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How Businesses Can Help Address Workplace Health and Safety Issues

Posted by Patrick Schultz on Jul 5, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Safety Blog June GW.jpgTarget 3 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” One hurdle to achieving this target is workplace health and safety. The 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index claimed that US businesses lose at least USD1 billion per week to “serious but nonfatal [workplace] injuries.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015, absenteeism cost US businesses USD225.8 billion in lost productivity each year. Statistics from the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reveal that more than 4,500 workers lose their lives on the job every year.

It is vital that businesses address workplace health and safety issues. Doing so translates to fewer injuries, illnesses and deaths among workers, leading to higher productivity and a healthier bottom line for businesses.

Chemical Hazards

According to OSHA, an estimated 32 million workers are exposed to at least one chemical hazard because of their jobs. 2015 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) included 3,230 non-fatal injuries and illnesses as a result of exposure to chemicals and chemical products.

In June 2017, the ZDHC Foundation soft launched the ZDHC Gateway-Chemical Module, an online search tool that leads consumers to safer chemicals currently being sold in the market. Chemical suppliers can register their companies in the ZDHC Gateway-Chemical Module, as well as display their products’ levels of compliance (from levels 0 to 3) with the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL). As a result, manufacturers and brands that are using the ZDHC Gateway-Chemical Module can find out which chemicals are safe to use. Through the ZDHC Gateway-Chemical Module, the ZDHC Foundation is able to ensure that its member companies avert chemical hazards, and produce products that do not harm the environment and are truly safe for both workers and consumers.

Vehicular Accidents

According to the BLS, there were 1,264 fatal “[roadway incidents] involving motorized land [vehicles]” in 2015. The World Health Organization (WHO) claimed that countries can lose up to 3 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to road traffic crashes. 

In 2014 and 2015, Coca-Cola conducted Route-to-Market (RTM) workshops in order to improve the road safety of its workers. The workshops were held in countries with high rates of vehicular accidents, including Ghana, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Philippines and Costa Rica. They focused on sharing best practices and developing solutions on road safety-related issues such as route risk management, driver training and vehicle inspection and maintenance.

Workplace Violence

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defined workplace violence as “the act or threat of violence, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults directed toward persons at work or on duty.” According to OSHA, every year almost 2 million Americans fall victim to workplace violence.

In December 2016, Unilever announced its partnership with UN Women for the project Intervention Programme to Inform the Development of a Global Framework on Women’s Safety. This project, which will be implemented from 2017 to 2019, aims to ensure the safety of women working in Unilever’s tea supply chain. It is a combination of best practices from both organizations, including Unilever’s “Women’s Safety Programme” in Kenya, and UN Women’s programs “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces” and “Prevention and Access to Essential Services to End Violence against Women.” Both Unilever and UN Women intend to apply the Intervention Programme to Inform the Development of a Global Framework on Women’s Safety to the wider tea industry and other industries in the future. When we ensure women’s safety at work, sexual harassment and workplace violence are prevented and minimized. 

A “Culture of Safety” for Profitable Businesses 

Addressing workplace health and safety issues goes beyond posting safety reminders in work areas or holding town hall meetings where management urges employees to “be safe at work.” It requires creating a “culture of safety”—an organizational approach where everyone, from the CEO to the cleaner, is involved in building a safe workplace.

When more people in a business are involved in promoting workplace health and safety, the greater the chance of success. When everyone in that business knows how to effectively prevent diseases, accidents and injuries, by making sure to wipe spilled water immediately, using safe substances or treating all employees with fairness and respect,that business will potentially achieve higher profits and a reputation that earns the trust and respect of consumers and other stakeholders. 

ADEC Innovations provides industry expertise in social sustainability that helps organizations improve their existing systems and programs, and helps them promote and reward compliance and improvement.