Workplace safety and health professionals play an essential role in the road towards sustainability
- 11th July 2018
Environment, alongside society and economy, represents the three pillars of sustainability practices. However, in practice, the sustainability movement has focused more on environmental concerns, leaving key social and workplace considerations such as safety and health behind.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) White Paper on Sustainability published in Dec 2016 highlighted how “fully articulating and integrating OSH within sustainability efforts can help expand the thinking of those already involved in sustainability and also provide a platform for OSHA and the community of safety and health professionals to move beyond traditional roles.
“Given the traction and the momentum of the sustainability movement, this type of engagement can be used as a transformative force to amplify the impact on the lives of workers, both inside and outside the workplace.”
In September 2015, 193 members of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, of which a number are rooted in health and safety, came into force in January 2016. These include:
- Decent Work and Economic Growth – to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all. This involves protecting labour rights and promoting a safe and secure working environment for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular, women migrants, and those in precarious employment.
- Sustainable Cities and Communities – to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. By 2030, this goal will seek to ensure everyone access to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgraded slums.
In addition, access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems will be provided for all. The aim is also to improve road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, individuals with disabilities and older persons.
- Responsible Consumption and Production – to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
By 2020, this goal aims to achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks. The result can be a significant reduction in their release to air, water and soil, in order to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
Another step is to encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.
We can already see this being implemented in Singapore, with the Singapore Exchange (SGX) introducing mandatory sustainability reporting on a “comply or explain” basis in 2016. Listed companies are required to prepare an annual sustainability report for any financial year ending on or after 31 December 2017.
Additionally, the Singapore Institute of Directors Conference 2017, which was attended by over 1,000 participants, revolved around the theme of sustainability. Most recently, the Singapore Government has declared 2018 as the Year of Climate Action and unveiled the Public Sector Sustainability Plan 2017-2020.
With greater awareness in the subject, this provides an opportunity for workplace safety and health (WSH) professionals to play an active role in sustainability and create value in the workplace while advancing workplace safety and health.
New energy and skill sets needed
One of the key initiatives of the sustainability movement is the reduction of carbon emission. This has resulted in the emergence of new and renewable energy technologies. For the WSH professional, this means acquiring new knowledge on how to manage the health and safety hazards of these new technologies.
“Most organisations are not ready for this change brought about by the sustainability movement. A key reason is that organisations may not have the personnel with the skills, knowledge and leadership to lead this change,” says Dr Adrian Ward, Director of the Australian Centre for Sustainability Studies and Training.
To this end, some institutions have developed programmes to upskill professionals and executives in the areas of sustainability.
LSBF’s intensive 10-day Diploma of Sustainable Operations (awarded under the Australian Qualification Framework) aims to address the workplace and people segments within sustainability. In fact, the Diploma (selected modules) is accredited by the Ministry of Manpower as a structured activity under the Continuing Professional Development scheme for WSH Professionals, with 43 Safety Development Units.
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