Why Should Health and Safety be a Priority for Employers?

Health and safety

Health and Safety (with capital letters) is taken more seriously today than it ever has been, thanks to a steady shifting in cultural attitudes over the last century or so. In the Victorian era, it was thought perfectly acceptable to force children reach into whirring machinery, or to inhale soot; today, we all enjoy a comparably excellent standard of protection.

If you’re an employer in the UK, then you should take Health and Safety seriously for a whole range of reasons. Doing so might be a matter of identifying harmful policies, investing in the right protective equipment, or creating a more general cultural shift.

The Law

When you’re employing staff in the UK, you have a legal duty to ensure that they, as well as members of the public, are protected against avoidable harm. This is set out under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. For most employers, this is the main piece of legislation to worry about. For those in construction, or whose work might involve asbestos removal, there’s industry-specific law, too.

If you don’t comply with the law, then you could be given an improvement or prohibition notice (which means that you can either change your ways or see your business shut down), or even prosecuted. As well as the direct consequences of this, you might also find that your business’s reputation suffers from the bad publicity.

There’s also the possibility that a member of staff or the public might take direct legal action against you in the form of a claim for neglect. If your health and safety oversights have led to direct harm where a duty of care was owed, you could find yourself having to pay considerable damages.

The Cost

According to statistics collected by the Health and Safety executive, around 38.8 million working days are lost each year due to illness and workplace injury, at a total cumulative cost of around £16.2 billion.

The cause of this loss, for the most part, is absenteeism. If employees become ill or injured, and they’re unable to attend work, then your business will suffer. But we should also bear in mind the impact that minor illnesses might have on productivity. If an employee is struggling through avoidable ill health, then they won’t perform as well as they might otherwise.

It’s also worth thinking about things like recruitment and employee retention. If employees feel like their health and safety isn’t being taken seriously, then they will find a new role elsewhere. By contrast, employees who feel that they’re being looked after will tend to stay around.