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How Health and Safety Can Be at Odds with Other Objectives


Rather than a specific topic in isolation, health and safety has an impact upon pretty much every aspect of a company's operations. There will not (or at least there should not) be a task, function or activity which is undertaken in the workplace without first assessing the possible dangers and taking the appropriate relevant action necessary to reduce the risk down as far as is reasonable practical. This risk can be to the health and safety of people - both direct employees of the company and those visitors or members of the public who happen to be in the vicinity - as well as the risk of damage to the surrounding environment.

As health and safety has a bearing upon every activity, it will unfortunately usually be at odds with other objectives and tasks performed insofar as increasing the time taken to complete something or taking away resources such as money which could have otherwise been spent on developing and improving a different facet of the business. This can make many managers bristle whenever the words health and safety are mentioned.

Companies often struggle to balance the needs of the business (which will nearly always be to produce as much profit as possible if it is a commercial company), and the necessary actions to protect harm coming to people or the environment. The overwhelming urge to make or raise profits will tempt many managers into sacrificing health and safety in order to get tasks completed quicker or reduce spending on costly safety features. To combat this, governments around the world have introduced comprehensive, and sometimes extremely complicated, legislative requirements in order to force company managers and directors to put these protective measures in place and actively take steps to significantly reduce the probability of a person or the environment coming to harm as a result of the business's activities. Being told what to do in their own businesses by the authorities can also make many managers become indignant and even be actively rebellious against these imposed requirements. Not only does this risk the wrath of health and safety inspectors, but more importantly can put the lives of workers and the public at risk.

Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain

Another reason that health and safety can be at such odds with other objectives is that managers sometimes only focus on the short terms consequences of actions rather than looking at the long-term benefits. As far as health and safety is concerned, a positive health and safety culture combined with a well-trained workforce and high level of safety features can not only result in staff having to take far fewer days off through injuries or ill-health caused by their work duties, but are also likely to be far happier and more motivated if they feel safe at work and that management has their interests at heart. This will make them more productive and reduce levels of staff absenteeism from other reasons such as skipping the odd day here and there through a lack of desire to come to work.

Managers need to stop thinking about health and safety as an obstruction which hinders progress or reduces profit levels, but rather see it as something which can benefit employees, who in turn should be more motivated, more productive, less inclined to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere and take fewer days off.

In addition to the financial benefits for the company mentioned in the paragraph above, having a comprehensive health and safety culture, trained workforce and suitable safety precautions will significantly reduce the opportunity and likelihood of employees suing the company if they are made ill or injured at work. Companies who are negligent and have not complied with applicable health and safety law can face heavy fines by regulators even without a person or the environment suffering any harm, but those that have been injured or suffered an illness as a result of failings by the company can also be sued for compensation. All of this means that failing to address health and safety issues and actively prevent harm coming to people and the environment as far as is reasonably practical and in accordance with the law can result in extremely large financial costs which can even put the future of the business at risk, not to mention possible criminal prosecution of managers and directors in severe breaches.

End Note - Not All Managers are Bad!

Whilst the article highlights the potential failings of management to approach the topic of health and safety, it should also be remembered that the majority of company managers do indeed appreciate the importance of what health and safety legislation and best practice is trying to achieve. They not only have a moral reasoning for not wanting their company to cause an injury or illness to a person or harm the environment, but also understand how a safe place of work can have many long-term benefits to the organisation going forward.

Selected Courses

Please see below for a selection of health and safety courses and qualifications which you may be interested in:

NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety is the flagship NEBOSH qualification, and is the first UK vocational qualification to be developed specifically for health and safety professionals.

The NEBOSH National Diploma provides the core health and safety knowledge (transferable across industry, commerce and the public sector) which, combined with understanding and appropriate application, underpins the competent performance of an occupational health and safety practitioner.

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NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH General Certificate is one of the most popular and widely-held health and safety qualifications in the UK. It is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who require an understanding of general health and safety issues.

The NEBOSH General Certificate covers the main legal requirements for health and safety in the UK, along with the identification and control of workplace hazards, and the practical application of this knowledge. The general content of the NEBOSH General Certificate syllabus means it is suitable and relevant for those working in virtually any industry, and is often used as a solid foundation for those going on to further study and specialising in a particular area such as construction site health and safety or fire safety.

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IOSH Managing Safely Course

The IOSH Managing Safely course is designed for managers and supervisors of organisations in virtually all industry sectors, in order to give them all they need to know to effectively manage health and safety in the workplace.

Recently updated, the new high impact programme covers key health and safety issues, and includes references to international case studies.

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CITB Site Management SMSTS Course

The Site Management Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS) is one of the most popular health and safety training courses, and is intended for construction site managers, project managers and senior supervisors, as well as proprietors of smaller companies.

Client-based personnel would also benefit from attending the SMSTS course.

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CITB Health and Safety Awareness Course

This course is for those who have entered, or are about to enter, the construction and civil engineering industry as a member of the workforce to help them understand the potential hazards that they face at work on site. It aims to provide a practical summary of health and safety, welfare and environmental health and safety issues.

The course also allows delegates to identify their individual responsibilities for looking after themselves and others, what the employer's duties are and what should be done if they think anyone's health and safety is being put at risk.

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