Health and safety law has many justifications. As an employer, or otherwise as a controller of premises, you are in a position of power and you are expected to take responsibility for sickness and/or injury occurring on those premises, and to do what you can to prevent it.
Arguably, some health and safety rules may well deserve to come under that much maligned banner of “red tape”. But overall, the legislation has many positives and has contributed many times over the years to preventing serious injuries and saving lives.
It can prove costly to protect the health of customers and employees. But it can prove costlier still to not protect them. In the year 2013-14, the total cost of fines for health and safety breaches in Great Britain (imposed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities) was £18.5 million. That related to 671 cases that resulted in conviction, which means an average fine of about £27.5k.
The cost of fines pales into insignificance, however, in relation to the economic cost of injuries and ill-health. The HSE says that in 2013-14, the total cost resulting from working conditions was £14.3 billion.
To take one example, the linked article highlights that, according to the HSE, in 2013 there were 2,538 mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposure – that is despite the use of the worst types of asbestos (blue and brown asbestos) being banned way back in 1985 and the less lethal type (white asbestos) being banned in 1999. In addition, since that time there have been high levels of worker and environmental protection when working in its vicinity, removing and disposing of it.
Most people now know about the dangers caused by asbestos. 50 years ago, on the other hand, despite experts’ knowledge of the risks, it was a cheap but useful product, particularly effective in fire-proofing and insulating buildings, and it was prevalent in many manufacturing contexts. Because it was cheap, even despite some knowledge of risks, small businesses may not have been able to afford to shun asbestos.
But health and safety law has commercial benefits beyond protecting others and complying with legal obligations. As the attached article says, your business is likely to do better if you care about health and safety.
This is especially so in the employment context – a healthy employee will probably be more productive than an unhealthy employee. If someone is off work sick once a month, that will have a significant impact on productivity. And it is not just the obvious effects – healthy employees may also have more energy and therefore be more productive, and be less likely to suffer from stress or depression. They are also likely to feel secure and respected, engage better with their employer, and will therefore work harder and with a better attitude.
Many employers know this. But knowing exactly how to sensibly and reasonably address every issue that effects health and workplace safety is not always straightforward. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been created by the Government to prosecute wrongdoing as well as to produce useful guidance and its website is full of useful materials, including self-assessment checklists and clearly written, explanatory guides. If you're a registered member of our elXtr online DIY law platform, you can also access our suite of additional self-help health and safety materials.
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By making a company more health and safety focused it also improves the efficiency of the business. Says Cant: “Employers are beginning to recognise efficiency, quality and safety are all related, and each of them contributes to productivity costs. Companies have adopted workplace programmes with an emphasis on improving productivity and quality, but also to improve the safety side as well. It plays an integral part of being a good business.”