By James L. Curtis and Meagan Newman

When many corporations consider sustainability issues the focus is on the environment. Recycling initiatives, reducing waste, and other efforts to improve environmental impacts are certainly part of a comprehensive sustainability strategy—but there are other important measures of sustainability.  Among them is a company’s occupational health and safety sustainability plan.

When it comes to internal (and external) reporting on sustainability, there is a wide spectrum of content and quality. “Sustainability reporting” is broadly defined as reporting on economic, environmental and social impacts.  Many companies now include occupational health and safety data in their sustainability reports. A recent study, however, concludes that the methodology for reporting health and safety data and evaluating these programs is flawed.

The report is from the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS) and addresses occupational health and safety (OHS) sustainability reporting among organizations rated highly for sustainability performance.  The report notes that some corporations included in the Corporate Knights’ 2011 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World reported more than 10 work-related fatalities in a year, with one organization reporting 49 in the same period.

According to the CSHS, the majority of the corporations did not include metrics recommended by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), one of the most comprehensive sustainability reporting frameworks available, and did not include metrics recognized as important by CSHS and the international OHS professional community.  The CSHS also found that OHS reporting excluded temporary or contract workers and supply-chain workers—an issue that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is particularly keen on.

The CSHS argues that OHS is a major indicator of a company’s overall sustainability and, consequently, GRI and other sustainability reporting frameworks should adopt better, standardized OHS performance indicators.

Companies with new sustainability initiatives or those that are already far down the sustainability reporting road should not only ensure that occupational safety and health is a part of their overall sustainability strategy, they should also consider evaluating their methods of reporting OHS data in light of the CSHS report.