What Drives Corporate Boards to Engage with Occupational Health and Safety?

A set of five “drivers” helps in understanding how and why corporate boards of directors engage with occupational health and safety (OHS), reports a study the June Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“The drivers for OHS engagement range from reactively responding to requirements to actively pursuing OHS for strategic and moral reasons,” according to the qualitative study by Caroline Lornudd, PhD, of Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, and colleagues. They conducted interviews with board members and CEOs at large companies across five sectors to assess factors influencing corporate engagement with OHS.

The discussions led to identification of five drivers of OHS engagement, on a continuum from reactive to proactive. On the more reactive end of the range, some companies reported legal compliance as the sole driver for OHS efforts, while others cited untoward events (such as accidents) or external expectations/regulations. Other companies took a more proactive approach, driven by business strategy (“OHS is good for business”) or moral values, including a sense of responsibility to employees and the community.

Additional factors affecting engagement included the board’s OHS knowledge and competence and the owner’s objectives. But even in companies with favorable drivers, other issues — for example, a pressing financial situation — could compete with OHS for the board’s attention.

The study provides a unique perspective from the boardroom on the reasons why corporate leadership engage in OHS. “Boards continuous prioritize among multiple foci,” Dr. Lornudd and coauthors write. “If a board’s total engagement is likened to a pie, the size of the OHS slice will depend on the drivers, as well as on the influencing factors.”

The findings suggest possible approaches to increasing engagement with OHS among corporate boards — perhaps most effectively, education and other approaches to increasing board members’ awareness and understanding of the impact of OHS programs on work environment, employee performance, and the company’s bottom line.
About the Author
Dr. Lornudd may be contacted for interviews at caroline.lornudd@ki.se.
ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 4,500 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.
About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.


Lornudd C, Stenfors T, Hasson H, et al. A Piece of the Boardroom Pie—An Interview Study Exploring What Drives Swedish Corporate Boards’ Engagement in Occupational Health and Safety. J Occup Environ Med. 2020;62(6):389-97.