Safety rules can be a frequent source of annoyance for businesses and their employees.
The popular perception is that health and safety legislation is overbearing, and piles on excessive red tape at the expense of good personal judgement. At the same time, most people also acknowledge that some balance needs to be struck if workers are to be protected from unscrupulous businesses, dangerous conditions, and the odd personal oversight.
Safety training and rules are often legislative requirements, but you shouldn’t have to be forced to make your employees more health and safety savvy. Offering training and providing clear guidelines for the workplace doesn’t just stand to make you a safer employer – it can also have all sorts of less obvious benefits.
The clue is in the title: health and safety training should improve the safety of your employees. According to the HSE, over 600,000 people report an injury at work every year, and there are over 200 deaths. This is not to mention the potential long-term effects of even innocuous professions, such as back injuries and even loss of eyesight, thanks to staring at screens all day.
It’s often said that health and safety comes down to common sense, but there are a whole host of safety risks that staff may not be aware of. Few people for instance realise how common asbestos still is in buildings, particularly in the UK. Textured ‘Artex’ ceilings and wall insulation for instance often contain asbestos fibres; these are easily and unwittingly damaged, either by accident or by making modifications, such as hanging pictures or pinning up posters.
Ensuring that good safety practices permeate through your organisation requires oversight from the business owner. Ensure that everyone from management to lower level employees is fully aware of the risks involved in their workplace, and knows where to turn if something goes wrong, or if they have a complaint or query.
Make sure you are not placing undue pressure on staff to perform efficiently at the cost of safety. Ideally, the first step should be to go on an applicable health and safety awareness or management course yourself. The absolute key to keeping people safe is to take health and safety seriously, and there’s no better demonstration of this than getting stuck in.
Safety is important for safety’s sake, but it’s also important for your employees to feel safe. Risking your life every day may be a constituent part of certain jobs, but risks should be minimised at all times, and employees should know what they’re getting into.
Being upfront about the risks and taking all steps to eliminate them gives people more confidence in their work. This in turn feeds into the quality of work they’re doing, and the efficiency with which they carry it out. And simply put, employees are less likely to look for work elsewhere when they feel valued. Risking their safety shows a lack of appreciation and compassion that is a serious demotivating factor.
Decisions to ignore health and safety based on the more dangerous method being more efficient always come back to bite businesses. The fact is that consistently ‘chancing’ any aspect of your day-to-day business is going to be less efficient than simply doing a proper job with a single, rigorous method, secure in the knowledge that it’s the best possible approach.
Putting people’s safety at risk, or not doing enough to ensure that their know the risks, can have a serious impact on your bottom line. Employees who do not feel adequately protected are more likely to do a poor job, either because their morale is sapped, or because they want to finish the work as soon as possible. Safer work may be slower, but it’s likely to be of a higher standard.
Take for instance the presence of asbestos in UK schools. There has been a growing tide of anger towards the HSE, which advises that teachers and students do not need to worry about the risks of asbestos. This is despite several examples of work being carried out on asbestos while students and staff were still present, and many instances of students unwittingly picking away at asbestos clad walls. This knowledge rightly worries teachers and parents, and can only have a negative impact on their productivity.
The impact of safety incidents can also be substantial. An injury or even death will have a serious effect on staff who are still undertaking that kind of work, negatively affecting your business for weeks, or even months. And additional time will be lost while inspections are carried out; changes to working practice will have to be explored and codified, and physical changes to the working environment, such as improving access or removing hazards, may be necessary.
Remember that scene in Fight Club, where it’s cheaper for a car company to pay damages than it is to fix a life-threatening fault? Thankfully, the law is designed to avoid cases like this. If you neglect to provide a safe working environment, the financial costs can have drastic implications. For large businesses, fines can range well into the millions of pounds, as this recent case demonstrates.
It’s always tempting to ignore problems, particularly when dealing with them comes at a significant financial cost. 86% of schools in the UK, as well as a majority of public buildings constructed prior to 2000, still contain asbestos because the budget simply isn’t there to deal with it, particularly when these structures are in constant use. But the simple fact is that the cost of making changes is always outweighed by the benefits to human life, and the easing of worries about the safety of your enterprise.
As well as paying out the individuals and their families in the event of an accident or issue, you will also have to fix the problem you should have attended to in the first place, and likely book a few training courses for future reference. This is on top of the other damage a serious case could do to your brand. Prevention is always cheaper than treatment, just like an expensive pair of shoes will be cheaper in the long run than replacing a bunch of budget trainers.
It shouldn’t be your primary concern, but as much as poor safety standards can draw employees away from your business, they can also put off new ones. Even if there hasn’t been public coverage of poor safety standards at your business, employees are likely to grumble to anyone who will listen. Websites like Glassdoor are an increasingly popular way to vent about these kinds of issues, with anonymous reports warding off potential recruits.
A serious breach of health and safety in the news can be ruinous for a company’s public image, too. This will affect not just the people you employ, but also your current and potential customers. The financial cost will hit your marketing as much as your sales, as you undertake damage control, and try to win back hearts and minds.
Employee safety is an ethical issue that reflects poorly on a business’ judgement throughout its operations – if you’re neglecting this key tenet of business operation, what else are you skimping on? And of course, a positive, forward-looking health and safety policy can even gain you good coverage in local media or trade publications.
This post was contributed by SAMS Ltd, a health and safety consultancy & training company based in Kent, England. SAMS offers a specialised asbestos awareness course for Kent businesses, alongside other online and classroom courses and consultancy services.