Debunking safety and sustainability

Can safety and sustainability come together and garner attention from businesses and regulators?

In this episode of COS TV, we chat with safety consultant Peter Sturm about the importance of sustainability in OHS. We asked Peter:

  • Why is there so much confusion and uncertainty amongst safety professionals and companies around how safety and sustainability come together?
  • The 3Ps of profit, planet and people is a term that is discussed. Why is it that profit and planet are getting all the attention?
  • We hear the term ESG, 3Ps, materiality, the pillars of economic, environment, social, etc.…Why is there is no mention of safety?
  • Many say that sustainability is strategic and safety is technical, can the two come together and garner attention from businesses and regulators? 
To view full transcript, please click here

Maia: [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to COS TV I'm Maia Foulis and in this episode I have the pleasure of chatting with Peter Sturm of Sturm Consulting. Peter, welcome. 

Peter: [00:00:30] Thank you. Great opportunity to be here today. And I hope this discussion will take us to that next level of how we can move the profession to be the best that it is. Thank you for inviting me. 

Maia: [00:00:44] In this episode, Peter and I will be debunking the safety and sustainability misunderstanding. Why is there so much confusion and uncertainty among safety professionals and companies around how safety and sustainability come together? 

Peter: [00:01:01] That's an excellent question. So one of the things that we found with the convergence of safety and sustainability is that there really has been limited research in the areas of safety management systems. And that's been a topic for the last decade. As we've been looking at it, we've had some working groups looking at what's been going on and how do we get health and safety and sustainability to come together. So that confusion is continuing and I think we've had some great opportunities because one of the problems that I'm seeing is, is that schools aren't teaching about sustainability in the safety world, and so they haven't gotten caught up to that point. In Canada, we have the Board of Registered Safety Professionals and they've actually added sustainability as one of the competencies that a safety professional is required to have. So that's where that confusion is happening. There's that disconnect. One of the things I'm also finding is that educators, those that are bringing up our new people into Health and safety and those that are in the profession just have kept to the old same old topics. You know, they're focused on the technical, they're looking at easy topics. They're not easy, but they're not getting into the world of sustainability. And how do we bring this all together? They're focusing on working at heights and looking at confined workspace. And mental health has taken a big chunk of that, and so is COVID. But I believe that when you look at sustainability, that's part of that conversation. I believe that we missed sustainability. When we looked at the issue of COVID, because what had happened was back in 2003 with SARS. We knew that there's going to be another pandemic coming and we didn't prepare for it. So when I look at what's been happening with respect to sustainability, I think that's where that confusion is coming back and forth. And so when you're looking at the discussions that are happening with the senior leaders and the business people and Boards of directors and all that, they're talking about strategic and sustainability and all that. And we've kind of focused down in the operational, technical part. So I really think that this is now an opportunity. I think the bells are ringing that we need to start to look at sustainability as an integral part driving health and safety in Canada and around the world. 

Maia: [00:03:18] Yeah. And so the three piece of profit planet and people are often discussed. And why is it that profit and planet are getting all the attention? 

Peter: [00:03:29] It's been an interesting journey looking at the three P's. The profit P's in businesses have been around and the financial P's have been integral. To the sustainability discussion. One of the issues that I think that we're experiencing right now is that workplace safety for many at the leadership level is perceived as a cost center rather than a profit center. So for many health and safety is not adding value to the discussion and bringing in revenue and performance returns, and they're not being identified. I believe that we need to start to shift and making profit and safety become congruent because traditionally when the CFO in the safety professional comes to see that CFO, they're always coming from looking for dollars for training, for different things that are going on. And we haven't been able to correlate and bring that profit message in that for that $1 of investment that we make today, we're going to get at least a dollar in return, which is a very good return when you look at business, when you're looking at a 3 to 4% return on that. The issue around the planet, there has been a great movement from the environmental side since the 1960s to position the environment with respect to the regulators and also the enforcement areas. And what's happened is, is that it has become a regulatory and a compliance issue. Now, safety is also a compliance issue. But the issue with the three. P's is, is that it hasn't had the same bite. So when you come back and look at that profit discussion where profit hasn't been a driver for safety but rather positioned as a cost center and then getting the environmental part of the the the movement has had a driving force. The people P's, which is the last one, has been kind of left out. So we haven't transitioned safety to viable people and culture and prevention and safety management systems. And if we stay focused with that technical perspective and looking at those things and not being strategic, we're going to miss the boat on that. So if you're not getting invited by your senior leaders and boardroom members to the table to talk about sustainability and how we can look after our people, they're telling you that you're at the operational level. And it's not important to the overall strategic direction of the organization. So the three P's for me, I mean it's a simple concept. But what it's really done is started to focus in on why people are important to the organization. And so what that impact that it's going to have is that if people are important, it's going to impact your brand, it's going to impact how you're perceived in the marketplace. And why should I buy your product or service? Because if you're hurting your people and what I'm finding now with the new generation is coming up, is I'm not going to buy from you, I'm going to buy from someone else. So the Three P's is really integral and I really see it to be an important part of where we are and moving forward with respect to sustainability and safety coming together. Really, really important area there. 

Maia: [00:06:53] Okay. Thanks, Peter. And so we hear the term ESG. We hear the term three P's materiality, the pillars of economic, environment, social, etc.. Why is there no mention of safety? 

Peter: [00:07:08] And it's really interesting in following for over the last decade the whole ESG. So the the environment, the social and governance parts and the terminology that's coming out in the sustainability world and what I'm seeing is that when people start to talk about ESG, the three P's, materiality, the economic, the environment, the social, they don't talk about safety and we as a profession don't talk about that. So we're being left out of the conversation. So I'm finding that safety profession has not tied to the terminology, and we've stayed with our own things about hazards and risks and controls and we haven't tied the fact that safety is being is material and for an organization and should be part of that sustainability conversation. So when we get that and all material means is is it important? And yes, it is important so why isn't safety and sustainability working together and being part of that conversation? and I think the reason we're missing it is we're not using the right words we're not using the right terms that are getting the attention of our leaders and of our boards that are around there. So I'm seeing that safety just not been part of the sustainability discussion because we haven't learned these terms. So safety is important. It is material to the sustainability of the company and very simply to put it you can't run a company without people. There are very few organizations out there that can run their business without. people so why wouldn't you? Integrate that piece and start to talk about why is it material? Why is it important? Then why is it important that people in the organization are critical to the sustainability organization? And I believe you can have all the technology, you can have all the equipment, you can have all the innovative ideas. But if you don't have people to drive, that you're not going to get there. And so with safety, it's the same thing. If you don't have people driving safety and being material to your organization. Then you're going to go back to the lowest denominator which is compliance. So when I listen to a lot of senior business leaders and talk to colleagues, they say, well, they're always saying to me am I compliant? And what they're saying is, am I meeting the requirements we change the conversation to? Is it material? Is it important to a company? Is it important to the senior leadership and to the board of directors that health and safety and the employees as an integral part of the business? And that brings it together very nicely. 

Maia: [00:09:56] And many say that sustainability is strategic, while safety is technical. Can the two come together and garner attention from businesses and regulators? 

[00:10:08] Really interesting. When we start to talk about the whole world of safety and sustainability and whether strategic or technical, the discussions have been going on since 2010. But there's been some interesting literature in the last little while. So OSHA back in 2016 put out a paper called The Sustainability in the Workplace A New Approach for Advancing Worker Safety and Health. And when you look at. That, that was six or seven years ago. And it was interesting that Osha again and when I look at regulators around the world, sometimes they're not quick to respond to whatever, but they started to see the importance of moving that health and safety discussion. To the sustainability world. And I think the reason that happened was, is that the approach that the regulators have been taking, which has been technical, if you. Look at the legislation in Ontario, in Canada, in the U.K. and also here in the US. It's a very focused on the technical aspect of it. And I believe that even the regulators now are looking at, so how do we get to that next level? And they're starting to recognize that safety and Sustainability is the pathway to get there. Very interesting piece. Also, Lynn Burnell with Workplace Safety Prevention Services just did a piece on this at the heart of sustainability and resilience. And as I was reading the article I started to go, okay. So we've got the regulators that are starting to get it. It's happening in Canada. We're getting the safety associations that are starting to get it. And now we've got that opportunity for workplaces to start to adapt and to adopt that principle of how sustainability is going to be the next driver for for safety. And around the world. So very interesting just watching the literature because for me it's been really interesting. I've got a working group that we're going through things and we're actually meeting this, this morning. And so we're looking at how do we get that discussion with respect to sustainability into the conversation in workplaces? And I believe. That it's the safety practitioners and the safety professionals that will start to have to take it into the workplace and have to have that conversation. So you need to start to understand the terminology. If we don't, others in the organization will usurp that whole sustainability initiative. Those that are responsible for the environment, those that are responsible for the economic piece, the profit piece of finance. These people, they've already realized over the last couple of years. This is an important way to get that conversation moving in the workplace And we've got to do that with that people piece that safety piece of how do we get it on the agenda of every workplace that's out there? And I believe that if we get the sustainability discussion moving, we're going to be able to impact those numbers. So when you look at Canada with our fatality numbers at around 1000 per year, when you're looking at 260 to 270000 lost time injuries in our country I think that sustainability is going to be the pathway to get us to success because it's going to hit it from the strategic perspective and into the organization rather than trying to take it from the compliance piece and pushing it up because it isn't working. It has gotten us to some points, but we really, really need to start to move and get sustainability and safety into that conversation. 

Maia: [00:13:44] Wonderful. And so what would you say are the next few steps? 

Peter: [00:13:49] A real interesting point is to, so where do we go with it? And so I believe that we need to as we are today, continue the conversation. Because what's happening is, is that I'm starting to see there's more comfort with it a decade ago. People would say. Peter, what are you talking about? I don't understand what you're saying. And now all of a sudden I'm seeing a shift in people saying okay, and I think COVID has done this people are important to that operation. People are important to how that business is going to function. And we're seeing that we're seeing that in the hospitality trade. We're seeing that in the health care trade. We're seeing construction with trades if we aren't able to address those people issues, we're going to have issues. So one of the other pieces that's really important is that when we look at the whole education system. I know there's work going on right now to accredit health and safety programs in Canada, and I'm really looking because that's going to be a major step. We've got a lot of good certificate and diploma programs we need to get to degree programs, and that will start the conversation. When these educators start to talk about sustainability strategy with respect to health and safety, it's going to change that conversation. Another interesting thing that's evolving in Canada is that we're looking at a regulated profession. So getting that credibility. So as nurses and doctors and lawyers are in a regulated profession and people are saying, well, you know, that makes it a whole different world. 

[00:15:22] It does. But what it does then is, is it starts to standardize so that when you want to add a topic of sustainability into the conversation of education and moving forward, it's going to create that conversation that's going to get us the credibility. And also the level of education in those areas I think also we need to continue the conversation with our CEOs and CFOs. Why is safety important to their brand, to their reputation, to their social license to operate? And many organizations after. They've had a traumatic event. Really realize what the impact is, not just within the walls of their organization. In their community, people start to ask and question, was the organization doing everything that was possible? But were they looking at having a sustainable organization where they weren't hurting people? And if you do that, even if you have an event that does occur that social license to operate gives you some leeway in the community because you've already established a reputation with them and a brand that you care for your people. You're looking to have a sustainable organization. You want to remain in the community as a viable source. And it's a organization that looks after its people but also looks after its customers. So if you're hurting your people. You're not going to have a successful brand. And that face in the community, whether it's just the local community or the national community or even global, I believe that health and safety is a tool that will bring positive results for an organization and get you to the results and the outcomes that you want to get to. And in the process people aren't getting hurt. 

Maia: [00:17:19] Thank you so much for joining us, Peter. 

Peter: [00:17:22] It's been really a pleasure to have this conversation and I hope we can continue with that And so thank you for the opportunity and we'll go from there. 

Maia: [00:17:30] It was our pleasure. Thanks again and thank you for watching COS TV.