Start an ESG Program by Stepping into It Through Ergonomics
Posted on June 19, 2023 | in ESG
In Part 1 of this blog series, we examined how workplace safety is an ideal platform on which to build, manage, and mature an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program. With a strong safety program, you can make ESG improvements to chemical management, incident management, and job safety analysis, all of which make significant contributions to the maturity of an ESG program. However, any experienced EHS professional will tell you it’s difficult to seriously think about driving an ESG program if your current EHS program is not in a proactive stance where you’re anticipating and managing risks before they can cause injuries or illnesses.
Many workplace safety programs, by their nature, tend to start from a more reactive phase where businesses are simply tracking injuries and lost time to identify incident patterns. As a safety program matures and moves up the safety maturity curve towards interdependence (Figure 1), it transitions from a reactive to a proactive phase where prevention and integration between safety program goals and the larger goals of the business are closely aligned.
Ergonomics is a prime example of a proactive approach to workplace safety. Ergonomics is about designing the job to fit the person, so the work becomes both safer and more efficient. It plays a key role in preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures, and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Ergonomic equipment and job design, as part of an effective ergonomics program, help to minimize muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related MSDs.
As an EHS professional, having an effective ergonomics program can vastly improve your workplace safety performance, while positioning you to evolve your safety program and pursue greater levels of ESG maturity. Ergonomics and ESG go hand-in-hand because MSD reductions and improvements to worker safety, health, and well-being are fundamental to meeting some of the social demands from ESG stakeholders to establish a safer, more inclusive, and sustainable organization.
This blog will help you understand why having an existing ergonomics program in place means you’ve already made a big step in your ESG journey and gives you a great competitive edge. Let’s break down the key benefits of integrating ESG into your ergonomics program and provide practical insights for businesses seeking to create a safer, more sustainable, and inclusive work environment.
Why is ESG Important?
ESG has emerged as a powerful framework for driving sustainable organizational growth and creating long-term value for stakeholders. ESG is a balance between people, profits, and the planet that achieves ethical, value-based, and responsible operating practices geared towards long-term success.
Let’s take a closer look at the three individual elements of ESG:
E—environmental—encompasses energy consumption, waste discharge, resource consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions/carbon footprint, and the consequences incurred by the community and environment due to operations.
S—social—involves the relationships and reputation your business has built with the community and the people within your business practices. It includes labor rights and relations; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); fair and equal compensation; health and safety programs; psychosocial safety; work-life balance; social sustainability and human capital management.
G—governance—embraces the concept of “walking the walk and talking the talk.” Governance is geared toward documenting and communicating how your business is managing and meeting stakeholder needs through controls, practices, and procedures to show how it’s abiding to ESG practices at every level.
As ESG continues to grow, there is more and more evidence that it is simply good business. According to a 2019 McKinsey study ESG positioning is linked to value creation in five essential ways, which complements the VelocityEHS blog Five Amazing Benefits of ESG for Companies of Any Size.
|Strong ESG||Weak ESG|
|1. Top-line growth||Attract B2B and B2C customers with more sustainable products |
Achieve better access to resources through stronger community and government relations
|Lose customers through poor sustainability practices (e.g., human rights, supply chain) or a perception of unsustainable/unsafe products |
Lose access to resources (including operational shutdowns) as a result of poor community and labor relations
|2. Cost reductions||Lower energy consumption |
Reduce water intake
|Generate unnecessary waste and pay correspondingly higher waste-disposal costs |
Expend more in packaging costs
|3. Regulatory and legal interventions||Achieve greater strategic freedom through deregulation |
Earn subsidies and government support
|Suffer restrictions on advertising and point of sale |
Incur fines, penalties, and enforcement actions
|4. Productivity |
|Boost employee motivation |
Attract talent through greater social credibility
|Deal with “social stigma,” which restricts talent pool |
Lose talent as a result of weak purpose
|5. Investment and asset optimization||Enhance investment returns by better allocating capital for the long term |
Avoid investments that may not pay off because of longer-term environmental issues
|Suffer stranded assets because of premature write-downs |
Fall behind competitors that have invested to be less “energy hungry”
ESG offers businesses a framework and opportunity to evaluate and develop goals that will positively impact the environment, improve the social impact a company has on the community in which it operates and the people it employs, and shows how it is delivering on these goals. Ideally, ESG should be a company-wide strategy focused on the bigger picture of caring for people and the planet (as well as profits), instead of just the financial bottom line. Research continues to show that a mature ESG program, on average, is more financially successful and gives a competitive edge to companies over those without an ESG program in place, while also making meaningful progress toward making the organization more sustainable.
Why Does Ergonomics Matter?
As mentioned earlier, ergonomics is the practice and process of designing products, systems, and environments to optimize the efficiency and safety of employees’ surroundings by considering capabilities and limitations. It helps businesses improve physical and psychological well-being because it reduces absences, turnover, lost-time, poor health, injuries, and insurance costs, all while promoting higher morale and improving productivity.
Through ergonomic design, your business is creating a work environment which prioritizes your employees’ safety and health using preventative measures that reduce MSDs before they occur. Ergonomically designed workstations, adjustable furniture, and appropriate tools and equipment contribute to reducing these risks.
In addition to workstations and equipment, ergonomics software based on machine learning helps give actionable insights into the root causes of injuries and provides expert-curated guidance on corrective actions. By investing in your employees’ well-being, you’re demonstrating your commitment to social sustainability, which fosters a more productive and positive work culture.
How Does Ergonomics Connect to ESG?
Ergonomics addresses social sustainability and plays an essential role in the sustainable development movement, an important driver of ESG. While social sustainability has both internal and external components, internal initiatives seek to achieve a positive work environment in which employees feel they have important roles to play in their safety and believe the business has their best interests at heart.
While ESG has traditionally been associated with financial and operational practices, your ergonomics program already plays a pivotal role in having a mature ESG program that will help your business thrive for the long-term. With an ergonomics program in place, you’re already contributing to ESG which makes it easier to continue your journey towards a truly mature and effective ESG program. There are elements of ESG that help with ergonomics and vice versa.
Materiality Assessments and ESG Stakeholder Insight
Materiality assessments play an important role in ESG maturity and can help evolve your ergonomics program because they give insights into what your stakeholders deem as relevant to the organization, which include ergonomics management considerations. Conducting a materiality assessment provides important insights into determining which goals or objectives make the most sense for your business. The benefits also work the other way around, because the better level of engagement you build by involving employees in ergonomics assessments and development of corrective actions sets the groundwork for doing better materiality assessments.
During a materiality assessment, your business engages with internal and external stakeholders to understand their concerns, expectations, and key sustainability topics. The assessment helps to identify issues that have a substantial impact on your business’s economic, environmental, and social performance, and those that significantly influence stakeholder decisions.
Materiality assessments are an essential component to sustainable business practices. They allow for stakeholder transparency because it gives them a place to contribute their thoughts and ideas and feel heard, while giving you insights on how to improve ESG and other important social sustainability goals, such as ergonomics.
How can Ergonomics Help with DEI?
DEI initiatives involve creating policies and practices that promote representation and provide equal access to resources and opportunities, while fostering an inclusive and respectful work environment. This can include initiatives such as diverse hiring practices, inclusive leadership development, training programs, and creating a safe and supportive work environment that celebrates differences and ensures everyone’s voice is heard.
Ergonomics helps to address DEI concerns because it considers individual differences in physical abilities and helps provide equal access to opportunities and resources regardless of gender, sexual orientation, social and ethnic backgrounds, age, etc. Ergonomically designed workstations can accommodate employees with varying needs, ensuring equal opportunities and accessibility for all.
Ergonomics and DEI share a common goal of promoting well-being, inclusivity, and productivity. Both concepts can lead to a more supportive and inclusive work environment where individuals can thrive, regardless of their backgrounds or abilities. These initiatives also contribute to the social sustainability component of ESG.
Ergonomics doesn’t just address the physical needs of employees, but it also helps to improve psychological safety in the workplace. When work environments meet the needs of each employee it helps reduce stress and anxiety. There’s a direct connection between psychosocial risks and ergonomic risks, for example when someone is stressed, their muscles tighten, which can cause them to be more prone to MSDs. The illustration below, adapted from the World Health Organization (WHO) guide Health Impacts of Psychosocial Hazards at Work: A Overview helps show this connection.
Ergonomics opens the doors to improving psychological safety because of its focus on the well-being of each individual. Employees who directly participate in ergonomics assessments of their workstations and development and implementation of corrective actions will also reduce their work-related anxiety because of firsthand involvement in key safety management tasks, and visibility of controls in place to make their workplace safer.
Continuous Improvement with Data Collection
Data collection and reporting is an important component to understanding, showing, and improving both ergonomics and ESG. Modern ergonomics software makes it easy to perform assessments and have visuals of where there is higher risk within different workspaces. It also allows the employee to see how different movements can affect their long-term health, allowing them to become more involved in managing their safety.
As mentioned above, using data from materiality assessments gives valuable insights to improvement opportunities. Applying the data from your ergonomics program to an ESG program helps you provide the social proof that you’re “walking the walk” in meeting your stakeholders’ needs and demands and improving social sustainability.
Ergonomics and ESG are two interconnected areas that share common goals of sustainability, employee well-being, and ethical practices. Using your ergonomics program as a platform to develop ESG strategies not only benefits employees but also leads to improved operational efficiency, reduced environmental impact, and enhanced social sustainability.
Want More Information to Help Guide Your EHS and ESG Journey
Here at VelocityEHS we want to make sure you have the resources and tools you need:
- Webinar—Ergonomics & Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
- Webinar—The Future of Machine Learning in Ergonomics
- Blogs— Why Should ESG Matter to Me? Part 1 and Part 2
- Ignite Magazine—VelocityEHS Thought Leadership
But don’t just take it from us, discover more from our customer’s experiences.
Remember VelocityEHS Can Help!
The Industrial Ergonomics Solution offers World-Class MSD risk mitigation. Our powerful AI-driven and machine learning global enterprise software, developed and backed by the largest team of board-certified ergonomists, is the simplest way to assess, train, monitor, and prevent MSD risk in the workplace, helping you to achieve part of the “S” in ESG.
Then build off the “S” and incorporate the “E” and “G” with our award-winning ESG Solution. Gain insight into better GHG emissions management, energy consumption, and tools, such as materiality assessments, to strategically align your ESG strategy with your stakeholders’ needs.
VelocityEHS offers multiple solutions that make it easier to manage, maintain, and ensure the long-term success of your EHS and ESG programs. The VelocityEHS Accelerate® Platform offers a single platform with all our integrated solutions where you get access to leading technology, expertise, and a continuous improvement cycle of prediction.
Discover more about how our solutions work together to tackle your toughest EHS and ESG challenges, request a demo today!