Feb 15, 2013

Study finds crucial gaps, lack of transparency in OHS sustainability reporting

Researchers recommend standardization to allow for accurate evaluation across sectors, geographies
By Mari-Len De Guzman

A study released by Des Plaines, Ill.-based Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS) reveals troublesome “gaps” and a lack of “transparency” in occupational health and safety sustainability reporting among organizations rated highly for sustainability performance — some even having work-related fatalities during the reporting period.

The study, Current Practices in Occupational Health and Safety Sustainability Reporting, also raises concerns about ranking methodology, as some corporations reported more than 10 work-related fatalities in a year — with one organization reporting 49 in the same period.

After analyzing public data on OHS reporting practices from each organization listed on the Corporate Knights’ 2011 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World, the study reveals the majority of the corporations did not include metrics recommended by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), one of the most comprehensive sustainability reporting frameworks available. Nor did the majority include metrics recognized as important by CSHS and the international OHS professional community.

The study further concludes that even when relevant information is reported, corporate OHS performance is difficult to interpret, compare and analyze due to a lack of uniformity in data collection and clarity over reporting methods and metrics.

“Our research showed, for example, that the companies surveyed used six different formulas to calculate injury rate overall and at least 15 different methods were used to define ‘a report-worthy injury or incident,’” says CSHS chair Tom Cecich.

“The objectives of sustainability reporting are not achieved simply by disclosing information. The information disclosed must also be meaningful. Current (occupational health and safety) sustainability reporting practices make it difficult for stakeholders and investors to understand and evaluate the extent of an organization’s commitment to (occupational health and safety) management,” says Cecich.

“It also makes it difficult for an organization to improve awareness of its own performance, better understand necessary improvements, compare itself to competitors and gauge performance improvement over time.”

CSHS recommends GRI and other sustainability reporting frameworks better promote the importance of OHS as a major indicator of an organization’s overall sustainability and adopt OHS performance indicators that meet the following criteria:

• Well-defined and standardized terms and definitions that allow for accurately evaluating an organization’s performance across different sectors and geographies
• Standardized data collection methodology that allows stakeholders to easily compare safety performance across and among organizations
• The reporting of leading indicators, allowing stakeholders insight into whether corporations are taking meaningful actions to improve OHS performance
• Information reported over multiple years (e.g., five years historical information) enabling internal and external stakeholders to gauge improvement and compare performance to other organizations over time
• An extended scope of coverage that includes OHS reporting for contingent workers (including temporary contract and subcontractor workers) as well as workers in the supply chain — growing and highly vulnerable segments of the global workforce frequently left out of OHS reports.

“It’s hard to believe that organizations can report double-digit fatalities and still be on a list of the 100 most sustainable companies,” says United Kingdom-based CSHS director Steve Granger. “Clearly, the methodology for rating sustainability performance must be overhauled.”

The CSHS, established in 2010, is a not-for-profit organization committed to advancing the safety and health sustainability of the global workplace. CSHS engages safety and health partners around the world to work toward establishing minimum standards that help reduce workplace injuries and ill health. A collaborative effort founded by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the American Society of Safety Engineers and the Institution for Occupational Safety and Health, CSHS represents more than 85,000 workplace safety and health professionals worldwide.

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