How Does Workplace Safety And Health Align With Sustainability?

In May, we were contacted by representatives from the U.S. government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to discuss how they might engage in efforts that bring the agency’s work into broader sustainability discussions and initiatives. We had a good discussion, connected them with corporate representatives we thought they should talk with, and asked them to let us know what they found.

The result is the recently published report Sustainability in the Workplace: A New Approach for Advancing Worker Safety and Health. It’s a deep dive into how OSHA’s worker advocacy provides an important contribution to the social aspects of any organization’s triple bottom line.

I was particularly intrigued by how this federal agency had taken the journey from regulation to "beyond compliance" to sustainability, so I arranged a conversation with David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

John Davies: What was the impetus for your organization to study corporate sustainability and how it could help advance worker safety and health?

David Michaels: OSHA has a very important mission, which is to do everything we can to encourage employers to make workplaces safe. We know that new strategies are needed to help us achieve that mission. Just by setting and enforcing standards, we won’t be able to prevent all of the millions of work injuries and illnesses that occur every year, and so we have to engage employers differently.

Davies: Where does sustainability fit into that equation?

Michaels: The sustainability movement has a tremendous amount of traction right now. It’s focused on leadership, innovation and going beyond simple compliance. It also provides a connection to new stakeholders and partners for us. So by leveraging these forces, we think we can help employers do a better job protecting workers.


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