In July, 2015, The Lancet, one of the oldest (founded 1823) and one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, published a series of articles on faith and health.1 Among The Lancet findings:

• Faith is a powerful force in the lives of individuals and communities worldwide;

• Religious leaders complement public health messages when they inspire congregations to adopt healthy behaviors; and,

• Faith leaders can transform health and development in local communities.

Faith at work

Faith leaders have not mobilized across faiths to champion a big picture workplace health and safety issue – until now.

The Compact for Ohio Families was formed in July, 2015, to go beyond “lofty rhetoric” to support “safe workplaces” for pregnant workers.2 Compact organizers want to mobilize others to pass a new state law. I’ve closely followed this topic, including the possibility of a new law in my home state, Ohio, back in May 2014.3

The “Compact” is an example of what Lancet is now describing.  Initially, more than 100 faith leaders in Ohio signed the compact.4 Signatures include “pastors, priests, rabbis from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Conservative Judaism, American Baptist Church, Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), Mennonite Church USA, and even some Roman Catholic nuns.”5 Additional faith leader signatures are being sought. How large will the compact grow?

The Lancet provided the example of World Vision’s “Channels of Hope” project that mobilized more than 390,000 local faith leaders to transform health and development in local communities.

Strange bedfellows

According to Amanda Hoyt, lead organizer for the Compact, faith leaders plan to work with business, labor and community groups and “strange bedfellows” to develop and pass the new law.  Supporting legal briefs include logical groups such as law professors, women’s and civil rights organizations and health care provider organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association. Supporters, however, also include 23 leading pro-life organizations and leading pro-choice organizations such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

EHS organizations

The Leader, a publication of the Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association (VPPPA), has tuned in on the issue of safety for pregnant workers. Articles on the topic are published in the spring and fall 2015 editions. Outside of ISHN and The Leader, there is very limited information on the topic in safety publications. The downside of this skimpy information is that EHS professional organizations may be overlooked among the “strange bedfellows” that impact reasonable (safety) accommodations for pregnant workers.

Moral issues

Hoyt says having a pregnant worker choose between income and health is, “morally wrong and bad for business.” Addressing moral issues is a main reason why the Compact for Ohio Families was developed. 

What other moral issues could impact EHS pros? Pope Francis says efforts to reduce global warming are an “urgent moral imperative.” The Pope seeks to muster the church’s 1.2 billion members, and members of other faiths, to sway policymakers to curb human-induced global warming. 

In July, 2015, mayors from around the globe visited the Vatican to join in the Pope’s pitch. Other stakeholders are heeding the Pope’s message. EHS pros won’t have to look far outside of their work silo to feel the eventual effect. For example, changes are on the horizon in how chemicals are used and controlled, including how refrigerants in building cooling systems are managed, that impact even casual EHS pros.

OSHA and Caitlyn Jenner

Some faith leaders recently voiced moral concerns against OSHA’s 2015 Best Practices: A Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers (OSHA Publication 3795-2015).  OSHA’s core principle is that all employees, including transgender employees, should have ready access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identify. Caitlyn Jenner, with her male parts, may now use the women’s restroom. 

OSHA says their sanitation standard (1910.141) is intended to protect employees from health effects such as urinary tract infections and bowel and bladder problems that unhindered access to toilet facilities may prevent.  Coincidentally, ready access to toilet facilities, often caused by the urgent and frequent need to urinate during pregnancy, is one of the focused risks that warrant a fix in new pregnant worker fairness laws.

Moral issue? OSHA issue? Go figure.

Career planning experts say you should avoid conversations of politics, religion, and sex at work.  In the context of EHS and evolving perceptions, I think these taboo topics should be set carefully aside.