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Safety, health and wellbeing

IOSH policy position on safety, health and wellbeing as a foundation of social sustainability

Occupational safety and health (OSH) has a key role to play in the sustainability agenda. Here’s how IOSH views it.

What’s the issue?

The long-term wellbeing of people is foundational to sustainable development and is secured through provision of, and access to, education, healthcare, social protection, and so on. With an average person spending 90,000 hours at work during their lifetime, enabling good work is therefore crucial.

The global sustainability agenda is concerned with collective action and making the goals of sustainable development quantifiable and reportable. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are one such example. Alongside a focus on environmental sustainability, the SDGs also articulate the many interdependencies between good work, health, poverty, equality, education, peace and other factors.

How do we see it?

IOSH believes that the provision of good work is foundational to human wellbeing and, in turn, to a sustainable future. While all people are entitled by law to productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and human dignity, their work should also enable them to feel and to do well. In this equation, safe and healthy work has an impact far beyond just safe and healthy workers; it provides conditions for individuals to thrive and flourish.

The growing interest in the social dimension of sustainable development provides a huge opportunity for governments, businesses and OSH professionals to demonstrate the value that safe, healthy and well workers bring to the businesses they work in, to the local communities they belong to, and to wider society.

IOSH believes that safety, health, and wellbeing should be recognised in the sustainability agenda. It should be included more meaningfully in policy contexts, better reflected in sustainability reporting frameworks, and prioritised at business level – not only as a matter of legal compliance, but in recognition of its broader contribution to sustainable business and society.

  • Publish data that measures and calculates the return of investment in OSH in business and the wider contribution of improvements in worker health, safety and wellbeing through economic development and growth.
  • Embed the social elements of sustainability for workers in accessible and applicable national frameworks, policies, plans and targets, for example OSH, equality and structural equity.
  • Ensure the green transition is ‘just’ and that work is decent, safe, healthy and sustainable within national frameworks and policies.
  • Be purpose-led and put people first.
  • Develop and embed a person-centred approach to preventing harm to workers through leadership, good management systems and cultures.
  • Adopt forward-looking and long-term strategies and broader measures of sustainability, which includes occupational safety and health and worker wellbeing.
  • Invest in the workforce and measure the return on investment.
  • Use the IOSH ‘Delivering a sustainable future’ report to identify, action and measure contributions through good OSH towards the UN SDGs.
  • Be familiar with and utilise the IOSH ‘Delivering a sustainable future¹’ report with your business to identify, action and measure contributions through good OSH towards the UN SDGs.
  • Argue for sustainable procurement practices, which include good OSH standards within your business.
  • Raise awareness for, and advocate for, social sustainability and socially responsible business.

This policy position represents IOSH's view as of April 2024 based on the best evidence available to us. We will review it periodically and reserve the right to change and update it drawing on new information.