Why a robust health and safety programme is more important than ever


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By Howden

A workforce is only as healthy as the business they work for, right? The first time you read that sentence you may think that means financial health, or robust productivity. But health (and safety) across a business runs much deeper. Yes, on one level it’s entrenched in every brick, every floor panel, and each and every ceiling tile and light. But more than the fixtures and fittings, in order to be fully effective and to achieve longevity, it also must reflect and build upon the culture and values of a business. In summary, a robust health and safety programme is about the very people it’s designed to protect and inform – and if you have one, how this can be better managed and implemented.

So, allow us to cut through the protective red tape and share our top three reasons why every business needs to invest both time and money in a health and safety (H&S) programme.

1.    The moral imperative for health and safety guidelines

Primarily, it is the moral obligation to ensure workers in every corner of your business start and end work in a safe and healthy position. This underpins every law and action (from clearly marked fire exits to the safe use of screen/computer display equipment, confirming that as an employer the welfare of staff is what leads your moral compass. 

This is part of the “duty of care” that’s expected whether it’s employers protecting workers, teaching staff looking after pupils, or medical staff caring for patients. 

In the case of the workplace, there should be no expectation for anyone to endanger their health and safety when completing a task. That means that all hazards and risks should be carefully managed and considered; for example, the right protective clothing, clear instructions on how to carry and safely transport items, and a well-known evacuation plan in place if needed.

Ignoring or overlooking moral responsibility won’t make your business a desirable place to work or advance a career, and if an accident or incidents of occupational ill health or disease are reported in the public interest, then it’s likely to impact business and involve a messy PR recovery strategy.

This moral reasoning also encompasses the ethical benefits. Increasingly, when someone is considering engaging in business with another company, they will research their ethical position and stance on corporate social responsibility. And while putting a ban on unnecessary printing may be interesting to some, a strong and authentic health and safety policy that really protects employees and those in the supply chain is more likely to attract and retain a customer.

This also applies to the attraction and retention of talented, committed employees. While potential hires may not have direct queries regarding health and safety during the recruitment process, if they subsequently find that a lack of process and support directly affects them, it may mean they won’t remain as part of your team.

2.    Improved efficiency, productivity, and economy

While employee welfare is entrenched within that moral obligation, another sound reason for implementing a robust H&S programme is that of increased efficiency and productivity – so there is a clear economic rationale to support it. 

The cost of rolling out a new or improved H&S programme and the subsequent expense of upkeep are indeed a consideration. But when weighing this up against an alternative scenario where an accident or incident occurs and there is no procedure in place, it makes good business sense to have a solid H&S strategy in place.

Let’s dissect that for a minute. Health and safety is more than wearing a hardhat on a building site and a hi-vis on a busy factory floor. For example, in a busy distribution warehouse there are clear floor plans, signage, and alerts to help avoid collisions, trips, and unstable packages. This not only protects those working in the environment but makes the manufacturing process more streamlined, thus more efficient, and possibly aids profitability.

The figures in a government-published Cost to Britain report for 2021/22 indicated the cost to government of occupational injury and illness – including benefit payments (£2.61 billion), tax losses (£1.12 billion), and healthcare costs/NHS treatment (£0.95 billion) –  were estimated to be around £4.6 billion altogether. And a further rather grim statistic calculated that approximately 80 percent of government costs are ringfenced for workers with injuries and illnesses regarded as so serious that they’re unlikely to ever return to the workplace.

3.    The legal case for implementing a health and safety programme

If we’re constructing a black-and-white rationale for investing in either a new or improved H&S programme, then the legal reasons are critical. Compliance with both national and international standards and legislation mean that there should be a compulsory “backbone” to any health and safety framework. Some may argue that this is little more than self-protection from possible prosecution if something goes awry in the workplace – maybe a harmful substance has been found such as asbestos – but following the rules of law is also tied into the first point of that moral duty of care. And without expanding on the legal obligations and benefits of an H&S programme, there’s little point in implementing one at all.

Divided between criminal and civil laws, there is a vast legal maze that underpins every other part of health and safety guidance.   

In the case of criminal law, the government or state reviews and ultimately passes rules of conduct into Acts of Parliament, and several organisations and agencies enforce them, prosecuting those businesses that break laws by committing an offence. Proving an offence in a criminal court must go “beyond reasonable doubt” with solid evidence, and if found guilty, the financial and reputational cost to those being tried may be costly enough to cause a business to close. 

Then there is civil law. The difference being that this tends to be in a civil court with disputes between a business or corporation (defendant, or defender in Scotland) and an individual, or group of individuals (claimant, plaintiff, or pursuer in Scotland). 

If we’re looking at this through the lens of health and safety, the civil court is concerned with liability rather than prosecution. In a nutshell, if a business or defendant is found liable on the balance of probability for a workplace accident for example, then the defender will be required to pay compensation and/or expenses to the claimant.

Implementing a health and safety programme cannot eliminate the possibility of a legal case ensuing, but having every aspect clearly laid out holds the business to account and ensures that there is a “what if…” in place for every conceivable action or circumstance. 

In summary, there is the compulsory element of “covering one’s corporate back” to avoid prosecution or the costly intervention of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) with a health and safety programme. But the sticking plaster approach is not enough in today’s corporate climate. A business requires a bespoke H&S strategy or solution that is not just watertight but can move with circumstances. It’s also advisable to make sure it reads like a helpful, protective, and employee-friendly strategy, rather than a lengthy screed on how to walk up and down the stairs.

We’ll be looking more closely at the specific benefits of a Health and Safety programme in the weeks and months to come. This will include case studies on businesses that have thrived with the help of Howden’s H&S solutions, and examples of how badly things can go wrong when the right policy or solution isn’t implemented. And we’ll also answer a few of the most common questions we get asked on this hot topic!

In the meantime, if you’d like to find out how Howden designs, reviews, and manages Health and Safety Programmes, contact Elliot Clarke at [email protected], or visit here for further information.