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December 22, 2016
OSHA leaders make the case for sustainability through safety

Businesses cannot be sustainable without protecting the safety, health, and welfare of their most vital resource—their workers. A document co-authored by a current and past leader of OSHA explains that sustainable businesses go beyond compliance to protect people, the planet, and their profits.

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The ideas are expressed in a white paper authored by Dr. David Michaels, current assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, and John Henshaw, who served in the position from 2001 to 2004.

They emphasize that sustainability is not just about what is done, but how it gets done. It’s a mindset that requires leadership, high expectations, and setting and achieving goals that go beyond regulatory compliance. While sustainability has traditionally referred to the environmental impact of business activities and decisions, it’s also about people. “A building, no matter how energy efficient or healthy for occupants, is not sustainable if a construction worker is killed while building it,” they say. 

The paper, published this week and available at, highlights the importance of worker safety and health in the growing movement toward sustainability and corporate responsibility. It seeks to understand how OSH is integrated (or not) into sustainability efforts and identifies opportunities to leverage the movement to promote worker protection.

Sustainability provides a platform for reimagining and identifying innovative approaches for protecting workers by:

  • Creating new partnerships to advance integrated OSH and sustainability activities.
  • Enhancing interdisciplinary training and education for workers, the OSH community, and business professionals.
  • Measuring the impact of safety and health performance on business outcomes.
  • Recognizing employers that successfully integrate OSH into sustainability efforts.
  • Improving access to data on safety and health for sustainability reporting.

Sustainability was also the subject of a recently published white paper by the National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute. The document reflects the experiences of eight institute members, and outlines best practices for developing and managing sustainability efforts. You can review it at

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