The importance of Health and Safety

Why is it important to manage health and safety? As outlined in both the IOSH Managing safely and IOSH Approved Directing safely training courses found elsewhere on this site, there are four main reasons.

Firstly, there is a moral imperative. It is simply wrong to put employees’ health and safety at risk. Employees are entitled to return home from work in more or less the same condition as they arrived; tired maybe, but with the same number of fingers and limbs and as healthy.

There are legal reasons and whilst in most cases it is the corporate body that suffers the penalty, the number of directors and senior managers who were personally prosecuted under section 37 of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 has risen by a staggering 400% in 5 years. Section 37 makes it possible for individuals within a business to be prosecuted if an offence has been committed as a result of the individuals consent, connivance or neglect. 43 directors, senior managers and/or company secretaries were prosecuted under section 37 in 2010/11alone. This illustrates what many practitioners have long alluded to – the tendency of the authorities to single-out individuals wherever possible – and is a significantly more potent deterrent that prosecuting corporate bodies alone.

Financially, the adage is “if you think managing safety costs money, try having accidents”. It comes as a surprise to many but health and safety insurance policies don’t cover everything. In fact, the uninsured costs of accidents – whilst they vary between businesses – are several times more than those costs covered by insurance. Studies carried out by the HSE have found that as a rough guide, the cost of uninsured losses are approximately 10 times the cost of insurance premiums for the same period of time.

And finally, there is reputation. It’s easy to find cases of large companies suffering the ignominy of being splashed over the world press following an accident or product ‘scare’. Recent examples include the salmonella contamination of a famous brand of chocolate and concerns over the efficacy of the brakes on a Japanese brand of motor car. The fines run into millions and whilst the damage to the brand is also estimated to have cost millions, the companies march on seemingly unharmed.

For smaller companies the risk of reputational damage is greater and according to recent studies by the HSE, directors are becoming increasingly anxious to protect their personal reputation and seek to do so by protecting the reputation their organisation has for how well it manages health and safety.

How would you rate your health and safety performance and the importance of health and safety in your organisation?

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