Report: Corporate Safety Sustainability Reporting Flawed

By Roy Maurer Feb 22, 2013

A recently completed study revealed that occupational health and safety (OHS) sustainability reporting among organizations rated highly for sustainability performance is flawed.

Specifically, the study report flags the extent to which organizations report information, the degree to which information reported provides insight into actual OHS performance, and the way the information lends itself to comparisons across organizations.

The report, Current Practices in Occupational Health and Safety Sustainability Reporting, released Feb. 11, 2013, also raised concerns about ranking methodology, as some corporations included in the Corporate Knights’ 2011 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World reported more than 10 work-related fatalities in a year, with one organization reporting 49 in the same period.

“It’s hard to believe that organizations can report doubledigit fatalities and still be on a list of the 100 most sustainable companies,” said Steve Granger, the U.K.-based director of the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS), which released the report. “Clearly, the methodology for rating sustainability performance must be overhauled.”

After analyzing public data on OSH reporting practices from each organization listed on the Global 100, the report revealed that 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 research showed that organizations the Global 100 identified as sustainable “overwhelmingly do not use OHS indicators compliant with GRI recommendations, and OHS reporting as a whole.” The report found that OHS reporting lacked common OHS terms and formulas, used nonstandard data, and excluded temporary or contract workers and supply-chain workers.

“The objectives of sustainability reporting are not achieved simply by disclosing information,” said CSHS Chairman Tom Cecich, in a statement. “The information disclosed must also be meaningful. Current OHS sustainability reporting practices make it difficult for stakeholders and investors to understand and evaluate the extent of an organization’s commitment to OHS management. 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.”

According to the report, corporate OHS reporting reflected:

  • High variability in terms and definitions used, making it difficult to use reports to compare OHS performance across organizations.
  • Very low reporting with regard to GRI indicators. These indicators include the percentage of the total workforce represented in formal joint management-worker health and safety committees; rates of injury, occupational diseases, lost days and absenteeism, and total number of work-related fatalities, by region and by gender; education, training, counseling, prevention and risk-control programs in place; and health and safety topics covered in formal agreements with trade unions.
  • Very low reporting of contract or temporary workers’ lost day rate and injury rate.
  • A high number of fatalities—10 or more—at five organizations. One organization reported 49 fatalities in a year, while another reported 81 fatalities over a three-year period (2010-12).
  • No reporting on fatal occupational diseases.
  • Only a third of organizations reporting on major topics recommended by the CSHS.

Recommendations to Optimize OHS Reporting

The CSHS recommended that GRI and other sustainability reporting frameworks do better at promoting the importance of OHS as a major indicator of a company’s overall sustainability and adopt OHS performance indicators that meet the following criteria:

  • Well-defined and standardized terms and definitions that allow for an accurate evaluation of an organization’s performance across different sectors and geographies.
  • Standardized data-collection methodology that allows stakeholders to easily compare safety performance across 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, enabling internal and external stakeholders to gauge improvement and compare performance with that of other organizations over time.
  • An extended scope of coverage that includes OHS reporting for contingent workers (including temporary, contract and subcontractor workers) and workers in the supply chain. “These are growing and highly vulnerable segments of the global workforce frequently left out of OHS reports,” the report said.

Established in 2010, the CSHS is a nonprofit organization founded by the American Society of Safety Engineers, American Industrial Hygiene Association and Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and represents more than 85,000 workplace safety and health professionals worldwide.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Related Articles:

Corporations Urged to Improve Safety Flaws in the Global Supply Chain, SHRM Online Safety & Security, December 2012

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