How Important is Health and Safety for Your Business?
Health and safety is something that everyone is aware of and impacted by at work. If you’re an employer and/or a business owner, business health and safety laws will influence many of the decisions you make, which in turn can impact the success of your organisation.
The importance of health and safety in the workplace is linked to a wide range of factors, so ensuring that your business is safety compliant should be a priority. Following guidance and complying with laws should be more than just a box-ticking exercise - it’s something that you should always be striving to do to keep employees and customers safe.
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.
Health and Safety is an important part of maintaining good workplace standards in every workplace from every industry and sector in the country. It keeps employees safe when they’re at work, customers safe when they’re on business premises, and gives employers procedures and guidelines to follow to keep their business compliant with the law.
Health and safety in a business refers to any processes or behaviour in a workplace that keep everyone in the environment safe. It covers everything from the procedures that employees have to follow to the protective clothing they wear and the training they are given for their role. It also informs the type and amount of work that employees are legally allowed to do in order to protect their physical and mental health.
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.
For most businesses, the 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.
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.
The most important piece of workplace legislation 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 for 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 includes 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 liable should anything go wrong rather than their employer.
Health and safety training 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.
In some cases, failure to adhere to standards can mean the 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. Even if your business doesn't have to close, it may get a bad reputation which could decrease the number of customers you get and impact your revenue.
Failure to follow legal obligations 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.
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 policies should be seen as a business benefit, not just a matter of compliance.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the government agency responsible for enforcing business health and safety compliance 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.
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 health and safety 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.
One of the biggest benefits of health and safety in the workplace for businesses is that following recommended guidelines is the best way to prevent accidents and injuries. This means that business owners will avoid long-term employee absences caused by injury, which saves money by keeping productivity consistent and reducing the need for temporary cover.
Another reason to care about the importance of health and safety is that if an employee 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. This may result in a lessened desire to work and lower productivity, which in turn has an impact on business output.
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.
Where things do go wrong at work, 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. Let’s think of a mechanic working at a large garage - if they aren’t provided with the correct eye protection when working with power tools, then they 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 procedures. 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.
It is the employer's responsibility to create a health and safety policy for their business, and if their workforce consists of five or more employees, they need to write this down. The employer can create the business health and safety policy themselves, or they can employ another responsible and competent person to do it.
Health and safety law affects a business because it impacts the actions that employers have to take in order to keep their organisation legally compliant. This can affect internal procedures, working hours, workplace culture and the reputation of the business.
The Health and Safety at Work Act is an important piece of legislation because it puts a legal responsibility on both employers and employees regarding what they need to do at work to keep everyone safe. It makes things like risk assessments and health and safety training mandatory in many situations and has helped to massively improve health and safety standards in the UK.
Figuring out all of the relevant health and safety legislation and recommendations you need to consider for your business can seem like a daunting task. Whilst it may be tempting to try and cut corners or put certain tasks at the bottom of your to-do list, health and safety in a business is incredibly important, and failure to recognise and respect this could lead to serious legal consequences.
Here at Virtual College, we’re pleased to be able to offer a range of health and safety online training courses that are designed for a variety of businesses. For a sound understanding of the key elements of health and safety at work, our ‘Awareness of Health and Safety at Work’ is a great overview course for business owners.