Corporate Watchers Seek More Injury, Illness Data From Employers

Rely on Occupational Safety & Health ReporterSM for full news coverage and documentation of federal and state workplace safety and health programs, standards, legislation,...

By Bruce Rolfsen

Investors and customers could find more corporate on-the-job safety and health information in annual sustainability reports if a change to current guidance is approved by an international standards board overseeing employers’ voluntary disclosure policies.

The proposed change, supported by several U.S. and international occupational safety organizations, asks companies issuing voluntary sustainability reports to provide summaries of their safety and health programs, as well as raw data on the number of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Microsoft Corp., General Electric Co., General Mills Inc., Hess Corp., and Cisco Systems Inc.. are among U.S. companies issuing sustainability reports and given high marks by the Toronto-based corporate research firm and magazine publisher Corporate Knights Inc. that focuses on sustainability issues.

Hess, for example, in its 2016 sustainability report detailed the injury rates for its employees and contractors, acknowledging the rate among contractors had increased and the company hadn’t met its goal. In its report, Mircosoft discussed its ergonomics and wellness programs for employees and listed an injury rate only for its manufacturing facilities.

The voluntary guidance from the Global Sustainability Standards Board—if approved—would raise the importance of employers detailing their safety and health programs to the same level as reporting expectations for environmental and corporate management information, people involved with writing the guidance told Bloomberg BNA.

The board, headquartered in Amsterdam, is accepting public comment on the proposed consensus standard through Oct. 9. The board has not set a deadline for completing the review.

Raising Awareness

For several years, safety and health advocates have pressed for employers to include more information on their workplace safety and health programs in their sustainability reports.

Sustainability reports parallel a companies’ annual financial reports, but focus on compliance with environmental regulations, diversifying management, and labor relations, instead of stressing profits and losses.

Kathy Seabrook, board chairman of the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability that represents about 100,000 occupational safety and health professionals worldwide, recalled that a company with 40 fatalities in one year was still ranked worldwide among the top 100 companies for its record on sustainability issues.

Instances like that prompted the center to urge that sustainability reports place more emphasis on safety and health, Seabrook told Bloomberg BNA.

The center, whose members include the American Society of Safety Engineers and the American Industrial Hygienists Association, issued a study in early August detailing the need for companies’ sustainability reports to be comparable to each other. Too often, companies used different methods to calculate injury and illness statistics or didn’t include information, Seabrook said.

“There is not enough reporting, in general,” Seabrook said.

The consensus standard now open for public comment (GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety) puts a greater emphasis on whether the employer has implemented a safety and health management system and the system’s features, Bastian Buck, the Global Reporting Initiative’s standards director, told Bloomberg BNA.

Among the items employers would be expected to explain in sustainability reports is their processes to identify hazards and how workers participate in safety and health programs. Employers also would be expected to include raw data on their injury and illness cases in addition to rates showing how frequent the cases occur.

Complying with the standard would be voluntary, Buck said. However, investors and customers who value companies’ workplace safety and health practices will expect employers to not withhold information.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at brolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

The proposed standard and public comment information are available at http://src.bna.com/rJ1.

The Center for Safety and Health Sustainability's report is available at http://src.bna.com/rJ2.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Occupational Safety & Health Reporter℠