Health and safety professionals need to learn to value themselves more and realise that their function is essential to the successful running of all businesses, says Jon Abbott.

When Lord Young reviewed this country’s health and safety culture back in 2011, his report and much of the publicity from it highlighted the poor perception of health and safety. Not that the general news media reported very much of Lord Young’s findings and recommendations. The attitude from many national newspapers at the time was one of “see, we told you so”. After all, these were the same newspapers that had been rolling out sensationalised yarns about kids not being able to play conkers and describing risk assessments designed to protect people as “health and safety gone mad”.

Six years on and the perception of health and safety hasn’t really budged, even if the world around it has changed immeasurably. So what I want to say is this, it’s time for health and safety professionals to stand up and be counted, to challenge the perception of the industry where it meets it, and to shout about the benefits of health and safety to anyone who’ll listen.

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Leading the way

The really tragic aspect to all of this is how it has undermined the great things health and safety people have done for the UK workforce. The thing that is almost never reported, outside of our own industry press, is that we have a health and safety record that is the envy of most of the world.

Experts and consultants are in great demand overseas, where other countries want to see reductions in accidents and work-related ill health similar to those we have achieved in Britain. This country’s diligence and expertise on matters of employee wellbeing are things we should be proud of, not scoffed at. And our example will be followed, as corporate responsibility becomes a global aim.

Companies around the world want to be seen as caring: caring about their customers, caring for the environment, caring for their people. To do this properly, the world needs safety professionals – motivated, dedicated people who understand risk and what needs to be done to minimise it. And safety professionals need to feel proud of what they do; proud to tell a new friend at a party that they work in health and safety.

Money, money, money

Something a safety manager did today will help to save a life tomorrow. Many of you reading this are managing programmes that will keep workers healthier for longer. You might not get huge thanks from the people you are protecting and it’s probably best if much of what you do is invisible. But be under no illusions, what you do is vital.
Safety professionals should begin to recognise the essential part they play in organisational success. You are not just a support service but an integral and necessary aspect of profitability. Yes, profitability. If you ever feel like you need your senior executives to sit up and take a bit more notice of what you do, lob in the “bottom line” imperative. Safety professionals help their companies to make more money.

In today’s climate, with a hard Brexit looming and the pound at its lowest, UK businesses will be looking at the possible knock-on effects and measuring up for a tough ride ahead, which will mean that they’re likely to be doubling down on budgets. But don’t be alarmed, this is the perfect position for the confident, budget-conscious health and safety manager who will be able to tell the narrative about how safety impacts on profitability.

Increasingly, safety plays an important role in winning new business. Almost every tender includes health and safety provision with a requirement that a successful bidder can demonstrate that it has suitable safety systems in place. More than ever, environmental management is featuring in tenders. Winning business is therefore reliant on good safety governance. How many organisations realise this? It’s the job of all safety professionals to let them know.

Efficiency is also heavily influenced by the safety professional. Staff not sitting comfortably will not be as productive as those who are. Recent research shows that computer-based employees experiencing frequent lower back pain can lose five-and-a-half hours of productive time per week. Three-and-a-half hours are lost due to regular headaches. This will affect an organisation’s bottom-line enormously and all it takes is an understanding of ergonomics to fix it.

And I haven’t even started on compliance. Every organisation needs to comply with legislation to avoid accidents and penalties. An old Health and Safety Commission study into the real cost of personal injury claims found that the true cost of a claim was between eight and 32 times the amount insured. So, for every £1 paid out by an insurance company, the insured could be incurring additional costs of between £8 and £32. So even relatively minor claims could result in substantial costs. The real cost to a business is potentially much more significant than the initial personal injury claim. This could be the difference between profit and loss for many companies. This research was carried out in 1995/96. Do you think the costs will have come down in the last 20 years? Not much else has.

Apart from accidents, of course. Accidents and work-related injuries have fallen steadily in the UK for many years. At this point it might be worth noting that just after the publication of his report, Lord Young nostalgically referred back to the time when he was Trade and Industry Secretary and health and safety wasn’t perceived as such a burden. Sadly, there were a lot more people killed and injured back then. You can’t have it all ways, Lord Young, can you?

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A lot to be thankful for

Then in November 2010, as the country continued to struggle out of recession, Lord Young told readers of the Daily Telegraph that the vast majority of people in the UK had “never had it so good… ”. The comment led to his resignation from his role as a government adviser, but in some ways he was right. Fewer people being killed at work, fewer people developing chronic ailments, fewer companies neglecting their employees – all examples of people who’d never had it so good.

We have a lot to be thankful for, not least safety professionals. Safety professionals should realise their worth to their organisations. Few other functions influence so many company assets: the people, the property and the products.

Health and safety workers of the UK: the time has come to hold up your heads in pride, pat yourselves on the back and carry on doing a great job for British business.

Stand Up for Your Life

This article featured in our magazine Stand Up for Your Life, the Winter/Spring edition of Cardinus Connect. Download it for free above.

Jon Abbott is a director at Cardinus Risk Management. He’s been working in the industry for over 20 years. You can find him on LinkedIn here.

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