Regarding the notion of “the most respected safety and health programs,” I have come to the point of asking myself the question – Who cares?

Sure, everyone who reads ISHN cares a lot about safety, health and environment. But ask yourself, beyond this august body, who really cares whether an EHS program is good or bad?

Indeed, employees within any given company, for the most part, care whether their safety and health programs are good, if not just for survival reasons. As far as environment programs being good or bad, this often depends a great deal on whether the company has experienced a catastrophic environmental event resulting in punishing fines or serious injuries or deaths or plant closings. Most employees think about their safety everyday, their health when it is brought to their attention, and their environment when something doesn’t smell right.

Dave, you have raised the thought of developing some form of an EHS performance metric along the lines of Fortune or Barron’s most favored status companies. Again, I ask – Who cares? The magazine issues that carry these annual listings in serve for interesting reading that week, but beyond that what is this information good for other than for advertising and hanging glossy wall plaques in the company lobby?

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the concept you are suggesting. Almost everyone would agree about the significant effort it would take to amass the data, and you have noted that many companies would be loathe to release the data to the general public, transparency aside, and some might fall prey to gaming the system.

Bottom-line, if there isn’t some painfully external reason for generating this type of data, none will be generated. On several occasions, I have seen internal metric systems that use a judgment call on numerous EHS aspects of an organization, which, for the most part, are used to identify key areas needing financial and/or human resources in the coming year or years. On every occasion, these metric systems have been considered highly confidential and not for public consumption.

Certainly, there has been an uptick in recent years by investment companies considering the “Environmental, Social and Governance Issues” (ESG) of the companies they decide to invest in, but how much weight do these investment managers give to ESG issues when they are making buy/sell decisions?

Of the ones I have spoken to, with the exception of those that manage ESG-oriented portfolios, not much. The reason, of course, lies in the short-term investing mindset these investors have with any given company, regardless of their ESG performance. I don’t mean to be so crass, but these guys are thinking about return on investment as opposed to child labor issues.

Several of the organizations heavily involved in ranking companies’ by their ESG issues include the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute at www.cfainstitute.org/centre/topic/esg and RiskMetrics atwww.riskmetrics.com/. Interestingly, the ESG portfolios tend to track the Dow-Jones, MSCI, etc. As you can see by wandering around these two websites, ESG has become literally a cottage industry. An awful lot of time and money is being expended to create these Top 100 lists of companies. So far, all I can see this effort providing investors, namely investment managers’ customers, is some sense of feeling warm and fuzzy about who they are investing in at the moment. ESG is not going to pay the bills when you retire and start drawing from your 401K plan, at least not for us baby boomers.

Regardless of what I think about these ESG efforts, I do think that we can capitalize on their line of thinking and translate their approaches into EHS performance metrics that are “relatively” easy to produce, provide the investment community buy/sell decision-making information, and create a sense among corporate leaders that there is real payback for having a good EHS program. As I wrote in a recent LinkedIn thread, we have got to STOP using the consequences of NOT having a good EHS program to champion the value of our work.

This question of “who’s best in S&H” has bugged me for years, in part, because the data are hard to come by and even if you could get the data, how would you display it in such a fashion that it made sense and was of value. I actually think I have found a tool that will take care of the display issue. The other problem I find with developing such a metric is in accounting for elements of the metrics that are almost always in a state of fluctuation due, in part, to the change in leaders year-over-year. As far as answering the question, “Who cares?” more thinking is needed to figure out who all the players might be.

James E. Leemann, Ph.D., is clinical assistant professor in Tulane University’s Center for Applied Environmental Public Health, and is president of the Leemann Group LLC, Scottsdale, AZ. For more information visitwww.leemanngroupe.com or email jim@leemanngroup.com