of ESG link to the social aspects, specifically health and safety. Kathy says the report will consider questions including the following: “How does climate change impact workers? How does it impact communities; their health and wellbeing? When you think about respiratory disorders or access to clean water for drinking in arid climates which are going to increase with the changes we have. How does it even impact their safety in some cases? Because you are looking at natural disasters.”

“All these things are interconnected and the paper is about helping all stakeholders understand why people and planet are important and that we need to be doing what we can do to mitigate the risks,” she adds.

On the road

Karen McDonnell is Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser at RoSPA. She will be chairing another panel session at the summit focusing on one of the highest-hazard activities that most organisations ask employees to undertake: driving. She notes that 1.3 million people die in traffic accidents every year.

Dr Karen Mcdonell Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser at RoSPA.

“It’s about why we should be talking about road safety,” she says of the panel session. “It’s about seeing road safety as something from the moment you get in the vehicle, whether you are driving for work or not, about individual ownership in a workplace context. It’s about articulating the conversation so that people who are driving for you recognise their impact on other road users, that it’s a shared space. We have been articulating that it’s a safety-critical task and that road safety is a life skill.”

She says that road risk exemplifies how the the different strands of sustainability are linked, citing the construction engineering specialists Jacobs’ slogan that the “safest mile is the mile not driven”, and shifting the focus to virtual meetings and remote working where possible.

“You start thinking of the value of not driving,” she says, citing the environmental benefits in carbon reduction. “Governments are increasingly interested in this; the Scottish government has set a target of 20% a year for reducing car kilometres by 2030. They recognise the benefits in the number of people that won’t have asthma, the safer spaces.”

She says the summit’s emphasis on valuing and protecting employees as human capital chimes with RoSPA’s mission: “We have a whole-life, whole-person approach. Things happen to people across their life course and for a high proportion of that time they are in a place – at work – that should be providing them with good work, and that accounts for their health and safety. Freedom from harm is an important goal.”

What does she hope the summit will achieve? “It will be excellent in getting a cohort of people to speak the same language then we can reap the rewards from that as people go back into their individual spheres of influence.”

Kathy agrees. “They will be thinking about that intersectionality between human capital, sustainability and OSH. And what kind of conversations do we need to start having with our senior leaders? What do those discussions look like that are going to impact decision making by senior leaders in health and safety and environment?”

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