Seven ways to integrate worker health and safety

Because of the great effect they have on each other, worker health and safety should be integrated rather than regulated separately for the benefit of the company and its employees.
By Mark Ward June 13, 2017

When two functions are so fundamentally connected to the condition of employees and the bottom line, how can they be motivated to collaborate?

A majority of companies maintain separate health and safety functions-one dedicated to employees’ well being and another committed to their protection. These silos have been traditionally kept apart because of the specific expertise and processes required in each area. In addition, the U.S. regulatory environment reinforces the separation. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) oversees working conditions with no corresponding regulatory role for worker health.

The truth is, these two departments are intrinsically linked: unsafe working conditions can affect employee health while unhealthy employees are a safety risk at work. Integrating these two functions can improve effectiveness and reduce costs. The Integrated Benefits Institute found poor employee health costs the U.S. economy $576 billion per year.

More than 313 million workplace accidents annually occur around the world, according to the International Labor Organization. Accidents cost employers an estimated $2.2 trillion worldwide and result in more than 2.3 million deaths per year. When two functions are so fundamentally connected to the condition of employees and the bottom line, how can they be convinced to collaborate? UL brought together dozens of thought leaders to answer this question. The group identified seven actions organizations should take to integrate workplace health and safety.

1. Use a holistic approach. Treat health and safety as one function by designing initiatives-from wellness programs to reporting processes-that incorporate health protection and health promotion.

2. Make a commitment. Ensure health and safety activities are key contributors to an organization’s value system, not just a cost of doing business.

Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE Media3. Present the business case. Express value in terms that senior executives understand. They intuitively know healthy workers are more productive, but may need empirical evidence to justify investments.

4. Create an overarching management structure. Create lines of authority and reporting processes to encourage effective communications among all parties. While senior executives may have competing priorities, a collaborative structure helps open up the lines of communication from bottom up to top down, as well as across departments and functions.

5. Prepare for a new profession. Redefine professional roles and responsibilities to better meet current business, health, and safety management needs and trends.

6. Support a culture of continuous learning. Learn from behaviors and conditions that create risk (leading indicators), not just past accidents (lagging indicators). This continuum of insights helps employees and employers actively identify threats.

7. Get everyone involved. From participation in health and wellness initiatives to the formation of reporting and learning teams, involve the entire organization in order to foster a culture of health and safety.

While organizations may face challenges integrating their health and safety departments, the benefits of unifying the two functions are clear. Coordinated health and safety programs create greater transparency for uncovering risks and promote a culture of prevention and well-being, benefiting both organizations and their employees.

Mark Ward is the general manager for UL-EHS sustainability. This article originally appeared on ISSSource.com. ISSSource is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Carly Marchal, content specialist, CFE Media, cmarchal@cfemedia.com.

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Key Concepts

  • Worker health and safety are intrinsically linked to one another and should be integrated by companies.
  • Companies need to be committed to this plan and get everyone involved.
  • Integrating health and safety helps uncover risks and promotes a culture of prevention and well-being for workers.

Consider this

What other actions can companies take to integrate workplace health and safety?