These workers in Bangladesh marched in 2010 to protest working conditions that contributed to a factory fire that killed 21 employees Clean Clothes Campaign

These workers in Bangladesh marched in 2010 to protest working conditions that contributed to a factory fire that killed 21 employees.

Corporations Urged to Improve Supply Chain Safety Management and Protect Vulnerable Workers

The American Society of Safety Engineers and the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability voice concern about vulnerable workers in developing nations who face some daunting workplace safety challenges. A new report will address the shortcomings in occupational safety and health-related reporting among 100 global corporations otherwise deemed the most sustainable in the world.

With workplace tragedies such as the November factory fire in Bangladesh that killed more than 100 workers and the one in Pakistan that killed more than 300 workers in September, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability are urging corporations to implement effective safety management programs and practices in their supply chains to help prevent these disasters from happening.

“Any organization wishing to proclaim itself as ‘sustainable’ must have a safety management system in place to protect its workers, and in a similar manner any ‘sustainable’ organization using suppliers from underdeveloped and developing nations must also require those suppliers to protect the safety and health of their employees,” said Thomas Cecich, CSP, CIH, ASSE vice president for professional affairs and chair of the center board.

The center, which represents more than 100,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professionals located worldwide, notes that despite the global safety community’s best efforts to prevent workplace injuries, illness, and fatalities since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 workers in New York City over a 100 years ago, many people around the world continue to work in unacceptably unsafe conditions.  

Cecich explained that supply chain workers in developing nations tend to be particularly vulnerable because they face a number of workplace challenges less commonly seen in the developed world.

“Management systems for safety may be weak or nonexistent and workers tend to lack training and supervision,” he said. “They often lack basic knowledge and tools required to be proactive about their own safety. Even the most basic safety and health measures and investments are frequently bypassed. Published reports of the recent tragic fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh say fundamental fire safety precautions, such as accessible exits, were lacking.”

Center Urges Safety Sustainability

One of the center’s goals is to influence organizations to adopt best practices with regard to safety and health sustainability, which is defined as an organization’s “responsibility to ensure that the protection of human life and the safety, health and well-being of workers, customers and neighboring communities are a primary consideration in any business endeavor.”

The center soon will release a report titled, “Current Practices in Occupational Health and Safety Sustainability Reporting,” which addresses the shortcomings in occupational safety and health-related reporting among 100 global corporations otherwise deemed the most sustainable in the world. Among the many findings of the report is underreporting of metrics related to worker safety in the supply chain.

“It’s not enough to condemn local factory owners for these conditions and to expect long term change,” Cecich noted. “The corporations that source supply chain products, as well as their stakeholders, have tremendous power to influence the conditions in which supply chain workers operate. The sustainability movement, long oriented predominantly toward influencing corporate decisions with regard to the environment, has developed frameworks by which corporations can compile and report on performance criteria.

Cecich said the center is suggesting key indicators that should be included in sustainability reporting, such as promoting the use of occupational safety and health management systems, extending coverage to temporary or fixed duration contract workers and increasing focus on workers for suppliers in the developing world. Added Cecich: “Addressing these issues will pave the way for more meaningful reporting and needed changes when it comes to protecting human life and the safety, health and well-being of workers, customers, and neighboring communities.”

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