ORC Sightlines

April 2009

In this issue:

New ORC Wiki Houses EHS Center of Excellence

ORC Worldwide has developed a new interactive online resource where EHS research results and best practice information will be publicly available. The Center of Excellence wiki, www.orcehs.org, is designed to foster collaboration among all EHS stakeholders.

The first area of focus for the Center of Excellence wiki is contractor safety. ORC has posted three new research reports on the serious—and largely unrecognized—problem of keeping contract employees safe on the job:

1) Identifying Contract Worker Risk — The purpose of this research effort is to identify and evaluate tools and methods that address three themes:

2) Contractor Safety Prequalification — Host employers are able to manage the safety of their own workforce, but essentially they must buy the safety of their contract workers. They do this through the prequalification process and by selecting contractors that are likely to perform safely on the job. This report, the work of University of Utah researchers, provides a number of valuable insights about the prequalification process.

3) Metrics to Predict Contractor Safety Performance — The authors of this research were asked to study metrics for predicting contractor performance and to specifically identify metrics that could be used to predict “fatalities and serious injuries” for contractors.

ORC challenges companies, safety and health professionals, academicians, government representatives, labor unions, and workers to share their expertise regarding these and other contractor safety issues on the Center of Excellence wiki. New topics will be added soon.

For more information contact: Scott Madar, +1-202-293-2980.

Congress Extends Employers’ Liability for Discriminatory HR Practices

Lawyers are still sorting through the implications of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, but one thing is clear: as a result of the changes the act makes to U.S. antidiscrimination laws, employers need to be more vigilant than ever about the propriety of their employment decisions because liability from discriminatory actions can last for decades.

The Ledbetter Act provides that in cases of pay discrimination each paycheck extends the statute of limitations, so an employee can decide to sue the company many years after the employment decision was made. Matters are further complicated by district court decisions that have interpreted the act very broadly to include HR decisions beyond simple wage and salary actions. In Bush v. Orange County Corr., for example, the federal district court allowed an employee to challenge a 16-year-old demotion because it reduced the employee’s pay. In Gilmore v. Macy’s Retail Holdings, the court permitted an employee to continue her lawsuit because the company’s failure to allow her to work in other departments kept her from qualifying for a promotion that would have increased her pay.

Members of ORC’s Employment Law & Litigation Group debated the implications of the Ledbetter Act at last month’s meeting. Most have not yet decided how to review their compensation practices to determine whether they have employees who could sue under the Ledbetter Act, but all agree the current economic climate offers many opportunities for employers to get themselves in trouble. Many employers are downsizing or restructuring pay for large numbers of employees. In so doing, they might be able to cut off some of their liability—for example, by significantly redefining a job or eliminating it completely—but they may also be creating new sources of liability down the line. Because employees will be able to initiate suits years into the future, it is even more important than ever to document the rationale for HR decisions carefully.

For more information about the Employment Law & Litigation Group for in-house employment lawyers or to learn about ORC’s Legal and Regulatory Change Seminar series, contact Nita Beecher, +1-212-852-0436.

South Korean Safety and Health Officials Address ORC's OSH Group and International Safety and Health Forum

The drive to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses has become truly global. Many countries have begun to recognize that occupational safety and health is a key component of social responsibility and represents good policy. As a result, they have implemented new ideas for helping employers reduce occupational incident rates. In the case of South Korea, for example, the government’s approach to lowering on-the-job injuries could provide lessons to the United States Occupational Safety & Health Agency.

Yong-Soo Hong, director general for technology, and Gye-Wan Bae, director of construction for Korea’s Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA), presented an in-depth analysis of the status of occupational injury and illness prevention policies and programs in the country. The South Korean government has reversed a rising accident rate by encouraging businesses to adopt the occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) 18001—a risk-based management system that takes a continuous improvement approach toward systematic identification, evaluation, and control of occupational safety and health risks, rather than focusing solely on regulatory compliance. The agency also reaches out to employers with technical support and training. The results have been encouraging, and Korea is now considering making the risk-based approach mandatory.

Systems alone will not solve all safety and health problems in Korea, or any other country, for that matter. A key concern of directors and managers of global OSH programs is how the culture and perceptions of employees in a given country affect their understanding of and adherence to safety rules and policies. Ames Gross, president of Pacific Bridge, Inc., advised ISHF members that the approaches to incentives and rewards used commonly in Western cultures may be less effective in Korea where the group takes precedence over individuals, the employee puts a premium on his or her relationship with the boss and the company, and loss of face is a key factor in loss of motivation. Not only can reprimanding or criticizing an employee in front of his or her colleagues cause him or her to lose face, but even praising one employee publicly could cause other employees to lose face.

When systems and corporate culture align, the results can be formidable. Kimberly Clark has seen a significant, long-term improvement in occupational injury rates in its joint venture with South Korean Yuhan Co. Mark Holcomb, Occupational Safety and Health Leader, and Young Ung Kim, Global Occupational Safety and Hygiene, told ISHF members they attributed the gains in large part to Yuhan-Kimberly’s commitment to its employees and its desire to be a sustainable business. The company takes a three-pronged approach to sustainability: economic, social, and environmental. The social commitment includes compliance and ethical management, which extends to employee health and safety. This has led to superior performance, which in turn has helped the company achieve recognition on a national level.

ORC’s International Safety & Health Forum comprises senior EH&S officials from multinational companies. At quarterly meetings, members learn from their peers, government officials, and subject-matter experts about best practices and legislative and regulatory developments in countries of interest to members and about the historical and cultural factors that impact effectiveness of EH&S programs. For more information, contact Dee Woodhull, +1-202-293-2980.

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