UL’s Integrated Health & Safety Institute (IHSI) recently announced a new standard to address how closely aligning health and safety strategies can yield measurable benefits.
The Standard for Integrating Health and Safety in the Workplace, UL 904Z, was developed in collaboration with key industry stakeholders and received unanimous approval for publishing. It offers organizations a set of components that should be considered as part of integrated health and safety programming.
The standard provides guidance for organizations to operationalize integrated health and safety programming, and using IHSI’s Integrated Health and Safety Index, organizations will be able to measure the effectiveness of their integrated health and safety strategies. Developed by UL and American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) and based on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the IH&S Index allows companies to translate the impact of employer health and safety programs in three core dimensions: economic, environmental and social. Of particular interest to the insurance and investment communities, the standard provides an improved method to assess an organization’s ability to keep its employees safe and healthy while working.
Todd Hohn, CSP is the Executive Director of UL’s Integrated Health & Safety Institute where he acts as the safety ambassador delivering on UL’s mission to promote safe living and working environments around the world. Hohn is a United States Delegate for the creation of the new ISO 45001 global standard for Occupational Health and Safety, is the Honors and Awards Chairperson for ASSE’s Construction Practice Specialty and is a board member for HR.com advising them on emerging health and safety issues. Prior to his current role with UL’s not-for-profit group, Hohn was with UL’s Workplace Health and Safety practice, where he led their Strategic Resources group and was integral to providing online safety training and risk management software solutions for organizations in the U.S. and internationally.
CBO: What is your advice for introducing UL 904Z to a construction workforce?
TH: The methodology provided by UL 904Z, the Standard for Integrating Health and Safety in the Workplace, is a natural fit for contractors to adopt for a few reasons. The first is financial as worker injuries and healthcare spend continue to rise. The nature of construction is one that is physical demanding. This standard will require organizations to rethink their strategies for keeping people safe on the job. Work impacts health and health impacts work, and there have been published studies that link worker injuries to the chronic disease conditions, as well as the impact it has on returning them to work.
The second reason is to become an employer of choice. A high percentage of workers recognize the physical demands of the job and will be looking to those employers that provide solutions to keep people safe on the job. Organizations that get behind the concepts provided in UL 904Z can create environments that maintain not only the health of those workers that are already healthy, but also elevate those that might not have considered their health otherwise. Further, if those employees stay healthy through these initiatives, then the organization lowers turnover and increases productivity along the way.
The third reason is that we have already seen a lot of interest in the integration of health and safety from the contractor and insurance community that insure them. There are a number of case studies UL’s Integrated Health & Safety Institute (IHSI) is launching that will be directly related to contractors. These opportunities came to us; we weren’t actively soliciting them. I think the demand driver for this interest comes from the first two reasons listed above – financial and construction is hard and becomes more difficult when workers aren’t engaged.
CBO: The standard focuses on three core dimensions: economic, environmental and social. Do you think healthy and safety risks in any one of these dimensions is more prevalent than another in the industry?
TH: The three core dimensions are weighted equally and incorporate elements of both health and safety. On the surface, construction risks would lend you to think more heavily about the safety risk due to working at heights, working around heavy equipment, in workzones with a prevalence of distracted driving and more. But the good companies think differently. Their motivation may be driven by financial concerns (lost productivity), or they are seeing the research or dealing with the rising costs of injuries and healthcare. Whatever it is, they are looking more strategically at the risk from their population’s health.
I say “strategically,” as the management of this risk has to be treated differently. If you expect healthier workers and can’t regulate it, then you need to think about the cultures of health and safety (not one or the other) to have a true impact. That’s why, often, the early adopters of these strategies are those organizations that have strong cultures and are leveraging that to extend to cultures of health.
Aligning strategies across health/safety cultures and aligning the organizations around it in terms of accountabilities goes a long way. Further, education, communication and supporting strategies and making time for stretch and flex program can further ensure success.
CBO: Is there any specific area of construction that is suffering from health and safety issues more than another? If so, how can the standard help that area of the industry in particular?
TH: Our research does not show any one particular industry that is better or worse than any other. Having said that, all the areas of construction are dealing with an aging and less health workforce, and that trend will continue to be a burden on employers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of the construction workforce is 44. Further, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people aged 55 and older will increase to 73 percent by 2020, while the number of younger workers will grow only 5 percent. What is concerning about this 5 percent is they are typically entering the workforce with conditions like obesity, hypertension and early symptoms of diabetes.
In terms of the Standard for Integrating Health and Safety in the Workplace, we made a concerted effort to not focus on any one industry. We chose to structure it so that it would/could apply across industries. Further, we wanted to make it applicable to all sizes of industries, so regardless of whether you have 20,000 workers or 20 – the standard should have an application across the all of them.
CBO: Any other comments?
TH: It is important that we see wide-scale adoption of the standard for Integrating Health and Safety in the Workplace as we think (and business leaders have told us) that maintaining and improving the safety and well-being of workers is absolutely paramount. To support this, we made a conscious effort to make the standard free to the marketplace. You can view and download the standard for Integrating Health and Safety in the Workplace (UL 904Z) at www.comm-2000.com
Additionally, we have analyzed aspects of “cultures of health and safety.” Historically, research focused on cultures of safety or cultures of health and stems from the concept of organizational culture work that has been distilled into smaller more focused structures surrounding specific organizational domains (Guldenmund, 2000). These include safety culture (Pidgeon, 1991), culture of health (Cimmins and Halberg, 2009) and now culture of health and safety from studies we conducted with Vanderbilt and separately the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).
Finally, we are actively conducting roadshows bringing key stakeholders together from industry, insurance and the investment community. These roadshows allow the opportunity to discuss this integration and the benefits that can be realized through adoption. IHSI continues to conduct research in the form of case studies to measure implementation of the standard and its outcomes, and is working to share implementation successes broadly.