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Health-conscious companies

Judith Jussim -- You work out, read food labels, and always scan the health column in your local paper. You're familiar with vitamin and herbal supplements. If a friend called you "health-conscious," you would have to agree.

But what about your current or prospective employer? How high is your health on their agenda? It's not a small issue. There were 3.8 million unintentionally disabling workplace injuries in 1998, affecting 2.7 percent of all workers, according to the National Safety Council (www.nsc.org). Employer attitudes on health and safety issues vary from minimalist ("We comply with regulations") to progressive ("We do everything we can to ensure our employees' health"). Few employers advertise where they fall on this spectrum. But there are ways you can evaluate the health-consciousness of companies.

When written documents don't have the information you want, ask directly.

Get It in Writing

There is no single place to find out about a prospective employer's health and safety performance. However, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has a new Web page (www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/index.html) that lets you look at a company's inspection record, find out when and why an inspection occurred, and what the results were.

As OSHA public affairs officer Bill Wright points out, "Just because it gets inspected doesn't mean it's a bad place to work. Companies in higher-risk industries are targeted for inspections." Large fines and repeated citations, however, may be a cause for concern.

Annual reports and Web sites may be another information source. While most don't yet include information on employee health and safety, NSC Communications Coordinator Sarah Grabel says, "In the most progressive companies you may find [it there] already." The Council is campaigning to encourage CEOs to "take an oath" about safety, including discussing safety in their annual reports.

Grabel also suggests checking out a company's formal safety program. "It should include a committee of employees that meets regularly," she says. "Check the dates. Is it a living document?" While a written program doesn't guarantee good safety performance, it does suggest that the company has given the issue some thought. Which companies think hard about safety and health issues? Grabel cited Dupont ("the one that a lot of companies benchmark against"), UPS ("lots of employee involvement"), Delphi Automotive, and Johnson & Johnson.

Intel also has a very active public health and safety program, with a major portion of its Web site devoted to an annual Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) report. "There's not a company on the globe that has the same health and safety performance as Intel. We benchmarked Dupont for several years and passed them up and just kept going," says Dave Stangis, Intel's Environmental Health and Safety External Affairs Manager. He notes that employees are attracted to companies with good records in this and other areas of social responsibility.

If It's Not in Writing, Ask

When written documents don't have the information you want, ask directly. The OSHA Web site provides information on employee rights and industry risks that can help you talk intelligently to a prospective employer on these issues.

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal or medical professional.