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Last updated: 23.01.19

How important is Health and Safety for your business?

What is Health and Safety?

Health and safety policy is frequently the target of criticism, with numerous employees and employers across all sectors seeing it as a potentially overbearing and cumbersome requirement that isn’t really necessary. While it’s true that excessive red tape can be time consuming, health and safety should never be seen as an exercise in bureaucracy.

Health and Safety is an important part of maintaining good workplace standards on every premises from every industry and sector in the country. In this article, we’re going to look at the different factors which contribute to health and safety being a major consideration for employers and employees. This includes what the law says about it, how well-executed policies can promote better working, and how it can ultimately protect the business from harm.

The Law

For most businesses, legal obligation will be the strongest reason for health and safety being an important consideration. In the UK, we enjoy thorough and effective legislation pertaining to just about all potential aspects of health and safety, and these must be followed in all relevant situations. Failure to follow legal obligation can mean prosecution under the law that can extend as far as individual criminal convictions. For this reason, it’s essential that business leaders know what their responsibilities are. In some cases, failure to adhere to standards can mean closure of the business, which is the case when it comes to food hygiene inspections that form an important part of health and safety standards in certain industries.

Who enforces this legislation?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the government agency responsible for this subject in the United Kingdom. Its purpose is broad, holding the responsibility for regulating and promoting health and safety in the workplace, as well as enforcing rules and even conducting research into how to have a safe workplace. It’s this department that businesses have to deal with if there’s ever an incident at work.

What legislation is in place?

Health and safety can be quite complex and varies significantly between industries. As a result, the HSE is responsible for enforcing more than a dozen Acts, ranging from those that deal with agriculture, to mines, offshore works and even explosives. However, the most important act is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which is often abbreviated to HSWA. This Act governs general occupational safety in the country and is the one that places the responsibility of safety on the employer.

The Act is an extensive one, covering everything from responsibilities, to enforcement, offences, fines and much more. As a result, business leaders are generally not expected to know every detail it contains, but they should understand the general principles that it insists upon.

It’s also important to note that the Act does include a section on the responsibilities of employees. They must follow instructions and use equipment given to them by employers, and if they don’t, then it’s likely that they are in fact liable should anything go wrong rather than their employer. Health and safety courses are often seen as an effective way of ensuring employees have been given the requisite knowledge, and that they have no excuse to shift blame if they are responsible for an accident at work.

Responsibility to Employees

Aside from legal obligations, employers also have a moral obligation to keep their employees safe while they’re at work. It’s your responsibility to ensure that they can work safely in whatever job you’ve asked them to do. Not doing so shows a lack of respect for the people that work for you, which can be very damaging to a productive workplace environment. This reinforces that good health and safety policy should be seen as a business benefit, not just a matter of compliance.

Health and Safety as a Business Benefit

Employees that feel their bosses have their interests at heart are ultimately going to be happier workers that feel as though they are valued, and the value of this should certainly never be underestimated. Feeling valued has a strong impact on the productivity of workers, giving them a stronger desire to work and do so more effectively. If an employer feels like health and safety is seen as a bare minimum exercise in compliance, then they might feel like their employer doesn’t actually care about their safety, which may result in a lessened desire to work and lower productivity.

What are the issues with poor Health and Safety policies?

Where things do go wrong, it’s even clearer that good health and safety policy can be a strong benefit to businesses. After all, such policies are designed to ensure that hazards don’t turn into accidents, and accidents can be costly. There are many examples of this. If we think for instance of a mechanic working at a large garage - if she isn’t provided with the correct eye protection when working with power tools, then she could sustain an injury. This injury could result in time off work, which results in additional expenses for the business.

This can manifest over the long term too. Failure to provide adequate guidance and training on manual handling can cause lasting health issues for those who improperly handle items day in, day out. This too can result in time off work, and in some cases even cause good staff to retire early.

It’s also worth noting that the authorities are not the only party that could take a business to court if it isn’t following health and safety procedure. Individuals that have suffered workplace injuries can sue, which can both be hugely expensive and damage company morale. The only way of guarding against this is by recognising the importance of health and safety policy and practice.

Further Information

The HSE provides extensive information and resources for businesses and individuals that need to find out more about their obligations and best practices. However, many businesses will find that training is essential, whether this is down to legal obligation, or simply a case of wanting thorough knowledge of health and safety within the business. Here at Virtual College, we’re pleased to be able to offer a range of health and safety online training courses, which you can browse here. For a sound understanding of the key elements of health and safety at work, then consider taking the overview course, which you can find here.

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