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.