The importance of health and safety in the workplace simply cannot be underestimated. As well as being the law, it is part and parcel of being a good employer to make sure your staff aren’t at risk of any injury as a result of the work they do for you.
It’s not just your staff that health and safety is important for, it’s there to protect any visitors, customers, sub-contractors and the general public who may work for you, do business with you or come into contact with your organisation in any way.
What is the purpose of health and safety?
The purpose of health and safety is to protect your workers, sub-contractors, customers and members of the public when they are involved with your business. You have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 but more than that, it’s good business practice to adhere to health and safety laws. Businesses that flout the law face losing staff, higher recruitment costs, lower retention rates and lower profitability.
Worse still, poor health and safety can lead to illness, injury and even death - you can be prosecuted for breaching health and safety regulations which can lead to fines, imprisonment and the loss of your business altogether.
Workplace health and safety is important for the health and wellbeing of all employees across all industries because human injury or loss in any business is not acceptable. And the last thing you want is to be the employer who loses an employee in an accident and is then charged with corporate manslaughter.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) is the piece of legislation which enshrines the general principles of health and safety in the workplace.
It places a wide range of duties on the employer to take all measures “so far as is reasonably practicable” to prevent or reduce risk in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for enforcing the HSWA along with local authorities.
Read more about the HSWA in our jargon-free guide.
The cost of bad health and safety
Millions of days of work are lost each year as a result of workplace illness and injury and thousands of people die from occupational illnesses. According to the HSE, 1.4 million workers suffered from a work-related illness in 2017/2018 and 144 workers were killed.
Statistics also reveal 30.7 million days were lost to workplace illness and injury, and the cost to the economy for such injuries in 2016/17 was around £15 billion.
Work-related illness and injury can not only impact their quality of life, but it can also financially damage your business, impact your productivity and harm your reputation. These are all things that can be quite difficult to recover from.
The statistics are sobering in themselves but it’s perhaps the human stories which really bring home the tragedy of poor health and safety. In summer 2015, a number of riders on the Smiler roller coaster at Alton Towers suffered serious injuries when it crashed into other cars on the track. Not only was the impact on them severe and life-changing with several undergoing amputations, but HSE investigators found the main cause to be a lack of robust health and safety measures in place to stop staff making errors which led to the crash. As a result, parent company Merlin Entertainments was fined a record £5 million. Alton Towers subsequently suffered a slump in trade and profits, which forced the company to ask the Government for a review of its £4 annual rates bill in the ensuing years.
How you can promote good health and safety in the workplace
Dealing with health and safety can seem tedious because on the face of it, it can feel a bit like form filling rather than doing what you really love, namely driving your business forward. But it’s an essential part of any good business and it needn’t be onerous.
Have a written policy
Under the HSWA you only need a written policy if you have five or more employees. However, it’s good practice to have a written one even if you don’t employ many people because it makes you properly risk assess your business and put measures in place to control them. It will contain a general statement on health and safety and how you intend to manage it, it will detail who is responsible for health and safety in your organisation and it will cover the risks to your business and what you have done to mitigate or eliminate them. The policy should be reviewed annually or more often where necessary.
Have a proper training programme
Make sure all staff are trained in health and safety. Make it part of their induction so they’re aware from the moment they join that it’s to be treated as a priority. You should also review this regularly and staff should have regular refresher training or when any new policies are implemented.
Get the right equipment
Having a health and safety policy is a big step in the right direction, but you also need to make sure you’re following through on managing those risks. Make sure your staff have the equipment they need to do their jobs properly and safely. It’s also important to have the right signage and training so equipment is used correctly and reduces the risk of errors occurring.
Lead from the top down
Good health and safety comes from the top. If you let things slide so will your staff, so it’s important you stay on top of safety matters. Make sure your staff all have regular training and that you stay up to date with the latest news and changes in the law. If you take a proactive approach to health and safety, you’ll build a relationship as a caring and conscientious employer and your staff will follow suit.