1/2009

Responsible company takes care of safety

Laboratory


A responsible company takes care of workers' safety. The workers are provided with necessary protective clothing, chemicals are managed appropriately, the production facilities are clean and safe, and so on. Occupational health and safety is one of the concrete key components of corporate social responsibility.

"Corporate social responsibility is not only a trend but an established part of strategic management", estimates Researcher Päivi Hämäläinen from the Center for Safety Management and Engineering at TUT's Department of Industrial Management.

Companies expect that their voluntary actions which go beyond common regulatory and conventional requirements will generate success in the long run and build good company reputation. This, in turn, will facilitate to recruit and retain the best employees.

"Globalization has increased the pressure to act responsibly. Especially large companies that operate in a global market cannot afford to act unethically, because sooner or later it catches up with them."

Strategy into practice

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is traditionally divided into three sections: economic, social and environmental responsibility. Occupational health and safety is part of social responsibility, and is one area where companies can implement their objectives throughout the organisation. It already has long-standing traditions in developed countries.

However, implementing social responsibility into corporate practice is not always a matter-of-course. Interviews with international companies reveal that the extent to which CSR concepts translate into practice varies between companies.

Calculating global estimates

Researchers at TUT have gathered material and developed models that are used to estimate the number of occupational injuries and diseases worldwide and per country. Based on the findings of the research project funded by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the number of annual fatalities resulting from occupational injuries or work-related diseases is 2.3 million. In addition, an estimated 960,000 nonfatal occupational injuries that require over three days' absence from work occur each day.

"When comparing the figures between countries, the main differences are found in the mortality rates. Developed countries exhibit the lowest rates and developing countries are bearing the brunt of the problem", explains Hämäläinen who have a main role in developing the models. She will defend her Doctoral dissertation on the subject in the near future.

Corporate social responsibility is not only a trend but an established part of strategic management

Money talks

In addition to human suffering, deficiencies in occupational health and safety lead to massive costs. ILO has estimated that the costs of occupational injuries and diseases account for 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the world. In practice, this means some 1,360,000 million U.S. dollars per year.

"One concrete way to make companies pay more attention to working conditions is to show them calculations on how much deficiencies in occupational health and safety will cost them".

Rising trend in injury rates

Even though the awareness of occupational health and safety has improved, the figures show that the number of occupational injuries is rising. "In Finland, injury rates have been increasing since 2004", says Hämäläinen.

EU among others is taking steps to reverse the situation. According to EU's community strategy on health and safety at work 2007 - 2012, the union is attempting to reduce occupational injury rates by 25 percent by 2012. EU's measures are especially related to improving occupational health and safety in small to medium-sized enterprises and to the implementation of legislation.

 

Center for Safety Management and Engineering at TUT´s Department of Industrial Management is also involved in a continuing project on the subject with funding from the Academy of Finland. The project led by Professor Kaija Leena Saarela focuses on researching, for example, corporate social responsibility.

 

Text: Tuuli Laukkanen
Photo: Petri Laitinen

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