Why OSH Professionals Should Embrace Sustainability

Why OSH Professionals Should Embrace Sustainability

Sustainability and employee safety are closely linked, and prioritizing them in the workplace creates resilient and successful business models that benefit employees.

Nothing lasts forever, and unfortunately, sustainability in its current context has a shelf life. With a theoretical expiration date looming, occupational safety and health professionals should embrace the current trend of sustainability as it pertains to keeping a business functional and progressing.  

With the federal government and Wall Street embracing environmental, social and governance (ESG), the sustainability movement has the wind at its back. The purpose of this article is to call out the current status quo and encourage professionals to capitalize on the moment. 

OSH + Sustainability = Employee Leverage 

Sustainability, employee safety, inclusion and diversity are all closely linked and mutually reinforcing. By prioritizing these aspects of the workplace, organizations can create a more sustainable, resilient and successful business model that benefits both employees and the broader community.  

This was demonstrated by the Center for Safety & Health Sustainability, which was created by the American Society of Safety Professionals, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, American Industrial Hygiene Association and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering in 2011. The group was ended because the organizations had embedded the practices into their daily operations. Those practices fell into the following three categories: employee safety, inclusion and diversity and employee well-being. 

Ensuring employee safety is a critical aspect of sustainability. By creating a safe and healthy work environment, organizations can reduce the risk of accidents, injuries and illnesses that can have long-term implications for the employees, the organization and the environment. Also, even though it is much harder to measure at times, this may also reduce workers’ compensation claims and health care costs.

Organizations should also embrace inclusion and diversity as it promotes creativity, innovation and collaboration. When employees come from diverse backgrounds, they bring unique perspectives and experiences that can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making.

Organizations must also promote employee well-being. This is a critical aspect of sustainability. This includes not only physical safety but also mental health, work-life balance, and other factors that impact employee satisfaction and retention. By promoting well-being, organizations can create an engaged and productive workforce that is more likely to stay with the company for the long term, reducing turnover and associated costs.

Not a New Subject… Just New Support

Why is this a discussion point in 2023? Why did member organizations sunset the CSHS organization in November 2019?

It was identified that costs and complexities involving the sustainability of the organization’s legal operations was the cause; however, in 2016, Shelley Frost, then executive director of policy at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, provided concise advice on the value of sustainability for OSH professionals when writing:

“Not recognizing the opportunities that sustainability brings will leave OSH professionals at risk of being left behind in reactive, compliance-focused roles. Ensuring that you protect employee safety, health, welfare and well-being is a value that has proven to motivate workforces, enhance business reputation and reduce business risk.”

Her statement is one of the reasons why sustainability remains important today.

More Skills, More Leverage

OSH professionals need to be pragmatic. The powers at the federal level will continue to change every few years, which may affect support for this current synergistic OSH/sustainability relationship. Additionally, world events, such as the constant threat of cyberattacks and the unpredictable impact of artificial intelligence in the very near future, are all factors that will play into the minds of those who are calling the shots in the C-suite.

Gorysberg, Kelly, & MacDonald outlined some of the traits and skills that are needed to get to the C-suite, and although some OSH professionals may not want to get to this level, many want to keep sharpening their technical skills. If OSH professionals embrace and build their skills in sustainability, diversity and inclusion, this may help them to round out a solid and dynamic skill set because most have already mastered much of the safety and health measures as well as how to put pollution prevention into practice.

With all these variables in mind, we must consider some organizations will have leaders who pursue these ideals while the opportunity is available. Thus, now is the time to show how you can provide even more value to your organization via sustainability.

This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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