At their most basic level, sustainability and safety are really about the same thing: conserving resources. In fact, they are intertwined with safety being an enabler towards building a sustainable business. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) policies are necessary for the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as SDG 3: Good health and Well-being and SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.
For example, companies have been keen to promote SDG 3 through, mainly, ensuring that their products are safe for human consumption. This is of course important but then, there is still more that needs to be done. There remains a big gap when it comes to the prevention of injuries and diseases among employees – something that lies within the major responsibilities of all employers.
Approximately 337 million fatal and non-fatal work accidents and over 160 million occupational diseases are reported every year due to poor occupational safety and health practices (Statistics by the International Labour Organisation (ILO)). This most definitely adds to the burden on healthcare systems around the world, with a deeper sting being felt in developing countries.
Talking of sustainability again, SDG 8 also targets to protect labour rights and promote a safe and secure working environment for all workers; something that can only be attained through the adoption, implementation, and constant review of OSH policies and strategies by both government and private sector players.
Here in Kenya, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted in 2007 (OSHA 2007) to provide for the safety, health, and welfare of workers and all persons lawfully present at workplaces. It also seeks to protect persons other than persons at work against risks that may arise out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work.
OSHA 2007 provides a working frame for companies across the country and is meant to serve the sum of 18 million people in the working population. Of the 18 million, about three million are employed in the formal sector while 15 million are in the informal sector (KNBS, 2020).
There is a great need for companies to comply with OSHA 2007 and be in good books with the government. However, companies that seek to lead in the space of sustainability need to be motivated that through OSH, they will be protecting their best and most important asset.
This is a must-do. It is of vital importance that we no longer see employees as human resources but rather, human beings and treat them as such. Sustainability can only work where safety has been realised.