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How Environmental Health and Safety Fits into ESG Strategy

5/1/24

The definition of workplace safety continues to evolve. The concept of total worker safety and wellness has expanded to include such values as diversity, equity and inclusion, psychological safety and even work-life balance. What’s emerging is an acknowledgement that the values that keep people safe in the workplace overlap significantly with those used to measure an organization’s commitment to environmental and social governance (ESG), which is why many safety professionals are now engaged in, or leading, their company's ESG efforts.

“We’re not just focused on physical safety anymore," said Sarah Ischer, an industrial hygienist and environmental, health and safety (EHS) manager with the National Safety Council (NSC). “As health and safety professionals and organization leaders, we're really focused on total worker health, environmental, social, and governance as well. Therefore, I think as the term of what safety is gets broader, the definition of what we do has to get broader as well.”

Why Is ESG Important?

ESG is a way to measure an organization’s impact on the environment and society as a whole. How companies plan and manage their ESG programs is measured by the investment community as a way to assign value and evaluate a company’s investment potential. Companies can be scored by how well they prioritize policies around environmental impact, managing employee health and safety, and maintaining transparency around accounting and hiring practices. The scores and ESG ranking can have a significant influence on the company’s brand and reputation, its perceived value and growth potential, as well as its ability to attract, develop and retain top talent.

Where EHS Meets ESG

At the 2024 Grainger Show in Orlando, Florida, Ischer led a presentation on the value of bringing environmental, health and safety (EHS) professionals into ESG planning and strategy. She emphasized that today’s broader definition of environmental health and safety can be applied to ESG in many ways, and that many organizations are already doing so. The research from an NSC report titled "The New Value of Safety: From ESG to the Whole Person" explored how safety is connected to a range of key organizational initiatives, many of which overlap. The following chart from the report lays them out:

Source: “The New Value of Safety from ESG to the Whole Person” Report by The National Safety Council

Safety and Health Issues in ESG

The primary safety issues that impact ESG reporting have traditionally included such areas as human and social capital, materiality and risk, and supply chain management and transparency. Integrating measurement for ESG reporting on aspects such as psychological safety and employee mental health reflects today’s shift in what it means to operate a sustainable and socially responsible business. ESG reporting is now also based on how well an organization manages prevention of serious injury, illness and fatality (SIFs), physical well-being and fitness for work, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“ESG is really centered around the health of both the company and the environment," Sarah said.  “And as EHS professionals, that's our focus — the health of the workforce; that's where they can really intermingle.”

The EHS Professional: Bringing New Value

In the presentation, Sarah emphasized that as companies expand their ESG programs to include more goals around supportive and healthy work environments, it will be critical to include the people responsible for total worker safety. A workplace that embraces the importance of both physical and psychological safety can drive better employee performance, improve profitability and lower operating costs, while also contributing to sustainability efforts.

Incorporating proper safety measures into daily operations and fostering a culture of safety both physically and psychologically can help create a better, more sustainable work environment. A solid safety culture is one that grows and adapts by continuously re-evaluating regulatory policies, prioritizing total worker health and safety, and understanding how EHS professionals can play a much larger role in ESG strategy.

Learn more about workplace trends in safety and ESG.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.