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Whatever the economic weather, health and safety comes first

Posted on December 22, 2022

I like to read around my subject and as someone who trains people in good health and safety practice and advises companies about effective implementation I have to.

That said, some people say that I only have about 45 minutes of conversation on this subject before I repeat myself. I reckon it’s closer to an hour, but the point is that it’s health and safety and it’s worth repeating. And I will do so again now. Health and Safety is all about people.

Anyone’s workers are somebody else’s son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife and that racks up the responsibility. They are important to a business and they are important to others and therefore should be treated in the same way that we expect others to treat us and our loved ones.

In my recent reading I came across an interesting topic: the impact of the cost of living, the likelihood of a long recession and the effect that could have on health and safety in the workplace.

The piece I read is here . It’s a good read and for me the stand out phrase is “for ethical, legal, and financial reasons, any decision to reduce the budget available to protect the health and safety of staff should be taken only as the very last resort.”

Never a tagged-on afterthought

I like to ask the question: “is health and safety a burden to your business or the right thing to do?” If you think that maintaining your equipment, using the right tools and materials for the job, looking after the health of your workers and the safety of your workers – in other words, having a proper culture for your business – is not the key element of what you do, then you need to think again.

Maybe even shut up shop.

Health and safety, whether it’s the need to do inductions or replacing damaged equipment in a timely manner is your responsibility and is at the heart of business.

I become frustrated – and always have done – when people try to look at health and safety as an ‘add on’, only thinking about health and safety in their business when something goes wrong. Health and safety should be part of your everyday planning, everywhere. As the article says:

“The law has similar expectations. The duty on every business is to reduce health and safety risks to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable.”

Employers have a strict liability under the Health and Safety at Work Act to provide a safe place and a safe system of work for their employees. This is criminal legislation, this isn’t something you get to choose, you have to do it, never mind it being the right thing to do. Shortcomings are punishable by law: society has decided that this is important for it to function in a civilised way.

Assess and assess again

A safe system of work, the mechanics of which depend on the size and complexity of the company and what it does, are governed by your assessments, ie: you have to spend time thinking about it.

The main assessment is for risk, that’s looking at the task, looking at the people and the work environment(s). Then we have COSHH assessments for hazardous substances and how they could enter the body. It’s the same for manual handling. Through all assessments you can come up with good control measures. Other inputs for your safe systems of work include observing site rules, obtaining permits and following statutory requirements.

Yet, if your business can’t afford to do the above then I’m not convinced you should be in business at all. The discipline of being a leader, someone who sets others to work applies here. You should have the knowledge, the experience, the capability and the competence to follow ethics and laws no matter how pressed your funds are or how tight the budget is.

The bottom line is no one should be allowed to hurt people in a civilised society and that’s why we have the rules and regulations. And it’s incumbent on you to understand them in the same way that you have to comply with HMRC rules for example. Like Health and Safety, it’s not a choice.

The cost if you get it wrong is so much more than financial – we are talking about impacts on people’s lives. Never mind that fines are going up and you cannot insure against them, the fear of reputational damage should also be a driver, only second to “no one gets hurt on my watch”. One ‘slip’ and years building a good reputation will disappear and possibly your business.

Cost cutting and expenditure in your business has to be looked at through the lens of safety before it’s implemented. Don’t make decisions based on short term financial gain; a challenging economic climate or the need to maintain profitability are not defences.

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