Exploring the Need for a Work Environment Reporting Standard

A poor working environment contributes to physical and mental health problems in employees.

Globally, over 2.78 million people die annually due to occupational accidents or work-related diseases and approximately 20% of the working population is suffering from some kind of work-related ill-health. Further, few tools are available that can help managers understand the work environment risk factors in their environment. This report explores the need for a management system standard on work environment-reporting. The following key objectives supported this study:

  • Develop a work environment definition;
  • Identify the key dimensions of work environment;
  • Determine how work environment is addressed in existing management system standards; and
  • Explore current practitioner perspectives on work environment and the need for a reporting standard.

These four objectives were completed based on a review of the research literature on corporate social responsibility(CSR), an analysis of existing standards connected to work environment and instruments that address work environment in some way, and a workshop and a webinar with a total of 28 contributing stakeholders representing industry, academia, government, and non-government organizations with regional, national, and international interests.

This study demonstrated that, while many organizations report on some aspects of work environment in their CSR reports, there appears to be no substantial guidance for them in this area. The review of literature found few clear definitions of work environment or explicit identification of its key dimensions. Seven proposals for future work toward a work environment reporting standard were therefore developed:

  1. A new definition of “work environment” is recommended.
  2. Work environment can be usefully operationalized in 12 main dimensions.
  3. There is a need for a work environment reporting standard and further development toward a standard is warranted.
  4. A work environment reporting standard should be compatible with existing approaches to facilitate uptake and application.
  5. Standards development should consider the potential for different levels of reporting.
  6. The potential uptake of a work environment reporting standard should be further examined, with particular reference to supply chains and supplier evaluation
  7. Preliminary development of a standard, in whole or through prioritized development of a given work environment dimension, and examination of uptake mechanisms is warranted.

Understanding the internal (e.g., managers and employees) and external (e.g., investors and consumers) stakeholder requirements is necessary to shape the development of any future proposed standard. It is recommended that preliminary development and testing of an assessment approach be completed, for example by initially developing key dimensions individually, before developing the standard.