Organizational Safety and Health

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JWL 23,1


Received 26 April 2010 Revised 15 July 2010 Accepted 15 July 2010

Safety capital: the management of organizational knowledge on occupational health and safety ˜ Imanol Nunez and Mikel Villanueva
´ Departamento de Gestion de Empresas, Universidad Publica de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain Abstract
Purpose – The concept of Safety Capital was developed by analyzing the creation and composition of the Intellectual Capital embedded in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) systems. The paper aims to address this relationship. Design/methodology/approach – By drawing a theoretical link for the relationship between OHS activities and intellectual capital, guidelines for the management of organizational knowledge on OHS systems are outlined. Findings – The paper shows that occupational health and safety should be considered among the sources of intellectual capital of the firm. Originality/value – The theoretical framework is a potential guide for substantial improvement of advanced OSH management systems, a key element to visualize incentives to invest in safety and a powerful instrument for research in intellectual capital quantification. Keywords Occupational health and safety, Intellectual capital, Organizational processes Paper type Research paper

Journal of Workplace Learning Vol. 23 No. 1, 2011 pp. 56-71 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1366-5626 DOI 10.1108/13665621111097254

1. Introduction Recent research on business economics reveal that the source of competitive advantage is taking an intangible nature relating to organizational knowledge and capabilities. In this context, we find that Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) activities are never considered within the sources of the intellectual capital of the firm. However, it is widely recognized that safer and healthier workplaces are, along with competitive advantage, one of firm’s major objectives, as they can improve productivity, boost employees’ morale and reduce costs (Thompson, 1997). This incongruence can be explained by the fact that, traditionally, on the job preventive action included little more than adjusting working conditions to the limitations of individual workers. Shannon et al. (2001) point out that it was the research into major catastrophes such as Union Carbide (India) or Challenger (USA), where conventional prevention worked, that highlighted an increasing need to device new workplace accident prevention models. Starbuck and Farjoun (2005) clearly illustrate the need of supplementing traditional safety practices (inspections) with the The authors acknowledge financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science under the project SEC2007-67737-C03-02/ECON.

management of organizational learning when describing the Columbia disaster in 2003. Recently, OSH management has seen the adoption of ideas and tools from general business administration and, progressively, is becoming a new functional subsystem of the organization. During the course of this evolution, firms have ceased to exclusively rely on physical or tangible recourses characteristic of the traditional OSH interventions, such as safer technology or non-contaminating raw materials. Classic disciplines such as industrial engineering, chemistry and medicine are, now, complemented with major investments in intangible resources, such as information, knowledge, skills, communication channels or networks, which are the core of the post-traditional or advanced OSH management. The relation between OSH and organizational knowledge has been, indirectly, addressed by some studies, inscribed within different disciplines such as psychology (Zohar, 1980. Zacharatos et al., 2005. Van Vegchel et al., 2005), organizational management (Atherley et al., 1975; Roy, 2003; Landsbergis et al., 1999) or health studies (Amell et al., 2001; Torp and...
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