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Global Health and Safety Initiatives

Global risks like pandemics and crises (terrorism, natural disasters) can make cross-border health and safety initiatives a business imperative. But multinationals’ emerging efforts to launch these programs run into problems because countries regulate workplace health/safety at the local level.

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In a perfect world, a single set of global legal principles would govern these global health and safety policies. Indeed, there is such a thing as “international workplace health and safety law”—the International Labor Organization, the European Agency for Safety & Health at Work, NAFTA, industry associations and others have promulgated robust sets of cross-jurisdictional workplace health/safety standards. But even so, regulation of health/safety in actual workplaces remains stubbornly local. Every country seems to impose its own workplace safety code comparable to US OSHA, with hundreds or thousands of detailed regulations addressing minutely specific workplace risks. Any employer needing to know, for example, how to store chemicals, how to guard a paper shredder, or how to administer vaccine during a pandemic needs to start by checking law in each affected jurisdiction and also checking local collective agreements.