Turning Paper Into Protection

November 21, 2003
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Dear Subscriber,

TURNING PAPER INTO PROTECTION

Imagine it is Thanksgiving, 2006.

OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program now totals 4,000 work sites, halfway to the agency's goal of 8,000. Plus, any firm certified to OHSAS 18001, a British workplace safety and health management system, is qualified for VPP status. (Resource-strapped OSHA needs a way to handle overwhelming VPP demand.)

After signing the agency's 300th alliance, to go along with more than 500 partnerships, the OSHA chief is rushed to the hospital for carpal tunnel surgery.

The White House holds a summit on corporate social responsibility. The Patio Enclosure & Solarium Builders Council is one of the latest trade groups to publish a code of social conduct.

ANSI's Z-10 U.S. Standard for Occupational Health & Safety Systems is finalized and published. To the amazement of the standard's secretariat, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the document becomes a bestseller.

ISO launches a technical committee to draft an international standard for occupational health and safety practices. China adopts the ILO's occupational health and safety management system guidelines.

It's déjà vu all over again. As with the behavior-based safety boom of a decade ago, safety and health management systems are all the rage. Consultants and auditors flood the market. So do seminars, teleweb conferences, books and videos.

And just as with behavior-based safety, the inevitable backlash sets in. Wait, argue critics, these "systems" and "alliances" and "codes" are just paper-pushing exercises that make companies look good.

Are they?

In this edition of ISHN's e-newsletter, we examine the growth of management systems, alliances, codes and reports. Call it paper-based safety and health. What's driving it, where is it heading, and how might it impact your job in safety and health?

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THE GOLDEN AGE

Welcome to the golden age of workplace safety and health policies, programs, processes and paperwork. Consider:

The 21-year-old VPP is experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt. OSHA's program expanded 20 percent in the past year, from 800 to 1,000 sites. And three new VPP initiatives announced by OSHA chief John Henshaw in September could propel the number of sites to 4,000, he says, halfway to his vision of 8,000.

In the first eleven months of this year, Henshaw has signed 31 national alliances. On the local and regional level, the agency is overseeing than 150 partnerships covering about 3,800 employers and more than 250,000 workers.

Interest in ISO keeps rolling. The International Organization for Standardization's most recent survey shows 611,209 work sites worldwide were certified to ISO 9000 (quality) and 14001 (environmental) standards at the end of 2002. ISO 9000 certifications were up 10 percent, 14001 certifications increased 35 percent. Japan, China and Spain were the top three countries for growth in 14001 certification.

Certification is big business. The BSI Group, a UK-based company in the unique position of developing standards (such as OHSAS 18001) and then inspecting and certifying conformity to its own standards, became North America's leading provider of management systems registration in 2002 by acquiring KPMG's North American ISO management systems certification business. The group is aggressively selling 18001 around the globe, and pushing for its adoption by ISO. BSI has more than 5,000 employees in 110 countries, with sales of $387 million in 2002.

The race is on. A potential rival to 18001 (in terms of adoption by companies, countries and possibly ISO), the ANSI Z10 standard should be released in draft form in 2004 for public comment. Committee members will meet this December to go over edits, their ninth meeting in two years.

Speaking of standards, earlier this year the world's first corporate social responsibility assurance standard (AA1000), was rolled out by AccountAbility, a London-based institute. In March, 150 execs and CSR advocates listened to investor guru Warren Buffet at the Forum for Corporate Conscience. At least half of the top 100 global corporations produce environmental or citizenship reports, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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THE PROMISE

What's behind this pile-up of paper? Let's start with the premise that these programs, standards and systems can deliver results.

If VPP grows to 8,000 sites covering four million workers, upwards of 91,000 recordable cases could be avoided, and more than $2.5 billion saved, says OSHA boss Henshaw.

Management systems knock down traditional safety "silos" — isolated programs such as hazard communication and hearing conservation — and integrate them into an ongoing process of planning, implementing, monitoring and assessing, explains Dr. Steven Levine of the University of Michigan.

"Management systems ask you to integrate into existing business systems so health and safety is not some orphan that no one cares about," seconds Paul Esposito, CIH, CSP, of Star Consulting.

OSHA's myriad alliances and partnerships can solve very specific problems and broadly disseminate best practices. One example: more than 700 hazards were identified and abated in grain handling facilities throughout Illinois in a partnership between the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and all OSHA area offices in the state.

Corporate social responsibility — good governance and consideration for employees, communities and the environment — delivers better quality, more innovation, and higher financial performance, according to research by Don Tapscott and David Ticoll, authors of "The Naked Corporation," published last month by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

DuPont reports that since it began measuring and reporting the environmental impact of its operations, annual enviro costs dropped from a high of $1 billion in 1993 to $560 million in 1999, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

And companies with better environmental practices financially outperform their peers on a consistent basis, according to Innovest Strategic Value Advisors' EcoValue'21 ratings.

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THE PERIL

Now here's the rest of the story. Many firms claim openness and strong ethical values, but "few truly operate with candor and integrity," write Tapscott and Ticoll in "The Naked Corporation."

Less than half of all CSR reports are believable, according to non-governmental organizations surveyed this year by consultants Burson-Marsteller. "Just PR gloss with little real substance," according to almost half of business journalists surveyed in the UK.

"Companies have concentrated CSR efforts on activities that have an external rather than internal focus," stated an article in the Financial Times last May.

Why is more energy spent publicizing social responsibility, sustainability, citizenship and the like than putting principles into practice? It's about managing reputations. Raising, rescuing or reinforcing rank and standing. So much rides on being reputable these days.

Corporate character in the so-called age of transparency.

Nation-state solvency in the global economy.

CEO cover stories in BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes and other business and finance publications.

Meanwhile, regulators face their own reputation crisis. Their standards are tagged as job killers (the winning argument of business lobbyists in the repeal of Washington state's ergonomics law earlier this month). Now their political funding depends on servicing customers ("We have made customer satisfaction a priority, and it has clearly paid off," said former OSHA chief Charles Jeffress in 2000, commenting on the high marks his agency received from workers in a national poll.)

Never has it been as important to "look good" as it is today. And for this we can thank:

  • The Internet. Check the commercialization of OSHA, EPA and MSHA Web sites. Do a Google search on Wal-Mart and get the skinny on its labor practices.

  • NGOs. More than 45,000 non-government pressure groups now exist, funded to the tune of $150 billion annually in donations, according to the Union of International Organizations.

  • 24/7 news coverage. CNN, Headline News, MSNBC, BBC, Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Middle East Newsline, and 184 related stories, as they say on Google's News site.

  • Greed. The so-called crisis of trust following Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, et al.

  • Globalization. Concerns over trade partners, contractors, and long supply chains. The need for acceptance by the World Trade Organization, blessings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, approval from credit-rating agencies such as Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's.

  • Brand worship. The cult of trademarks and the need to keep them on a pedestal.

  • Stakeholder nation. The ever-expanding web of ever-watchful analysts, institutional investors, business media, government officials, board members, consumers and activists.

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    THE STAKES

    The risk facing safety and health pros in coming years is that you might be pushed into management systems, alliances, codes of conduct, social reporting, etc. for the wrong reasons. You might get the responsibility, but not the resources, to do it the right way.

    The danger facing OSHA is that it won't get the budget and staff to follow through on all its alliances and partnerships, and to maintain the quality of VPP in the face of those stretch goals. Outreach efforts can become as much a numbers game as inspections and fines used to be.

    The threat facing countries is mandating standards like 18001 without putting any actual enforcement behind it.

    The chance corporations take if they don't walk the talk is eventually consumers catching on.

    The risk in all this is that the promise of management systems, CSR, and win-win alliances loses out to profiteering by third-party auditors, registrars, PR agencies, marketing consultants, standards publishers, awards sponsors, conference organizers — a whole industry built around the rush for recognition.

    Managing these risks will test political, corporate, and EHS professional leadership. Compliance won't be the real challenge in coming years. It will be turning certificates and codes into real protection, as well as business benefits.

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    Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at djsafe@bellatlantic.net, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.

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    Books from ASSE

    You can order these titles and more from the American Society of Safety Engineers Bookstore on ISHN’s Web site.

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  • "Safety Training That Delivers"

  • "Building a Better Safety and Health Committee"

  • "Safety Management - A Human Approach," and "Techniques of Safety Management - A Systems Approach," both by Dan Petersen.

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    WE NEED YOU!

    Are you a safety and health pro or a manufacturer or provider of occupational safety and health products or services who enjoys writing?

    Shakespeare need not apply, but ISHN is looking for authors to publish short articles (1,000 words) in our monthly issues.

    Topics include: safety success stories, close calls and personal experiences, training tips, use of software, engineering controls (machine guards, lockout-tagout), gas detection and air monitoring, confined space safety, personal protective equipment, and OSHA compliance issues.

    If any of these topics interest you — or if you have other ideas — e-mail editor Dave Johnson at djsafe@bellatlantic.net

    We will also consider articles you’ve already written but not submitted to any safety magazine.

    Thanks.

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