Health and safety in the workplace

This page presents all relevant good practice case studies that showcase how business have addressed the Health and safety dilemma. Case studies have been developed in close collaboration with a range of multi-national companies and relevant government, inter-governmental and civil society stakeholders. We also draw on public domain sources, including the UN Global Compact's own published Communications on Progress through which signatories are required to report on their performance against the Ten Principles.

The case studies explore the specific dilemmas and challenges faced by each organisation, good practice actions they have taken to resolve them and the results of such action. We reference challenges as well as achievements and invite you to submit commentary and suggestions through the Forum.

IN-DEPTH (Print seperately) Timberland, et al.: Addressing poor health among female workers - Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Viet Nam

IN-DEPTH (Print seperately) Volkswagen, et al.: Ensuring higher OHS measures throughout the supply chain - Global

IN-DEPTH (Print seperately) Anglo American: Addressing high levels of health and safety risk in mining - South Africa

IN-DEPTH (Print seperately) GE: Upholding EHS standards of suppliers to ensure GE’s compliance standards - China

BASF: Health promotion campaign - Germany

In 2009, BASF launched its second health promotion campaign, “Steps to Health” aimed to encourage employees to improve their health through increased activity. The employees participating in the campaign received a pedometer and also a health check. The initial health check measures blood pressure, pulse, weight, and fat percentage. The first round of this campaign, launched in 2007 gave rise to positive results. Of the 2,062 employees that participated in the programme, 708 attended the final health check. Of those 658 had lost weight and 440 of them had lowered their body mass index (BMI) by two points.

ETI and National Homeworker Group: Improving standards for homeworkers - India

Homeworkers in India contracted to companies producing products for multinationals are often the most vulnerable members of the working population and often work in substandard conditions. As they are contracted out, they receive no sick pay, health and safety training or workplace compensation if they sustain an injury or become ill due to the working environment. To address these risks the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) teamed up with the National Homeworker Group, an organisation comprising of two NGOs, one union and contractors in 2002. In 2009 ETI and the National Homeworker Group implemented a programme that provided health and safety training to homeworkers. All-in-all, 4,300 homeworkers were trained on health and safety, as well as issues to do with quality. This partnership also addresses all other labour rights issues, such as a right to a living wage, written contract etc. Training included basic tools to ensure that health is improved, such as bringing a worker’s ceiling light closer to where they are working. It also provides advice on how to improve quality, to reduce product rejection rates, such as keeping sewing looms inside, so that the fabric does not fade. This programme originally focused on the Bareilly region, but in 2010 it announced that the programme would expand to the Delhi and Sangham Vihar regions after receiving funding from the UK Department of Development (DIFD). DIFD gave £230,000 to be rolled out in the next two years under its rags challenge fund. These funds will be used to reach to other homeworkers to combat “low wages, irregular work, lack of social protection, high rates of occupational injury, lack of access to training and information about rights and entitlements and weak bargaining power”.

Gold Fields: Moving to a long-term health and safety strategy - Australia

"Gold Fields is one of the world’s largest unhedged producers of gold with attributable annualised production of 3.6 million gold equivalent ounces from eight operating mines in Australia, Ghana, Peru and South Africa. Gold Fields also has an extensive and diverse global growth pipeline with four major projects in resource development and feasibility, with construction decisions expected in the next 18 to 24 months". In St Ives, Australia Gold Fields has augmented the impact of narrow based ‘Lost Time Injury (LTI)-centric’ safety management, which is short-term in nature, by piloting an innovative approach based on Total Incident Frequency Rate (TIFR). This approach includes a broader range of measures with a direct or indirect impact on safety performance and attitudes, including environmental incidents, equipment damage and minor injuries. These are weighted accordingly. The TIFR provides a more holistic safety management measure that looks at risks, as well as outcomes. It also places greater emphasis on the links between individual safety performance and overall operational behaviour. In addition, the use of the TIFR also seeks to address concerns that over-reliance on LTIs places too many injured employees on restricted duties instead of being provided with comprehensive early treatment. Although prompt treatment generally gets injured employees back to full productivity much faster, it also results in higher LTI rates and detrimental performance assessments. Application of the TIFR measure has resulted in an initial increase in St Ives’ LTI rates. At the same time, however, significant improvements have been noticed in terms of returning employees and contractors into full productivity earlier. The TIFR is now a major variable used to assess employee and contractor performance and the company is looking at opportunities for its application beyond the mine.

Gold Fields: Extending worker’s health beyond the working day - South Africa

As part of its health and safety policy, Gold Fields has extended its scope by not only implementing its comprehensive safety management programme for workplace health and safety, but extending this to the overall health of employees. This is named the “24 Hours in the Life of a Gold Field’s Employee Programme” and covers six main areas: (1) Learning: In 2010 the company established the Gold Fields Business and Leadership Academy that provides a number of accredited training programmes, including practical training programmes; (2) Sport and recreation: In 2010 the company invested ZAR17.9 million (US$2.4 million) in encouraging employees to partake in sport, such as football and running. As of 2010, 5.4% of all South African employees participate in some type of formal sporting activity; (3) Accommodation and living conditions: Gold Fields has improved onsite living accommodation, firstly, by reducing the number of employees per room from eight to two. Also, the company has distributed 24,000 new mattresses under its sleep deprivation programme; (4) “If we cannot mine safely, we will not mine”: an ongoing integration of the safety programme and the “Stop, Think, Fix, Verify and Continue” safety campaign; (5) Health care: all employees are subject to Health Risk Assessments, which proactively evaluate a range of health risks. This includes diseases related to lifestyle and HIV status. The aim is to provide a predictive picture of the employee to ensure preventative measures are taken so that sick leave is reduced. (6) Nutrition: standardising meal plans so that employees have access to a nutritious and balanced diet. Currently food provided onsite exceeds governmental guidelines. However, the company is also encouraging employees stick to nutritional guidelines outlined by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, which includes a recommended daily intake of 15,000 kj a day.

Primark et al: Clothing retailers sign up to Accord on Fire and Building Safety – Bangladesh

In May 2013, more than 20 clothing brands – including Primark, PVH, Tchibo, H&M, Inditex, C&A, and Tesco – signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord is a legally binding agreement involving the participating companies, the IndustriALL and UNI global unions, as well as a number of local unions within Bangladesh. It is based on the provision of resources by purchasing companies to pay for renovations and repairs at factory buildings in Bangladesh – whether through higher pricing or otherwise. The Accord includes provisions for:

·         Independent safety inspections and public reporting

·         Mandatory repairs and renovations

·         A core role for workers and their representatives

The signatures came in the wake of the disaster at Rana Plaza in April 2013, when an eight-story factory building in Dhaka collapsed, killing more than a 1,100 people. Bangladesh is an important, low-cost centre of garment manufacturing within the global clothing sector. UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings is reported as saying: “We welcome the decision of H&M, Inditex, C&A, Primark and Tesco to sign and we urge other retailers to follow suit immediately. We call on these companies to do the right thing on behalf of the more than 1,250 textile workers killed in Bangladesh factory disasters in the last six months, including Rana Plaza where the tragedy is still unfolding.

Full details on the Accord can be found at:

Target: Health and safety auditing of supplier facilities and practices – Bangladesh

Target conducts in-depth reviews of the facilities of its suppliers for health and safety practices across all buildings – including dormitories. This includes, for example, the inspection of fire safety equipment, the cleanliness of facilities, the availability of protective equipment and safe chemical handling. In addition, health and safety training records are reviewed to make sure systems are in place to equip employees with the relevant knowledge and skills to protect their health and wellbeing. Particular emphasis is placed on ensuring employees know what action to take in case of an emergency – and that relevant policies and procedures are in place to prevent emergencies happening in the first place. Violations are identified by visiting auditors, who also provide guidance as to how to correct such violations – as well as training materials.

Target’s efforts include the monitoring of relevant facilities in Bangladesh, where Target has identified a lack of fire-prevention safeguards. In 2011, for example, Target decided to exit two “extremely high-risk buildings” following an assessment. It also identified two additional buildings that posed potential risks – and mitigated these through training and modifications to both the building and safety processes. In addition, Target implemented a monitoring programme based on that includes announced visits. A team based at Target’s headquarters then works with the relevant supplier to ensure that the facility is able to implement recommended changes.

Working practices are also scrutinised; in 2011, Target conducted a study on the use of sandblasting during the production of clothes (i.e. to create a weathered look for denim) – and the potential for the practice to affect the health of workers (e.g. through the inhalation of potentially harmful crystalline silica). Following the study, the company took the decision to ban the practice for all future owned-brand clothing.

BP/Sinopec: World-class health/safety through stringent systems and knowledge-sharing – China

In 2002, BP and Sinopec created the SECCO joint venture. This is now one of the world’s largest olefins crackers – producing 3.5 million tonnes of petrochemicals a year for use in resins, fibres and plastics, and with a peak workforce of 10,000. A lack of local workers with experience in the chemicals industry – and weak understanding of key safety practices – were identified as one of the project’s key challenges. This was of particular concern given relatively weak health and safety practices in China generally.

SECCO implemented a comprehensive health, safety, security and environment programme based on:

·         Training for more than 100,000 migrant workers

·         Implementation of personal and process safety procedures

·         Auditing and inspection programmes

·         Knowledge sharing with other BP manufacturing sites in Europe and the US

As a result of such efforts, in 2012 SECCO reported 97.4 million man-hours worked without a fatality and a recordable injury rate of less than 0.15 for four consecutive years (better performance than the BP Group average). Jeanne Johns, Chair of SECCO’s board of directors, said: "We wanted to bring the best international BP safety standards to this project. We weren't going to accept that just because it was China it wasn't going to be done this way."

Wal-Mart: Addressing fire safety at supplier garment manufacturing facilities – Bangladesh

Wal-Mart implements a comprehensive fire safety audit programme. In 2010, it evaluated fire safety in a range of factories in Bangladesh – asking those factories that were considered ‘high risk’ to phase out production to safer facilities. ‘High risk’ factories included those that: (1) had been converted from residential buildings; (2) were multi-storey buildings in crowded market areas; (3) shared multi-storey industrial buildings with other factories. In 2012, Wal-Mart strengthened its fire safety standards (including those around fire-drills, exit routes and fire safety training for management) and applied regular auditing to verify compliance. Where standards are not met and corrective action is not taken, Wal-Mart ends the relevant supplier relationship. Since 2010, 94 supplier relationships have been terminated in this context – and 23 factories have moved to safer facilities.

CEMEX: Making road-based freight transport safer for cyclists – UK

UK-based building materials company, CEMEX, has recognised that traffic accidents involving cyclists is a major way in which the transportation of its products impacts local communities. To mitigate the risk of accidents, CEMEX has invested in several initiatives to improve awareness for both drivers and cyclists. In 2012 and 2013, the company trialled a range of mirror and camera-based systems on their heavy goods vehicles to improve their drivers’ range of vision. Proximity sensors have also been fitted to vehicles to alert drivers to obstacles in their blind spot when they are turning – as have signs to warn cyclists to keep their distance. Between September and December 2013, CEMEX shared the findings from these trials at the Freight Transport Association’s Transport Manager Conference, extending the potential impact of their safety practices. Additionally, in 2012 CEMEX contributed vehicles to Exchanging Places events across the country. At these events, cyclists are encouraged to sit in the driving seat of a heavy goods vehicle to experience the driver’s perspective.


Siemens Building Technologies: Encouraging worker innovation on health and safety practices - UK

Siemens Building Technologies operates a Champions Award Scheme to encourage workers to respond effectively to health and safety risks and to develop new solutions. The scheme aims to shift the focus of health and safety from a penalty-based system for non-compliance to a rewards system for proactivity and innovation. All kinds of safety activities are recognised under the scheme, including strong management, hazard reporting and suggestions for improvements. Between 15 and 20 staff within the Building Technologies division are awarded each month, with awards including a formal written ‘thank you’ and vouchers with a monetary value. In addition to encouraging a proactive mind-set towards health and safety, the scheme encourages any improvements to be flagged, enabling good ideas to be shared and implemented across the company’s operations.


AngloGold Ashanti: Obuasi malaria prevention model achieves a 74% reduction in cases – Ghana

Mining company AngloGold Ashanti is continuing to implement (with the ministry of health) a comprehensive public/private anti-malarial programme in the Obuasi region to address a significant number of cases within its own workforce. The programme –is known as the ‘Obuasi model’ – and is based on both prevention (including indoor residual spraying) and treatment. The Guardian reports Sylvester Segbaya, programme director for AngloGold Ashanti malaria control, as saying that instead of achieving a targeted reduction of 50% in two years - they actually managed to achieve a 74% reduction. Under the programme, the spraying of mines (and associated buildings), homes and even entire districts means there are fewer mosquitos. This not only benefits the company’s workforce, but also surrounding communities who now spend less on treatment and whose children face reduced health risks. Programmes have typically depended on bed nets to control malaria – as comprehensive indoor residual spraying can be technically demanding and costly. The Obuasi Model was ramped-up in 2011 (in partnership with government), when the Global Fund reportedly offered a grant of US$130 million to extend it around the country (and the malaria-prone north in particular). As of April 2014, it was being implemented in 22 districts – with 40 districts being targeted the end of 2015. In addition, AngloGold Ashanti is reportedly planning to start similar programmes at other operations within the Group.

Wal-Mart, Gap et al.: Anonymous hotline number set up to improve health and safety standards – Bangladesh

In June 2014, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (comprised of Wal-Mart, Gap and several other leading apparel brands) launched an anonymous worker hotline – enabling factory workers to report concerns related to health and safety. The Alliance Worker Helpline (known as Amader Kotha in Bangla) will be available – on a factory-by-factory basis – to all workers via their mobile phones – with the information passed on to managers on an anonymous basis. Where serious safety concerns are raised, the allegations will be assessed by qualified technical experts. Mobile phone-based surveys will also be sent to workers on a regular basis, encouraging a wider group of workers to relay any concerns. Previous initiatives of the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety, such as safety inspections and training programmes, have heightened awareness among garment factory workers in Bangladesh on safety issues (see case study above). This knowledge enables workers to use the hotline number more effectively, in particular by identifying and reporting even trivial issues before these pose potentially serious health and safety risks in the country’s clothing factories.


Bridgestone: Tyre company provides tyre safety inspections – South Africa

As part of its commitments to corporate social responsibility, the South African subsidiary of Japan-based tyre and rubber company, Bridgestone, is working to improve local road safety. Bridgestone South Africa conducts tyre pressure and condition surveys at various hypermarkets owned by Pick ‘n Pay (a major South African retailer). The inspections are to fulfil two aims: to gather data on the tyre condition of a representative number of vehicles; and to educate motorists on the importance of tyre care and safety. The data has enabled the company to develop a general benchmark for tyres in South Africa, the National Tyre Pressure Index. Almost 6,000 vehicles have been inspected so far in South Africa, which has led to a 10% increase in correctly inflated tyres according to the company. Bridgestone South Africa is also involved in the training of traffic police officers, helping them to reduce the number of unsafe and un-roadworthy trucks and buses on roads across the country. More generally, Bridgestone’s efforts in improving road safety standards translate into a better social environment for its employees.


Michelin: Tyre safety courses available to commercial road users – Tanzania

In December 2012, French tyre manufacturer Michelin reported that the company had seconded a training instructor to Tanzania with road transport charity Transaid. The instructor delivered courses on road safety to commercial vehicle driver trainers as well as to representatives of regulatory and law enforcement agencies. Part of Transaid’s Professional Driver Training Project, the courses were designed to improve the safety and skills of commercial drivers and those working in the transport industry. In particular, the courses reinforced the message that adhering to basic rules of tyre inspection and maintenance can improve transport safety and reduce the number of road traffic accidents in Tanzania. The initiative illustrates the way in which multinational companies can apply industry knowledge to corporate responsibility programmes focused on improving local safety standards. Indeed, such education and awareness-raising can translate into improved safety practices across the business community as a whole, with particular benefits in developing countries where standards may be lower.


Unilever: Health and wellbeing programme – Global / Brazil

Unilever is committed to promoting the health, nutrition and well-being of its employees to bring both individual and business benefits to employees and the company. For example, Unilever has developed a global framework, the Lamplighter programme, which is available to all employees and aims to encourage health and wellbeing through an exercise regime, nutrition and mental resilience coaching.

The company claims that its business in Brazil has seen a return on investment of €4.82 for every €1 invested in the programme. This figure is based on combined healthcare and productivity savings between 2008 and 2011.