As the world digests COP26 and the need for urgent action on decarbonisation and other issues, climate change continues to loom as a catastrophic threat, for which we know there can be no ‘vaccination’.
Critically, our work and workplaces both impact and are impacted by the environment, with the link between environment and human health and wellbeing startlingly clear.
This article focuses on social sustainability and the leading role that OSH and OSH professionals can play in achieving it and helping secure our future planet, prosperity and public good.
The role of OSH professionals
Providing safe, healthy and well-managed workplaces can help employers effectively implement environmental solutions. So, it’s vital that employers, policy-makers and investors all appreciate the wide ability across the OSH profession in helping organisations manage OSH risks and opportunities, including from the environment.
This can ensure OSH professionals are fully utilised within their competency range and can counter any misperceptions that their role is limited to work-generated hazards. It ensures stakeholder awareness that OSH professionals’ systematic approach to OSH management (see ISO 45001) includes considering, among other hazard areas, external factors and environment and providing information and practical advice to:
- Protect those at work from OSH harms resulting from pollution and climate change effects, such as: extreme weather; forest / wild fires; floods; poor air quality; heat stress; increased exposure to solar radiation; inadequate drinking water; climate-related diseases; and psychosocial risk.
- Protect people from work processes and activities that may result in exposure to biological, chemical, physical and psychosocial hazards, as well as to natural disasters.
- Evaluate performance on managing OSH-risks and opportunities related to environmental issues, to support meaningful reporting and continual improvement.
- Design-in OSH and manage risks associated with environmental controls, waste management, the circular economy and ‘green’ jobs and from installing and maintaining and cleaner technologies.
- Make the case for health and environmental synergies, such as work to ensure the provision of clean air and water and biorisk management, which can improve global worker health and support workers to deliver environmental solutions.
- Develop and implement OSH-related environmental emergency and business continuity plans that support responsible operations, safe service-delivery and healthy communities.
All these measures (see below) require multi-disciplinary collaboration across organisations and good communication.
Support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a ‘new social license’ to operate for public good, and now, the Glasgow Climate Pact, all underline the importance of OSH and gauging its benefits – social, environmental and economic. OSH professionals have essential supporting roles in risk management, audit, monitoring, investigation, training and continual improvement, as well as designing meaningful OSH performance indicators and analysing and communicating results.
Actively supported, the current surge of interest in social sustainability, environmental issues and comprehensive corporate reporting can provide the focus needed for improved transparency and risk-intelligence. And better quality, easier-access OSH performance reporting, and evaluation of OSH interventions across life-courses for corporate and social value, can help ensure adequate OSH capacity-resourcing, supporting safer, healthier and more sustainable futures.
Richard Jones MSc CFIOSH is former head of policy and regulatory engagement at IOSH and a contributor to ISO technical committee TC283 (ISO 45001), a liaison committee with TC207/SC1 (environmental management) and SC7 (greenhouse gases).