Accounting for lost time: examining corporate accountability to stakeholders for occupational health and safety

O'Neill, S 2010, Accounting for lost time: examining corporate accountability to stakeholders for occupational health and safety, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Accounting, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Accounting for lost time: examining corporate accountability to stakeholders for occupational health and safety
Author(s) O'Neill, S
Year 2010
Abstract The disclosure of occupational health and safety (OHS) information in corporate annual reports dates back more than a century. Despite this, OHS disclosures have been subject to little academic scrutiny. Such critique is important given two major debates within the literature. First, the debate over the cause(s) of work-related injury and illness has important implications for the choice of a firm’s risk management strategy. Second, competing approaches to OHS performance measurement and concerns over performance indicator validity and reliability have implications for managerial choices about how best to assess and communicate OHS processes and outcomes. The extent to which corporate OHS disclosures are able to discharge accountability to stakeholders for OHS strategy and outcomes must, therefore, be evaluated within this context.

This thesis used stakeholder and legitimacy theories to explore why firms offer OHS disclosures and neo-institutional theory to explain what information they disclose. The multi-method research design involved, first, a survey of 135 stakeholders to explore expectations for corporate OHS accountability. This identified strong demand for corporate OHS disclosure across all stakeholder groups, clear preferences for disclosure of particular OHS metrics and shared concerns relating to the quality of OHS data. Second, a content analysis of public disclosures issued over an 11 year period by 15 large mining and energy firms was undertaken. This provided a detailed description of OHS content; critically evaluating data quality and identifying reporting trends. In particular, patterns of institutional change at macro and micro levels were revealed. At the macro-level, disclosure on the broad themes of OHS governance, processes and performance appeared increasingly institutionalised. At the micro-level, however, the absence of an agreed approach to performance evaluation was evident and different metrics and narratives appeared to compete for legitimacy. Finally, evidence of stakeholder demand and corporate supply were reconciled, revealing numerous reporting gaps. Overall, firms failed to report on those issues of most importance to stakeholders, instead tending to address loosely related but less relevant themes and metrics and to offer incomplete and generally incomparable performance data.

In addition to providing important insights into stakeholder demand for OHS disclosure and the corporate construction of public accounts of OHS performance, this study offers additional contributions to the literature. Empirically, the findings contribute to literature on the relevance, validity and reliability of OHS performance indicators and highlight a need for the development of an overarching framework for OHS assessment supported by generally accepted and rigorously defined performance metrics. Methodologically, the findings illustrate a need for careful attention to the level of analysis in content studies to ensure categories captured within disclosure indices are in fact capable of identifying relevant disclosure. In particular, the poor correlation between indicators recommended by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and those identified as important to both stakeholders and report preparers caution against the uncritical use of rating tools and reporting frameworks as disclosure indices for sustainability disclosure research. Finally, various recommendations for the GRI, policy-makers, professions, corporate report preparers and rating agencies are offered and issues for future research are identified.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Accounting
Keyword(s) Occupational health and safety
OHS accountability
corporate social disclosure
performance measures
lost time injury
OHS strategy
sustainability reporting
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Created: Tue, 22 Nov 2011, 11:04:37 EST by Guy Aron
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