Innovation in managing sustainability: a tentative integration of accounting for employee health and safety

  • Massimo Battaglia
  • Emilio Pasetti
  • Lara Bianchi
  • Marco Frey
Keywords: accident cost analysis; accounting process development; social accounting; hindering factors


Purpose of the paper: This study analyses the implementation and integration of an accounting instrument for employee health and safety. It discusses whether and how the device and related financial information support employee health and safety decision making.

Methodology: The framework focuses on the technical, organisational and cognitive factors that may operate as enabling or hindering factors during the implementation and integration process of an accounting instrument. A multiple case analysis of two medium-sized Italian waste management companies was carried out following an interventionist research approach lasted two years.

Findings: The analysis reveals that none of the two companies integrated the instrument despite the positive outputs revealed during the implementation phase. A set of interrelated technical, organisational and cognitive barriers emerged. In particular, the difficulty of generating corporate interest in the instrument prevented its integration. Cognitive factors, such as empathy towards workers and fear of potential new injuries, operated in an unstable way, enabling the implementation but preventing the integration. The device, however, was able to support specific health and safety decisions during the test phase, even though the link between financial information and employee safety was fragile.

Research limits: The limitations of the study concern the potential biases of scholars related to the engagement within the organisations.

Practical implications: The results may support the development process of accounting instruments dedicated to employee health and safety. The results suggest that the integration of a new accounting instrument requires the simultaneous presence of technical, organisational and cognitive enablers to support the change from the company’s routinised ways of acting and thinking.

Originality of the paper: The research offers an in-depth analysis of the development process of an accounting instrument. The study presents novel insights into the relationship between employee health and safety and accounting, which represents an unexplored and fertile area of investigation for social accounting studies.


AALTONEN M.V., UUSI-RAUVA E., SAARI J., ANTTI-POIKA M., RÄSÄNEN T., VINNI K. (1996), “The accident consequence tree method and its application by real-time data collection in the Finnish furniture industry”, Safety Science, vol. 23, n. 1, pp. 11-26.

AHRENS T., CHAPMAN C.S. (2006), “Doing qualitative field research in management accounting: Positioning data to contribute to theory”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, vol. 31, n. 8, pp. 819-841.

AL-SAYED M., DUGDALE D. (2016), “Activity-based innovations in the UK manufacturing sector: Extent, adoption process patterns and contingency factors”, The British Accounting Review, vol. 48, n. 1, pp. 38-58.

ANDERSON S.W. (1995), “A framework for assessing cost management system changes: the case of activity based costing implementation at General Motors, 1986-1993”, Journal of Management Accounting Research, vol. 7, n. 1, pp. 1-51.

ANSARI S.M., FISS P.C., ZAJAC E.J. (2010), “Made to fit: How practices vary as they diffuse”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 35, n. 1, pp. 67-92.

ARNABOLDI M. (2013), “Consultant‐researchers in public sector transformation: An evolving role”, Financial Accountability and Management, vol. 29, n. 2, pp. 140-160.

AX C., GREVE J. (2017), “Adoption of management accounting innovations: Organizational culture compatibility and perceived outcomes”, Management Accounting Research, vol. 34, March, pp. 59-74.

BARKI H., PINSONNEAULT A. (2005), “A model of organizational integration, implementation effort, and performance”, Organization Science, vol. 16, n. 2, pp. 165-179.

BATTAGLIA M., FREY M., PASSETTI E. (2014), “Accidents at work and costs analysis: a field study in a large Italian company”, Industrial Health, vol. 52, n. 4, pp. 354-366.

BATTAGLIA M., PASSETTI E., FREY M. (2015), “Occupational health and safety management in municipal waste companies: A note on the Italian sector”, Safety Science, vol. 72, February, pp. 55-65.

BATTAGLIA M., PASSETTI E., BIANCHI L., FREY M. (2016), “Managing for integration: a longitudinal analysis of management control for sustainability”, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 136 part A 10 November, pp. 213-225.

BOUTEN L., HOOZÉE S. (2016), “Let’s do it safely: how Altrad Balliauw configured a package of control systems”, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 136 part A 10 November, pp. 172-180.

BUSCO C., CAGLIO A., SCAPENS R.W. (2015), “Management and accounting innovations: reflecting on what they are and why they are adopted”, Journal of Management and Governance, vol. 19, n. 3, pp. 495-524.

BRODY B., LÉTOURNEAU Y., POIRIER A. (1990), “An indirect cost theory of work accident prevention”, Journal of Occupational Accidents, vol. 13, n. 4, pp. 255-270.

CAICEDO M., MÅRTENSSON M., ROSLENDER R. (2010), “Managing and measuring employee health and wellbeing: a review and critique”, Journal of Accounting and Organizational Change, vol. 6, n. 4, pp. 436-459.

CAICEDO M.H., MÅRTENSSON M. (2010), “Extensions and intensions of management control-The inclusion of health”, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, vol. 21, n. 8, pp. 655-668.

CONTRAFATTO M. (2014), “The institutionalization of social and environmental reporting: An Italian narrative”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, vol. 39, n. 6, pp. 414-432.

COOPER C., COULSON A., TAYLOR P. (2011), “Accounting for human rights: Doxic health and safety practices-The accounting lesson from ICL”, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, vol. 22, n. 8, pp. 738-758.

DAMANPOUR F. (2014), “Footnotes to research on management innovation”, Organization Studies, vol. 35, n. 9, pp. 1265-1285.

DILLARD J., ROSLENDER R. (2011), “Taking pluralism seriously: embedded moralities in management accounting and control systems”, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, vol. 22, n. 2, pp. 135-147.

DITILLO A., LISI I.E. (2016), “Exploring sustainability control systems’ integration: The relevance of sustainability orientation”, Journal of Management Accounting Research, vol. 28, n. 2, pp. 125-148

DOMINGUES J.P.T., SAMPAIO P, AREZES P.M. (2017), “Analysis of certified occupational health and safety management systems in Portugal”, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Safety, vol. 1, n. 1, pp. 11-2

EISENHARDT K. M. (1989), “Building theories from case study research”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 14, n. 4, pp. 532-550.

ENGLUND H., GERDIN J. (2008), “Transferring knowledge across sub-genres of the ABC implementation literature”, Management Accounting Research, vol. 19, n. 2, pp. 149-162.

ENGLUND H., GERDIN J. (2015), “Developing enabling performance measurement systems: on the interplay between numbers and operational knowledge”, European Accounting Review, vol. 24, n. 2, pp. 277-303.

ENGLUND H., GERDIN J., ABRAHAMSSON G. (2013), “Accounting ambiguity and structural change”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 26, n. 3, pp. 423-448.

EU-OHSA (2010), “Mainstreaming OSH into business management”, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Bilbao, Spain, available at: (accessed 20 January 2015).

FRASER M. (2012), “Fleshing out” an engagement with a social accounting technology”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 25, n. 3, pp. 508-534.

FREY M., BATTAGLIA M., PASSETTI E. (2013), Investire in sicurezza nel settore dell’igiene ambientale (Investing in safety in the environmental hygiene sector), Franco Angeli, Milan, Italy.

GIOVANNONI E., MARAGHINI P. (2013), “The challenges of integrated performance measurement systems: Integrating mechanisms for integrated measures”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 26, n. 6, pp. 978-1008.

GOLDEN-BIDDLE K., LOCKE K. (1993), “Appealing work: An investigation of how ethnographic texts convince”, Organization Science, vol. 4, n. 4, pp. 595-616.

GOND J.P., GRUBNIC S., HERZIG C., MOON J. (2012), “Configuring management control systems: Theorizing the integration of strategy and sustainability”, Management Accounting Research, vol. 23, n. 3, pp. 205-223.

GOSSELIN M. (2006), “A review of activity-based costing: technique, implementation, and consequences”, in Chapman S.C., Hopwood, A.G., Shields M.D (Ed.), Handbooks of Management Accounting Research, (Vol. 2, pp. 641–671), Elsevier, December.

HALL M. (2010), “Accounting information and managerial work”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, vol. 35, n. 3, pp. 301-315.

HALL M. (2016), “Realising the richness of psychology theory in contingency-based management accounting research”, Management Accounting Research, vol. 31 June, pp. 63-74.

HAHN T., PREUSS L., PINKSE J., FIGGE F. (2014), “Cognitive frames in corporate sustainability: Managerial sensemaking with paradoxical and business case frames”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 39, n. 4, pp. 463-487.

HOQUE Z., ALAM M. (1999), “TQM adoption, institutionalism and changes in management accounting systems: a case study”, Accounting and Business Research, vol. 29, n. 3, pp. 199-210.

HASLE P., JENSEN P.L. (2006), “Changing the internal health and safety organization through organizational learning and change management”, Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing and Service Industries, vol. 16, n. 3, pp. 269-284.

IBARRONDO-DÁVILA M.P., LÓPEZ-ALONSO M., RUBIO-GÁMEZ M.C. (2015), “Managerial accounting for safety management. The case of a Spanish construction company”, Safety Science, vol. 79 November, pp. 116-125.

KAMAR I.F.M., AHMAD A.C., DERUS M.M., KASIRON M.Y., ABU BAKAR M.A. (2019), “Exploring the Relationship between Safety and Health Cost Dimensions and Accident Costs to the Employer of Urban Rail Infrastructure”, Projects MATEC Web of Conferences. DOI: I 2018 266 26603014

ISSA (2013), “Calculating the international return on prevention for companies: Costs and benefits of investments in occupational safety and health”, Final report, Geneva, ISSA, available at: (accessed 06 July 2016).

JALLON R., IMBEAU D., DE MARCELLIS-WARIN N. (2011), “Development of an indirect-cost calculation model suitable for workplace use”, Journal of Safety Research, vol. 42, n. 3, pp. 149-164.

JÖNSSON S., LUKKA K. (2006), “There and back again: doing interventionist research in management accounting”, in Chapman S.C., Hopwood A.G., Shields M.D (Ed.), Handbooks of Management Accounting Research, Elsevier, vol. 1, pp. 373-397.

KLEIN K.J., SORRA J.S. (1996), “The challenge of innovation implementation”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 21, n. 4, pp. 1055-1080.

KLEIN K.J., KNIGHT A.P. (2005), “Innovation implementation overcoming the challenge”, Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 14, n. 5, pp. 243-246.

LIU L.Y., PAN F. (2007), “The implementation of activity-based costing in China: An innovation action research approach”, The British Accounting Review, vol. 39, n. 3, pp. 249-264.

LODHIA S., JACOBS K. (2013), “The practice turn in environmental reporting: a study into current practices in two Australian commonwealth departments”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 26, n. 4, pp. 595-615.

LOPEZ-ARQUILLOS A., RUBIO-ROMERO J.C., CARRILLO-CASTRILLO J., SUAREZ C.M., GALINDO R.F. (2019) “Occupational accidents in municipal solid waste management (MSWM) companies”, Environmental Engineering and Management Journal (EEMJ), vol. 18, n. 5, pp. 1029-1038

LUKKA K., SUOMALA P. (2014), “Relevant interventionist research: balancing three intellectual virtues”, Accounting and Business Research, vol. 44, n. 2, pp. 204-220.

MALMI T. (2016), “Managerialist studies in management accounting: 1990-2014”, Management Accounting Research, vol. 31, n. 1, pp. 31-44.

MAJOR M., HOPPER T. (2005), “Managers divided: Implementing ABC in a Portuguese telecommunications company”, Management Accounting Research, vol. 16, n. 2, pp. 205-229.

MÄTTÖ T., SIPPOLA K. (2016), “Cost management in the public sector: Legitimation behaviour and relevant decision making”, Financial Accountability and Management, vol. 32, n. 2, pp. 179-201.

MCLAREN J., APPLEYARD T., MITCHELL F. (2016), “The rise and fall of management accounting systems: A case study investigation of EVA™”, The British Accounting Review, vol. 48, n. 3, pp. 341-358.

MEIKANDAAN T.P., HEMAPRIYA M. (2018), “Cost benefit analysis of accident prevention in construction industry”, International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 119, n. 12, pp. 8831-8842

MILLER P., HASLAM C. (2009), “Why employers spend money on employee health: Interviews with occupational health and safety professionals from British Industry”, Safety Science, vol. 47, n. 2, pp. 163-169.

MODELL S. (2009), “Bundling management control innovations: A field study of organisational experimenting with total quality management and the balanced scorecard”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 22, n. 1, pp. 59-90.

O’NEILL S., MCDONALD G., DEEGAN C.M. (2015), “Lost in translation: Institutionalised logic and the problematisation of accounting for injury”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 28, n. 2, pp. 180-209.

O’NEILL S., MARTINOV-BENNIE N., CHEUNG A., WOLFE K. (2013), “Issues in the measurement and reporting of work health and safety performance: a review”, available at: (accessed 10 September 2015).

PARKER L.D., NORTHCOTT D. (2016), “Qualitative generalising in accounting research: concepts and strategies”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 29, n. 6, pp. 1100-1131.

PASSETTI E., CINQUINI L., MARELLI A., TENUCCI A. (2014), “Sustainability accounting in action: Lights and shadows in the Italian context”, The British Accounting Review, vol. 46, n. 3, pp. 295-308.

RAUTIAINEN A., SIPPOLA K., MÄTTÖ T. (2016), “Perspectives on relevance: The relevance test in the constructive research approach”, Management Accounting Research,

RIKHARDSSON P.M. (2004), “Accounting for the cost of occupational accidents”, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, vol. 11, n. 2, pp. 63-70.

RIKHARDSSON P.M., IMPGAARD M. (2004), “Corporate cost of occupational accidents: an activity-based analysis”, Accident Analysis and Prevention, vol. 36, n. 2, pp. 173-182.

SMALLMAN C., JOHN G. (2001), “British directors perspectives on the impact of health and safety on corporate performance”, Safety Science, vol. 38, n. 3, pp. 227-239.

SUOMALA P., LYLY-YRJÄNÄINEN J., LUKKA K. (2014), “Battlefield around interventions: A reflective analysis of conducting interventionist research in management accounting”, Management Accounting Research, vol. 25, n. 4, pp. 304-314.

SWUSTE P., VAN GULIJK C., ZWAARD W., LEMKOWITZ S., OOSTENDORP Y., GROENEWEG J. (2016), “Developments in the safety science domain, in the fields of general and safety management between 1970 and 1979, the year of the near disaster on Three Mile Island, a literature review”, Safety Science, vol. 86 July, pp. 10-26.

TAPPURA S., SIEVÄNEN M., HEIKKILÄ J., JUSSILA A., NENONEN N. (2015), “A management accounting perspective on safety”, Safety Science, vol. 71 part B January, pp. 151-159.

TESTA F., CORSINI F., GUSMEROTTI N.M., IRALDO F. (2018), “Predictors of organizational citizenship behavior in relation to environmental and health & safety issues”, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, in press, Doi: 10.1080/09585192.2017.1423099

TOUTOUNCHAIN S., ABBASPOUR M., DANA T., ABEDI Z. (2018), “Design of a safety cost estimation parametric model in oil and gas engineering, procurement and construction contracts”, Safety Science, vol. 106, pp. 35-46.

VELTRI A. (1990), “An accident cost impact model: The direct cost component”, Journal of Safety Research, vol. 21, n. 2, pp. 67-73.

WALSH J.P. (1995), “Managerial and organizational cognition: Notes from a trip down memory lane”, Organization Science, vol. 6, n. 3, pp. 280-321.

WOUTERS M., ROIJMANS D. (2011), “Using prototypes to induce experimentation and knowledge integration in the development of enabling accounting information”, Contemporary Accounting Research, vol. 28, n. 2, pp. 708-736.

YIN R.K. (2003), “Case study research. Design and Methods - Third edition” Applied Social Research Methods, Vol. 5 SAGE Publications, London, UK.