UK companies failing to report on safety to shareholders

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Britain’s largest listed companies are routinely under-reporting workplace injuries and fatalities to investors, according to new analysis by corporate governance advisory firm PIRC.

Research found that of the 57 PLCs that received HSE enforcement notices since 2019, just over half of these (53 per cent or 30 companies) listed occupational safety as a “principal risk” in recent reporting.

PIRC finds that even when companies are reporting, information is not often useful or clear. Firms can self-select from over 40 distinct safety metrics and most only choose to report against one or two. In some cases, companies switch metrics from year to year, impeding analysis of safety practices over time.

Among companies in newer industries relying on self-employed contractors, namely gig economy delivery platforms, there is a stark absence of workforce safety data.

In newer industries relying on self-employed contractors there is a stark absence of workforce safety data. Photograph: iStock

Alice Martin, Labour Specialist, PIRC said: “Safeguarding and improving the health and safety of the workforce – whatever the nature of the employment relationship – is both one of companies’ most important duties and one of the most significant positive impacts they can have.

“But current reporting has both huge gaps and lacks comparability. Contingent workers are invisible to all intents and purposes in some companies’ reporting, even where businesses are heavily reliant on their labour.”

Companies are not legally obliged to disclose health and safety incidents to shareholders.

Principal risk disclosures, which are a regulated disclosure, will often mention health and safety as a risk area. But there is no obligation to provide any detail of incidents that have led to that risk.

The research comes as the latest Marmot review argues that ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing needs to become ESHG investing, explicitly including health.

The review, jointly produced by the Institute of Health Equity (IHE) at University College London (UCL) and Legal & General, says  that potential investors should be able to assess the health impact of companies when making investment decisions. This would encourage and incentivise health supporting action where they do invest, it says.

Writing in the report’s foreword, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director at UCL's IHE said: “There is a risk/reward point here: nobody wants to end up owning the health equivalent of a stranded asset coal mine, or an asset which may be taxed, regulated or litigated against.”

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