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Continual Improvement

Focus: Health and Safety – Prevention of Injury and Ill Health

Forecast and assess challenges and opportunities for ongoing continual improvement in prevention of injury and ill health, achieving ongoing improvement in occupational health and safety practices and performance.

Occupational health and safety needs the total commitment of an organization's board and high-level management – senior management – not just line management and employees in directly being involved in its continual improvement.

Senior management's main tasks in leadership are to forecast and assess challenges and opportunities for ongoing continual improvement in prevention of injury and ill health, developing its vision, strategy, policies, and contingency plans and at the same time focusing on long-term profitability.

As outlined in the environmental section, continual improvement is a journey and an ongoing commitment by top management, requiring employee engagement and stakeholder support, and it needs to be applied wherever the company is conducting business.

Rana Plaza – Bangladesh

In July 2013, the Guardian did a story on the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh that collapsed, putting factory working conditions under the global eye. IndustriALL, an international union group, is working to tackle fire safety and building security in Bangladesh and developing a similar agreement in Pakistan and China, which face greater workplace risks. More than half of the clothing factories inspected in Bangladesh and Pakistan fail to meet fire standards, according to Sedex, a nonprofit group. In both countries safety issues include lack of alarms, blocked fire exits, long working hours, low wages, and child labor.


Wal-Mart, which ranks at the top of the Fortune 500 companies, has more than 10,500 stores in 27 countries and employs more than 2.2 million associates worldwide. It has truly been a leader in sustainability, corporate philanthropy, and employment opportunities. In April 2013 Wal-Mart committed $1.6 million to the Institute of Sustainable Communities (ISC), a U.S.-based NGO, to establish an Environment, Health and Safety Academy in Bangladesh. The Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) is also a partner in providing support for the new academy. The focus of the academy will be on fire safety, water management, and enhancing gender equity in the workplace and creating professional opportunities for Bangladeshi women.

With this initiative, Wal-Mart is taking a stand to raise standards and improve fire safety within its supply chain. In January 2013, Wal-Mart instituted a zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized subcontracting and strengthened fire safety standards in Bangladesh, where it is conducting electrical, building, and fire safety assessments. Prior to Bangladesh, Wal-Mart supported a similar academy in China, providing financial resources, technical expertise, and advice.

Jay Jorgensen, SVP and global chief compliance officer of Wal-Mart, said, “Transparency is key to the success of this effort.”[1] He said that it is crucial to work together – industry, government, workers, and NGOs – to make changes and increase and improve the quality of life of the women and men in the company's supply chain.

The principle of continual improvement is crucial to the ability of the business to sustain its operations. Companies depend on people in Bangladesh to make their products.

It is interesting that Wal-Mart works at continual improvement in Bangladesh, but in August of 2013, OHS Online reported that “OSHA announced a corporate-wide settlement to improve safety and health conditions in 2,857Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in the United States. The settlement specifies trash compacters must remain locked while not in use and may not be operated except while under the supervision of a trained manager or another trained, designated monitor. Wal-Mart will strengthen its procedures to ensure employees do not handle undiluted cleaning chemicals and ensure protective protocol is in place.”[2]

  • [1] “Walmart Statement by Jay Jorgensen Regarding the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative,” July 10, 2013. Available from news
  • [2] “Wal-Mart signs corporate-wide settlement with US Labor Department. Available at .show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=24495; or
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