A Job Is a Dying Concept

| June 28, 2012

Dr. John Howard, Director of NIOSH, gave the keynote presentation last Tuesday (June 19, 2012) at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference (AIHce).  In his talk, he focused on 7 trends that will define the future of occupational health and safety – demography, employment, discrimination, disability, governance, standards and professionalism.  In this blog post, I will focus on one – employment trends.

As Dr. Howard put it, “A job is a dying concept.”

He went on to elaborate – In prior generations, security was what defined employment; today, it is precariousness.  Work is increasingly contingent and less secure.  There is no promise of continuous employment – or, in a great many work situations, of even being considered an “employee.”

According to Dr. Howard, this employment trend has a significant impact on occupational health and safety. Within the current legal structures governing worker protection, non-employee workers are often unrecognized and unprotected.  Both workplace safety regulations and injury compensation schemes are based on one’s status as an employee. Yet, the risk of injury or death in the workplace is not related to a legalistic definition of employment – whether you are an “employee” rather than simply an individual laboring in the workplace.

Later in the week, Mike Wallace, from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), gave a presentation on the evolution of sustainability reporting and the need for new metrics for evaluating organizational performance related to occupational health and safety. 

He started his presentation with the following statistic – annually 2.3 million workers die across the world. It is clear that workplaces are not safe and worker protection is often missing.

He sent on to note that, in the past, safety professionals have “stayed on the sidelines” in defining OH&S metrics for measuring organizational performance – unlike their environmental counterparts. Creating comparable metrics is often viewed as “too complex” and “too time consuming.” 

Is creating OH&S metrics really more difficult than
creating metrics to address global climate change?

GRI is currently soliciting public comment on new OH&S metrics for inclusion in the GRI reporting scheme.  Unfortunately, to date, the metrics being used, as well as those being proposed, fail to take into account the employment trends highlighted in Dr. Howard’s presentation.  In particular, they continue to link OH&S performance metrics to “employee” protection NOT “worker” protection.

In my view, what is needed is new metrics.  Metrics that are specifically developed to promote worker protection – not the perpetuation of metrics based on definitions of employment that has little relevance to today’s economic realities.

© ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2012)

Category: Global OH&S Issues, Injury & Illness Reporting, OHS Laws & Legal Compliance

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