GRI Standards 2018 Update: Water and Occupational Health & Safety

by Lim Sze Wei and Cheryl Lee Shi-Ying.

In 2018, the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) released revised versions of GRI 303: Water 2016 and GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety 2016 standards, as part of a continuous improvement process to keep the standards up to date and aligned with key reporting frameworks. GRI 303 was revised to synchronise with the CDP Water Questionnaire and the CEO Water Mandate Corporate Reporting Guidelines, while GRI 403 took reference from instruments developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and ISO45001 standard. On a macro level, revisions for both standards were also guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

5 Key Updates of GRI 303: Water and Effluents 2018
1. New management approach disclosures to capture how water is managed as a shared resource and the impacts on local communities
2. Holistic framework for measurement of water use and associated impacts across the value chain, with emphasis on water-stressed areas
3. Incorporation of water discharge content from GRI 306: Effluents and Waste 2016 to understand the water balance and provide full picture of water use impacts, from withdrawal to consumption and discharge
4. New disclosure on water consumption to measure water that is no longer available for use by ecosystems or local communities
5. New quantitative and qualitative content as well as updated terminology and guidance on data compilation, to enhance the quality and comparability of reported information

5 Key Updates of GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety 2018
1. New management approach disclosures that place emphasis on management of health and safety, through identification of health risks and hazards
2. Holistic approach that covers both prevention of harm and promotion of health
3. Explanation of full spectrum of workers for whose occupational health and safety an organisation is expected to be responsible, which extends to cases where the organisation is directly linked to significant impacts on the health and safety of workers by its business relationships. This is in response to modern ways of working, such as the gig economy and mobile workforce
4. Greater emphasis on health, measuring impacts on health of workers (rather than loss of productivity), and recovery from injury
5. Improved methodologies for calculating and compiling injury/health data

Both standards must be adopted for GRI reports or other materials published 1 January 2021 onwards; however earlier adoption is encouraged.

How do the new standards impact companies?

GRI 303: 2018
Moving from water management to water stewardship
For companies which identify water and effluents as a material issue, the emphasis on reporting water use and impacts in water-stressed areas in GRI 303: 2018 raises the question: are you operating in a water-stressed area? Water stress refers to the ability, or lack thereof, to meet the human and ecological demand (availability, quality, or accessibility) for water.

Is Singapore water-stressed?
According to WRI, Singapore ranks as the number 1 country at risk of water stress in 2040, out of 167 countries assessed. This clearly places Singapore in the water-stressed category. However, the impacts of water shortfall have not been felt by Singaporean residents because the government has been stepping up production of desalinated water, NEWater, and treated water from local reservoirs to meet the shortfall in demand.

Yet, supply pressures will only continue to grow, Public Utilities Board (PUB) expects Singapore’s total demand for water to double by 2060. Singapore’s water agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061. The water agreement entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River. This imported water meets half of Singapore’s daily demand for drinking water.

As Singapore seeks to continue to maximise our yield of water through rainwater collection, desalination and recycling via NEWater, relying on technology alone to increase supply is insufficient. Organisations and people must play their part through processes and lifestyles respectively. The focus must be on increasing awareness of Singapore’s water risks, reducing consumption, applying concepts of circularity in reusing water – in industry design and systems – and keeping water bodies and waterways pristine.

The new GRI 303 disclosures help guide organisations towards water stewardship. For example, the 2018 Standards requires a description of how the organisation works with stakeholders to steward water as a shared resource, and how the organisation engages with suppliers or customers with significant water-related impacts. There is also an explanation of the process for setting any water-related goals and targets that are part of the organisation’s management approach, and how they relate to public policy and the local context of each area with water stress. Some of the ways in which organisations can strengthen their management approach towards water would be to consider their country of operation’s water risks in their goal-setting, add requirements on water-use disclosure and water-related targets in their supplier code of conduct, as well as conduct regular audits on suppliers.

GRI 403: 2018
Moving from safety-only focus to equal emphasis on safety, health, and wellbeing
Changes were made to harmonise with the instruments developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the ISO45001 Health and Safety Management System. The updates also address the challenges around the reporting of health and safety indicators such as overfocus on past incidents and resulting loss of productivity for the business and low comparability of data. There is also greater emphasis on the scope of workers, with a section explaining the full spectrum of workers for whose occupational health and safety an organisation is expected to be responsible.

The 2018 updates encourage the identification of hazards, assessments of risks, and the mitigative measures to eliminate hazards or minimize risks. The updates also allow organisations to better measure their contribution to the health, safety, and general wellbeing of their workers. For example, ill health data has been separated from safety data, severity of injury is now measured by recovery time instead of lost time, and new disclosures have been added on workers’ access to healthcare services.

With a shift in focus from safety-only towards equal emphasis on safety, health, and wellbeing, the latest Standards will provide a framework for stakeholders to assess an organisation’s management systems in addressing its impacts on its workers.