The 2021 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report on health and safety at work states that 1.7 million workers suffered from work-related ill-health and that 441,000 workers sustained non-fatal work-related injuries. Who is accountable for these issues?
It is generally the employer who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace. It is therefore in the best interest of every business to provide policies and procedures for their staff to follow and mitigate the risk of such incidents.
Failure to implement a robust structure of health and safety workplace policies could result in consequences that go beyond a couple of days where an employee has to take time off work to recover from an injury or sickness.
The Disruptive Consequences Of Weak Safety Policies
The latest figures from HSE on the total cost of workplace injury and illness, as of the time of writing, are from 2018/19 data and stand at £16.2 billion (it’s likely that this figure will be lower in the preceding two years, due to Covid). Such economic losses from employees getting sick or sustaining injuries at work can be traced to a variety of causes that we will look at here.
Loss Of Life And Life-Altering Injuries
There are no greater costs to lacking workplace health and safety policies than people losing their lives or their ability to support their livelihoods. The 2021 HSE health and safety at work report says that 144 employees were killed at work, which is higher than the 111 deaths the year prior.
Numerous recent high-profile cases of job fatalities have been recorded. A wind farm security worker died of hypothermia in 2018, as the two firms held liable for the death admitted to breaching health and safety rules by failing to provide a reliable heating source and an adequate communication system in case of emergencies.
The HSE may at first only send a notice of improvement or prohibition to companies found to be in breach of health and safety standards. Greater violations however could lead to fines being imposed on businesses that fail to meet such requirements. Depending on the severity of the situation, a fine has the potential to become a massive financial burden for a business.
The two companies responsible for the death of the wind farm security worker had to pay nearly £900,000 to the employee’s family and British Airways PLC was fined £1.8 million for an employee sustaining serious crush injuries due to a vehicle collision at Heathrow Airport. The HSE investigation based the fine on a commonplace unsafe practice and failings in general transport risk management.
Irreparable Damage To Reputation
On top of the direct, material cost of having an employee get injured or sick at work, a business risks having its reputation irreparably damaged. Workers have the right to raise such issues, and they are likely to speak their voice loudly when the health and safety failings result in grave outcomes.
Social media amplifies the reach of employees spreading the word about the negligence of their employers to a wide network, which could eventually lead to mainstream media attention and greater public scrutiny. Negative sentiment gains traction quickly in this digital age, and it could reflect poorly on business stakeholders and customers who may want to distance themselves from a tainted brand.
Legal Consequences And Imprisonment
The Health and Safety Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 legally obligate businesses to provide comprehensive health and safety policies for their employees. Violators are subject to investigation and a host of penalties depending on the severity of their failure to follow the law.
The HSE will initially issue enforcement notices if they find that a company is breaking the law. It can either be a notice of improvement if the violating establishment poses a risk to people; or a notice of prohibition, whereas the violating establishment poses a serious risk and must cease operations immediately, resuming only when the necessary corrections have been made.
Failure to comply could lead to fines, suspensions, and even imprisonment for the offending parties. The director of a scaffolding company was sentenced to 10 weeks of imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay a £7,000 fine and £45,000 in costs for security maintenance failings that led to a worker’s death.
High Turnover Rates
Employees want to be able to do their work without fearing for their safety and wellness, especially in high-risk industries such as construction, and more recently, healthcare. Without the proper policies to protect employees from health and safety risks, they are likely to be subject to injuries and illnesses. In turn, the employees that have the means are then more likely to look for another job that puts a greater emphasis on their safety. There can be a cascading effect on staff turnover when more people see their colleagues leave for greener pastures.
For employees that stay with an employer that does not give as much value to their health and safety, they are likely to lose productivity. This productivity loss can manifest more directly through employees having to spend more time away from work recovering from an injury or illness. Businesses would have to cover sick pay for these employees, and may even look to contracting temporary workers to fill in the gaps.
A less direct yet still impactful manifestation of lost productivity would be employees losing morale while at work, when they realise that their employer does not prioritise their wellbeing. Ultimately low staff morale can lead to a less incentivised workforce.
Good Safety Practises: A Business Advantage
In contrast to the major downsides of not having health and safety policies, good safety practices benefit businesses in concrete ways:
Clear, Efficient Measures Minimise Damage
There is no foolproof system that prevents work-related injuries or illnesses from ever happening. What policies and procedures can do in case of such events is to provide explicit directions for rapid resolutions of health and safety matters. Staff does not waste time and resources having to come up with a solution as it happens.
Establishes Trust In The Business
Putting in the effort to establish extensive policies and procedures for workplace safety and health builds legitimacy for a business, as it demonstrates respect for legal obligations and commitment to the goal of protecting workers. Employers that are proactive in securing their employees signal to their entire organisation, business partners, and customers that their companies are worth trusting.
Comfortable And Safe Employees Are Happy Employees
A well-documented set of safety and health rules can be clearly communicated to employees, and it enforces fair and consistent implementation when everyone can easily reference recorded policies. Doing so creates a sense of security for staff. As a result, they do not have to worry about their well-being and can focus more on doing well with their jobs.
Safety Is A Competitive Boon
The positive reputation built from strictly implementing workplace health and safety processes can be one more advantage to hold up against competitors in any industry. Whether it is enticing investors, hiring talent, or marketing to consumers, they are all more likely to engage with a company that is known for meeting corporate responsibilities than another that fails to meet the minimum legal standards of health and safety for employees.
Establishing Health and Safety Policies in your Business
Businesses are required by law to put in place health and safety policies for their workplace. Non-compliance not only leads to severe legal ramifications, but also to devastating consequences that adversely affect organisational morale, industry reputation, financial status, and, above all, human lives.
Ensure your company has the rules and processes that adhere to the law, mitigate damage, and benefit your standing with the help of The Health & Safety Dept.