Changing executives’ perceptions to better align health and safety initiatives with business objectives can be challenging. Many organizations currently put worker safety in one department and employee well-being in another, while more and more emerging research shows positive bottom-line results come from combining these two functions into one.
One company, McWane Inc., decided to change its culture of workplace health and safety separation. In 1999, Ruffner Page assumed presidency, charting a new course by combining the departments of health and safety. As a result, the organization opened communication channels to quickly respond to accidents and improve transparency. By 2012, McWane Inc. experienced a 76.5 percent reduction in its total recordable workplace accidents, in addition to a 71.2 percent decline in work absences. These results took approximately 13 years to accomplish, truly a slow process. Although it was worth the investment, workplace health and safety needs to be continually improved if it is to be successful.
Many companies place safety and wellness into separate departments, operating independently with different work teams and organizational structures. In recent years, many have begun to realize the positive impacts of health and safety could be magnified by aligning strategies and objectives. A growing number of studies are embracing the idea that a true health culture is contingent on the integration of health and safety.
“Companies around the world are interested in building a health and safety framework and are looking to the industry for guidance on effective implementation and best practices,” said UL global director of Workplace Health and Safety Todd Hohn.
UL and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) published a paper in the May 2015 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine proposing a new framework for merging health and safety objectives. The Integrated Health and Safety Index — developed by UL and ACOEM and based on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index — helps corporations translate the impact of health and safety programs into business value.
To bring that framework to life and further promote integration of health and safety in the workplace, UL and ACOEM have partnered to create the UL Integrated Health and Safety Institute (IHSI). This organization is the first private sector not-for-profit dedicated to fusing health and safety programs within companies across the globe. UL hopes IHSI will be the foremost leader of health and safety strategies aiming to improve population health.
The institute will provide members with cutting-edge research, standards and education solutions. IHSI will develop detailed programs and initiatives from research it conducts and convening of experts at roundtable discussions and educational forums to assist in the integration of the concepts of combining health and safety programs around the world.
“The Integrated Health & Safety Institute will be the first organization of its kind with the research and educational offerings to meet this need of integration of health and safety in the workplace,” said Hohn.
IHSI aims to help companies change and maintain a culture of workplace health and safety disunion to one of cohesion.