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OSHA Emphasizes Worker Safety in Sustainability

  • January 25, 2017

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has argued in a new “white paper” that employers should include worker safety as part of their “sustainability” calculations.

In “Sustainability in the Workplace: A New Approach for Advancing Worker Safety and Health,” released in December 2016, OSHA stated, “Employers are only truly sustainable when they ensure the safety, health and welfare of their workers.”

“Rooted in the integration of environmental, social, and economic considerations, the sustainability movement has steadily gained power and traction,” OSHA said. “Individual organizations (companies, local and state governments, etc.) have been using sustainability as a platform for decision-making and transparency efforts. OSHA is not looking to redefine or reinvent sustainability; occupational safety and health (OSH) is already a component of existing conceptual models. However, in practice, the sustainability movement has focused more on environmental concerns, leaving key social and workplace considerations, such as OSH, behind.”

The emphasis on sustainability comes in the wake of remarks by OSHA officials last fall urging the inclusion of safety. At an industry conference, OSHA administrator Dr. David Michaels said that it will “make a big difference” to have a safety and health program if companies want to say they are “dedicated to sustainability, “ much like companies include environmental performance in their sustainability goals.

Andrew Levinson, OSHA’s deputy director for standards and guidance, said a company’s sustainability performance should include the environment in which employees work, in addition to whether a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

Levinson said, “The next generation of sustainability is occupational safety and health.”

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