OSH is an important right of all workers across the world and improved transparency and due diligence can ensure that this becomes a reality. This section outlines due diligence steps that companies can take to reduce safety and health risks in their operations and supply chains. The described due diligence steps are aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Further information on UNGPs is provided in the ‘Key Human Rights Due Diligence Frameworks’ section below or in the Introduction.
While the below steps provide guidance on safety and health risks in particular, it is generally more resource-efficient for companies to ‘streamline’ their human rights due diligence processes by also identifying and addressing other relevant human rights issues (e.g. child labour, forced labour, discrimination, freedom of association) at the same time.
Key Human Rights Due Diligence Frameworks
Several human rights frameworks describe the due diligence steps that businesses should ideally implement to address human rights issues, including occupational safety and health. The primary framework is the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Launched in 2011, the UNGPs offer guidance on how to implement the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, which establishes the respective responsibilities of Governments and businesses — and where they intersect.
The UNGPs set out how companies, in meeting their responsibility to respect human rights, should put in place due diligence and other related policies and process, which include:
- A publicly available policy setting out the company’s commitment to respect human rights
- Assessment of any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with which the company may be involved across its entire value chain
- Integration of the findings from their impact assessments into relevant internal functions/processes — and the taking of effective action to manage the same
- Tracking of the effectiveness of the company’s management actions
- Reporting on how the company is addressing its actual or potential adverse impacts
- Remediation of adverse impacts that the company has caused or contributed to
Additionally, the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises define the elements of responsible business conduct, including human and labour rights.
Another important reference document is the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration), which contains the most detailed guidance on due diligence as it pertains to labour rights. These instruments, articulating principles of responsible business conduct, draw on international standards enjoying widespread consensus.
Companies can seek specific guidance on this and other issues relating to international labour standards from the ILO Helpdesk for Business. The ILO Helpdesk assists company managers and workers that want to align their policies and practices with principles of international labour standards and build good industrial relations. It has a specific section on occupational safety and health.
Additionally, the SME Compass offers guidance on the overall human rights due diligence process by taking businesses through five key due diligence phases. The SME Compass has been developed in particular to address the needs of SMEs but is freely available and can be used by other companies as well. The tool, available in English and German, is a joint project by the German Government’s Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
1. Develop a Policy Commitment on Safety and Health
As per the UNGPs, a human rights policy should be:
- “Approved at the most senior level” of the company
- “Informed by relevant internal and/or external expertise”
- Specific about company’s “human rights expectations of personnel, business partners and other parties directly linked to its operations, products or services”
- “Publicly available and communicated internally and externally to all personnel, business partners and other relevant parties”
- “Reflected in operational policies and procedures necessary to embed it throughout the business”
In many countries it is a legal requirement for businesses to have a safety and health policy and associated procedures. However, the extent to which a policy is communicated to workers or suppliers and implemented throughout the business often varies.
A safety and health policy should be informed by the legal requirements in the country the business is registered in, as well as the requirements of other countries that the business operates in. If a business operates in multiple countries and there are higher standards of safety and health or protections for workers, it should be reflected in the policy. Suppliers’ code of conduct should include safety and health requirements alongside other human rights requirements. Because work-related injury can never be fully eliminated, OSH policy should integrate the workers’ protection and cover their compensation in case of loss of earning and need of medical care. For companies operating in multiple countries, OSH policy on workers’ protection and compensation may need to be specified for each country according to local legal requirements.
Examples of stand-alone OSH policies include Marshalls Plc and LEGO Group. Examples of policies that combine OSH with other aspects, like environmental protection, include LG’s ‘Energy, Environment, Safety and Health’ policy and Anglo American’s SHE Way policy (Safety, Health and Environment). OSH commitments are commonly included in supplier or business codes of conduct, such as ASOS’ Supplier Ethical Code, which has OSH requirements for the whole supply chain clearly articulated.
Businesses may also consider aligning their policies with relevant industry-wide or cross-industry policy commitments, for example:
- ILO, Helpdesk for Business on International Labour Standards: The ILO Helpdesk for Business is a resource for company managers and workers on how to better align business operations with international labour standards, including OSH. The Q&A section includes answers to the most common questions that businesses consult ILO on, including in relation to company OSH policies.
- Sedex and Verité, Supplier Workbook: A section on health and safety standards includes suggestions on what companies should include in their safety and health policies.
- United Nations Global Compact-OHCHR, A Guide for Business: How to Develop a Human Rights Policy: This guidance provides recommendations on how to develop a human rights policy and includes extracts from companies’ policies referencing OSH.
- SME Compass: Provides advice on how to develop a human rights strategy and formulate a policy statement.
2. Assess Safety and Health Impacts
The UNGPs note that impact assessments:
- Will vary in complexity depending on “the size of the business enterprise, the risk of severe human rights impacts, and the nature and context of its operations”
- Should cover impacts that the company may “cause or contribute to through its own activities, or which may be directly linked to its operations, products or services by its business relationships”
- Should involve “meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders” in addition to other sources of information such as audits
- Should be ongoing
Impact assessments should look at both actual and potential impacts, i.e. impacts that have already manifested or could manifest. This compares to risk assessment that would only look at potential impacts and may not satisfy all of the above criteria.
Assessing OSH risks is often a different process to assessing other human rights risks, such as child labour, forced labour or non-discrimination. OSH risk assessments are often legally required. As such, OSH risk assessment methodologies are well established and detailed. Examples of risk assessment guidelines for companies in particular industries or countries include:
- IPIECA Health Risk Assessment guidelines for companies in the oil and gas industry
- International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM)’s Good Practice Guidance on Occupational Health Risk Assessment
- UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive recommendations on OSH risk assessments
Many companies will also have a clear distinction between the OSH risks of their own operations and those of the supply chain, with the responsibility for the latter being placed on suppliers in most cases. OSH risk assessments on own operations can be detailed as there is oversight of all processes, facilities, activities performed and substances used. Supply chain OSH risk assessments can usually be conducted using quantitative data and country risk profiles, as well as specific risk data on industry activities or known substances.
Safety and health risk assessments may require specialists and technical experts when looking at physical activities within a business and its supply chain. For instance, a supply chain that uses hazardous substances should ensure experts are consulted so the latest information and best practice — that may not be known by individuals in the business — is included. Businesses rarely make their OSH risk assessments public, but some company reports will include risk assessment results or risk profiling of OSH issues, such as Anglo American’s 2020 Sustainability Report.
- ILO, 5 Step Guide for Employers, Workers and Their Representatives on Conducting Workplace Risk Assessments: Tips on OSH risk assessments for any industry and for businesses of any size.
- ILO, Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems, ILO-OSH 2001: Guidance on how to draw and implement a workplace system to manage occupational risks.
- ILO, Training Resources on Stress and Ergonomics Risk Assessments: Training resources on workplace risks (including stress prevention and ergonomics) and how to assess them.
- ILO, Statistics on Health and Safety at Work: Information and statistics on OSH issues from a range of countries.
- ILO, Country Profiles on Occupational Safety and Health: Information on country’s OSH profiles, including national laws, regulations, policies and statistics.
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, OSH Barometer: The OSH Barometer is a data visualization tool with up-to-date information on the status of and trends in OSH in European countries, including OSH authorities, national strategies, working conditions and OSH statistics.
- CSR Risk Check: A tool allowing companies to check which international CSR risks (including related to OSH) businesses are exposed to and what can be done to manage them. The tool provides tailor-made information on the local human rights situation as well as environmental, social and governance issues. It allows users to filter by product/raw material and country of origin. The tool was developed by MVO Netherland; the German version is funded and implemented by the German Government’s Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights and UPJ.
- SME Compass: The Risk Assessment Tool provides practical guidance when rating and prioritizing risks after they have been identified.
3. Integrate and Take Action on Safety and Health Impacts
As per the UNGPs, effective integration requires that:
- “Responsibility for addressing [human rights] impacts is assigned to the appropriate level and function within the business enterprise” (e.g. senior leadership, executive and board level)
- “Internal decision-making, budget allocations and oversight processes enable effective responses to such impacts”
The actions and systems that a company will need to apply will vary depending on the outcomes of its safety and health risk assessment. Many businesses will follow and establish OSH management protocol, such as the processes laid out in ISO45001, or other equivalent industry or country standard, such as those of the UK Managing for Health and Safety (HSG65) recommendations. Immediate actions will include embedding policies and protocols to prevent risks and keep workers safe and healthy. This may involve developing new ways of working, buying new machinery or equipment to automate dangerous processes, or adapting processes to make them safer for workers (e.g. changing the protocol for shift patterns to ensure workers get adequate rest in between shifts).
Other examples of taking action on safety and health impacts include:
- Appointment of workers’ safety delegates and workers’ safety and health committees: As provided in ILO Convention on Occupational Safety and Health, No. 155 and ILO Recommendation on Occupational Safety and Health, No. 164, and also emphasized in the ILO OSH 2001 Guidelines, cooperation between employers and workers is critical for successfully protecting the health and safety of employees. This may include the appointment of workers’ safety delegates, workers’ safety and health committees, and/or joint safety and health committees with equal representation with employers’ representatives. Such committees or, as appropriate, other workers’ representatives should be given enough information on occupational risks and safety and health measures, be encouraged to propose measures on the subject, and consulted when major new safety and health measures are envisaged. They should also be able to communicate with workers on safety and health matters during working hours, have reasonable time during paid working hours to exercise their safety and health functions and to receive training related to these functions.
- Safety and health training of employees and suppliers: Another important component of any OSH management system is the information and training of company employees and suppliers, which may cover safety and health laws, company policies, procedures to protect workers, safe use and maintenance of machinery, substances and equipment, and any tailored or additional safety and health procedures for workers with different needs (for instance workers with disabilities or pregnant women). Training can be delivered in a range of formats, such as online videos, e-learns, in-person sessions or supplier round tables.
- For most businesses, all employees will need some form of safety and health training, even if their job is not considered dangerous. For instance, office workers will still require training on how to exit the building safely in the event of an emergency and may receive advice on correct set-up of computer equipment to prevent musculoskeletal injuries from bad posture. Training can also be highly specialized to a worker’s role to ensure they are prepared and able to do their job safely and confidently, such as training for workers operating at height or underground. Other examples of safety and health training can include delivering mental health and well-being training to employees, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers’s (PwC) ‘Green Light to Talk’ campaign.
- Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) can provide the necessary expertise, guidance and economies of scale to address health and safety challenges in a responsible, sector-specific way. Such MSIs can also help companies learn from different stakeholder groups including business, government, civil society and inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. Examples include the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which provides roundtable discussions and shared resources to member companies on safety and health issues and best practice; the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, where dozens of fashion retailers are working together to improve safety and health in textile factories following the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013; and the Business Alliance Against Malaria — a coalition of companies working together to promote innovations for a malaria-free world.
- ILO, Helpdesk for Business on International Labour Standards: The ILO Helpdesk for Business is a resource for company managers and workers on how to better align business operations with international labour standards, including OSH. The Q&A section includes answers to the most common questions that businesses consult ILO on, including in relation to company OSH management systems.
- ILO, Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems (ILO-OSH 2001): These guidelines outline recommendations on OSH management systems and reflect ILO’s tripartite approach and the principles defined in its international OSH instruments.
- ILO, OSH Management System: A Tool for Continuous Improvement: This tool guides businesses through monitoring, evaluating and improving OSH management systems.
- ISO, 45001: Occupational Health and Safety Standard: The first international standard on safety and health, which builds on OHSAS18001 and is structured in a similar way as other ISO management systems (such as ISO 14001 or ISO 9001).
- ILO and United Nations Global Compact, Nine Business Practices for Improving Safety and Health Through Supply Chains and Building a Culture of Prevention and Protection: This report identifies practices that businesses can implement to advance decent work and improve occupational safety and health globally, especially when operating in countries with deficient national safety and health and employment injury protection schemes.
- ILO, SOLVE Training Package: Integrating Health Promotion into OSH Policies: Guidance material on workplace well-being and health issues (such as smoking, stress and HIV/AIDS) includes a trainer’s guide, lesson plans and a participant’s workbook.
- ILO, Occupational Safety and Health within Sustainable Sourcing Policies of Multinational Enterprises: This report gives case studies and examples of how to implement effective and successful OSH practices in international supply chains with a focus on agriculture and textiles.
- Sedex and Verité, Supplier Workbook: A section on health and safety standards includes suggestions on how companies can take action on OSH risks in their supply chains.
- The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work provides a list of tools and resources for raising awareness and managing OSH risks, including e-guides on dangerous substances, vehicle safety and stress management.
- SME Compass: Provides advice on how to take action on human rights by embedding them in your company, creating and implementing an action plan, and conducting a supplier review and capacity building.
4. Track Performance on Safety and Health
As per the UNGPs, tracking should:
- “Be based on appropriate qualitative and quantitative indicators”
- “Draw on feedback from both internal and external sources, including affected stakeholders” (e.g. through grievance mechanisms)
Businesses should regularly measure their safety and health performance to identify improvement areas. Most businesses regularly collect information on “lagging” safety and health indicators, including:
- Accidents and injuries
- Spills, fires, explosions or safety incidents
- Lost revenue/cost of any such safety incidents
- Lost person-days or recovery time from incidents
- Medical care
- Sick leave requested
- Loss of earning compensation
In addition to monitoring lagging safety and health indicators, businesses are also encouraged to collect information on “leading” safety and health indicators, which are proactive, preventive and predictive measures that provide information about the effective performance of safety and health activities. Examples of leading OSH indicators include:
- Number of workers who attend a monthly safety and health meeting
- Number of workers asked for feedback on good safety and health goals
- Number of times each month that top management initiates discussion of a safety and health topic
- Average score on survey questions related to workers’ perception of management’s safety and health commitment
- Number of safety-related line items in budget and percentage of these fully funded each year
Responsibility for data collection should be clearly allocated to relevant roles within the company and reported with a set frequency (for instance once a month).
Additional monitoring activities could include scheduled and unannounced audits to check for signs of poor safety and health provision, such as locked doors, unclean work environments, unsafe machinery or operations, or lack of PPE. Such monitoring or audits can be undertaken internally by the company or a third-party contracted by the company. Common supplier audit frameworks that span most industries and include safety and health indicators include SMETA audits and SA8000 accredited audits. Businesses should look for the most appropriate audit type to monitor OSH performance in operations and supply chains, with each industry having different safety and health criteria that should be checked.
Examples of performance tracking on safety and health in supply chains include Inditex, which undertakes numerous OSH audits of suppliers each year. Examples of tracking OSH performance in own operations include Equinox Gold and Total.
- ILO, Audit Matrix for the ILO Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems: Guidance on topics and criteria to include in OSH audits.
- ICMM, Health and Safety Performance Indicators: Definitions and reporting boundaries for lagging health and safety performance indicators recommended for use by companies in the mining sector.
- ICMM, Overview of Leading Indicators for Occupational Health and Safety in Mining: An overview of the use, measurement and application of leading indicators for OSH in the mining industry.
- Sedex and Verité, Supplier Workbook: A section on health and safety standards includes suggestions on how companies can monitor OSH risks in their supply chains.
- SME Compass: Provides advice on how to measure human rights performance.
5. Communicate Performance on Safety and Health
As per the UNGPs, regular communications of performance should:
- “Be of a form and frequency that reflect an enterprise’s human rights impacts and that are accessible to its intended audiences”
- “Provide information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of an enterprise’s response to the particular human rights impact involved”
- “Not pose risks to affected stakeholders, personnel or to legitimate requirements of commercial confidentiality”
Companies are expected to communicate their OSH performance in a formal public report. Many countries have national requirements on safety and health reporting for businesses, but there are several global reporting frameworks and standards that can be used, for example the Global Reporting Initiative’s standard GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety. The standard provides information on what should be included in disclosures on safety and health, and is applicable to businesses in all industries and countries. There are often industry-specific guidance documents available, such as IPIECA resources for the oil and gas industry.
Stand-alone safety and health reports are common in typically dangerous industries such as oil and gas or mining (see Shell’s 2019 Safety report), but safety and health reporting can also be included in sustainability or annual reports (see Nissan’s 2019 report), or in an annual Communication on Progress (CoP) in implementing the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact.
Safety and health reporting is usually done quarterly or annually, if not more regularly, as it is a material operational consideration for all businesses. Some companies have multiple OSH-related communications, such as Shell that regularly update their safety performance data, have specific website sections for safety and health, and include OSH in their annual and sustainability reports. Alternatively, some companies report safety and health performance in their annual reports. For example, Inditex includes data in their Annual Report and their Annual Statement on Non-Financial Information.
- Global Reporting Initiative, GRI Topic Standard Project for Occupational Health and Safety: This resource gives guidance on OSH reporting to meet the requirements of GRI standard 403.
- UNGP Reporting Framework: A short series of smart questions (‘Reporting Framework’), implementation guidance for reporting companies, and assurance guidance for internal auditors and external assurance providers.
- United Nations Global Compact, Communication on Progress (CoP): The CoP ensures further strengthening of corporate transparency and accountability, allowing companies to better track progress, inspire leadership, foster goal-setting and provide learning opportunities across the Ten Principles and SDGs.
- The Sustainability Code: A framework for reporting on non-financial performance that includes 20 criteria, including on human rights and employee rights.
- SME Compass: The Practical Guide on Target Group-Oriented Communication helps to identify stakeholders and find suitable communication formats and channels.
6. Remedy and Grievance Mechanisms
As per the UNGPs, remedy and grievance mechanisms should include the following considerations:
- “Where business enterprises identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes”.
- “Operational-level grievance mechanisms for those potentially impacted by the business enterprise’s activities can be one effective means of enabling remediation when they meet certain core criteria.”
To ensure their effectiveness, grievance mechanisms should be:
- Legitimate: “enabling trust from the stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended, and being accountable for the fair conduct of grievance processes”
- Accessible: “being known to all stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended, and providing adequate assistance for those who may face particular barriers to access”
- Predictable: “providing a clear and known procedure with an indicative time frame for each stage, and clarity on the types of process and outcome available and means of monitoring implementation”
- Equitable: “seeking to ensure that aggrieved parties have reasonable access to sources of information, advice and expertise necessary to engage in a grievance process on fair, informed and respectful terms”
- Transparent: “keeping parties to a grievance informed about its progress, and providing sufficient information about the mechanism’s performance to build confidence in its effectiveness and meet any public interest at stake”
- Rights-compatible: “ensuring that outcomes and remedies accord with internationally recognized human rights”
- A source of continuous learning: “drawing on relevant measures to identify lessons for improving the mechanism and preventing future grievances and harms”
- Based on engagement and dialogue: “consulting the stakeholder groups for whose use they are intended on their design and performance, and focusing on dialogue as the means to address and resolve grievances”
Grievance mechanisms can play an important role in helping to identify and remediate safety and health issues in operations and supply chains. Grievance mechanisms are particularly important in occupational safety and health as issues and risks need to be identified as soon as possible to prevent them from escalating, intensifying or affecting more people. Companies should have grievance mechanisms in place for employees to report issues confidentially, as well as immediate ways to report grievances or incidents such as leaking chemicals or unsafe machinery.
It is important that any safety and health concerns are fixed and remediated as quickly as possible. Often, remediating safety and health problems requires physical intervention (for instance fixing broken machinery), and measures should be put in place to keep workers safe until the problem is fixed. There may need to be a change to operating processes or safety and health protocols to prevent this kind of incident from happening again. According to ILO Convention on Occupational Safety and Health, No. 155 (Art.13) workers who have removed themselves from imminent, serious danger to their life and health should be protected from undue consequences.
Businesses may also face significant financial payments to harmed individuals, and if there is a major incident, businesses may face fines and legal actions from criminal or civil action. An example is the Brumadhino dam collapse in Brazil, where 270 workers and local community members were killed. Vale, the company that owns the mine, recently paid out US$7 billion in compensation to the victims and their families, and senior management in the company faced murder charges on the basis that the safety and health mechanisms in place to prevent the dam from collapsing and to protect human life in the event of a collapse were not adequate, if indeed in place.
To avoid such situations and address workers’ protection at the outset, more and more companies are recognizing the need for social insurance schemes and the specific role they could play in strengthening relevant national institutions. In the garment sector, international buyers and retailers have recognized that in cases where national social insurance schemes are not yet developed enough to fully protect all workers against work-related injuries, alternative temporary approaches may be required. These could be temporary time-bound solutions, funded with appropriate financing (which can come from voluntary and time-bound contributions). National tripartite organizations, with ILO support, can help international buyers and retailers in identifying the appropriate financing.
- Ethical Trading Initiative, Access to Remedy: Practical Guidance for Companies: This guidance explains key components of the mechanisms that allow workers to submit complaints and enable businesses to provide remedy.
- SME Compass: The Practical Guide on Grievance Management outlines how to design grievance mechanisms following the UNGP effectiveness criteria and includes examples from companies.
- Global Compact Network Germany, Worth Listening: Understanding and Implementing Human Rights Grievance Management: A business guide intended to assist companies in designing effective human rights grievance mechanisms, including practical advice and case studies. Also available in German.