Stephen Thomas, Health and Safety Business Partner at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, outlines why health and safety should be a key focus for your business, and steps you can take to embed it in your company culture.
Workplace health and safety is all about sensibly identifying and managing risks to protect your workers and your business. As with all business issues, effective management is characterised by strong leadership involving your managers, workers and other stakeholders such as suppliers, contractors and customers. Health and safety is also an essential part of the movement towards sustainable development in a global context.
As an employer, you have a moral and legal duty of care to ensure that your workers are not injured or made ill through work. Businesses in the UK are required to comply with health and safety laws which, if breached, can result in enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE/HSENI) or your local authority.
Good for your business
Through sensible risk management, you not only protect your workers but also gain tangible business benefits such as reduced work-related absence and downtime from work-related accidents and increased efficiency and productivity. Studies show that workers are more productive in workplaces that are committed to health and safety.
More and more, job hunters – particularly Millennials and Generation Z – seek roles with employers who share their values, so without strong corporate responsibility and sustainability practices, you may struggle to attract or retain the best employees.
Boost your brand
Your customers want to buy products and services which are produced ethically, so you also need to think about the work practices throughout your supply chain and deal only with ethical suppliers who protect their workforce. If you are associated with a supply chain that fails to address key issues such as modern slavery and sustainability, the risk of reputational damage is high.
To secure contracts or partnerships, you may need to demonstrate your commitment to health and safety, often through third-party certification schemes such as CHAS or SafeContractor. Having a mature health and safety culture, including a current, well-documented management system and risk assessments, will serve to provide evidence of this.
Ultimately, a good health and safety record is a source of competitive advantage: it builds trust in your reputation and brand. Conversely, poor health and safety performance will directly affect profitability and can result in loss of trade or even closure of the business.
Improve health and safety in your workplace
Health and safety is most effective when led from the top. Workers are much more likely to get involved and comply with controls if senior management makes it clear that health and safety is taken seriously by your business. It pays to actively discourage negative behaviours such as taking risks to save time or effort to meet unrealistic deadlines or chase bonuses.
If you don’t have the benefit of in-house health and safety professionals, look to improve competence within your business. IOSH provides training courses to meet your needs at all levels, and there is extensive guidance available freely from credible, authoritative sources such as IOSH and HSE.
It is also essential to get your workers involved: this will increase ‘buy-in’ and ownership of their own health and safety. If your business is not unionised, set up health and safety representatives or support them more visibly if they are already established.
Unless you are a micro-business, aim to implement and embed a health and safety management system. This should include an overall policy setting out your commitment, responsibilities allocated to individuals (including senior leadership) and arrangements detailing how you will actually control your risks. The HSE publishes its freely-available standard HSG 65, ‘Managing for health and safety’, and there is the international standard ISO 45001.
If you choose to employ the services of a health and safety consultant, be aware that they are not there to ‘do it all for you’ – you will still need to manage health and safety within your business. Check that your consultant is properly qualified, has relevant experience in your industry and can provide references to back that up. Look for Chartered Membership of IOSH (CMIOSH) and that they are registered on the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSCHR).