How to get employees to ‘buy in’ to Health and Safety

by Gordon on Tuesday 31st July, 2012

This article comes courtesy of our guest writer Sarah Ballantyne, Business teacher at Bexleyheath Academy.

Health and safety is one of those areas of business that everyone knows is important but constantly ignores!  I’m not talking about workers on production lines managing machinery; they are only too aware that safety protocols are there to protect their lives and limbs. The industries where health and safety issues seem to be blurred are the white collar businesses – the public sector and often small start-up enterprises with few employees and even less cash. So how do you get these types of employees to take health and safety seriously? Well, generally the first time health and safety is an issue is when someone gets hurt!  Statistics on work-related accidents are still shocking – just see http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/

If you analyse these statistics you will find that work-related stress is a ‘winner’ for those in managerial professions and the highest rates are in public administration, health and social care and education. Some people may be surprised to learn that stress is classified as a health and safety issue as often the focus in companies is on the safety aspect, as opposed to the health of employees.

  • Accidents at work – In 2010/11 there were 603,000 self-reported injuries at work, 26,000 major injuries reported by employers and 171 fatal injuries. As a percentage of the working population this seems quite a ‘reasonable’ set of figures – until you calculate the number of working days lost and the cost to business and the economy: 26.4 million days was the last estimate.
  • Ill health – The loss of work days and income is far greater when we look at ill health of employees.  This has now become a focus for many businesses. Of the £14 billion cost of lost days due to health and safety issues, 60% of this – £8.4 billion – was due to ill health.

Positive and negative approaches to work-related illness
The negative approach to this increasing number of stress and other ill health-related absence from work is to instigate capability proceedings.  Whilst this is absolutely an option for employers, especially where malingering is suspected, it should be a last resort.  If you have a lot of employees sick at your workplace you should be asking yourself ‘why?’ An audit of your working conditions would be in order at this point.  You may well find that the workplace itself is making its employees ill. Check out your accident book, are there any patterns emerging? Low level slips, trips and falls are the most common accidents at work and are easily avoided. Often, employees don’t want to waste time asking for help when shifting boxes, moving furniture around the office or lugging files into storage.  Tired employees in a rush are more likely to have accidents.

A positive spin on Health and Safety
There are very specific laws on Health and Safety that an employer must be aware of and communicate to their employees. If you are unsure, check out the Health & Safety Executive website http://www.hse.gov.uk/  Enlist the support of your company union.  They have experts in this area and are motivated to protect your employees. Regular training and updates on health and safety are a legal requirement and make good economic sense.  Reduce the number of accidents and you will reduce working days lost.

How you present information on Health and Safety is part of the ‘buy in’ process. It is every employee’s responsibility to follow health and safety guidelines and they can be prosecuted for endangering other employees, but as an employer, you want to present the prevention of accidents as positive not punitive!  Your employees must not be afraid to ask for help if there is anything they are considering doing that is even remotely unsafe. Yes, it may take time to get the right person/equipment but if they hurt themselves it will cost the company time.

If the company can afford it, consider an employee health scheme. The initial investment should be easily recouped by the drop in lost work days and a swifter resolution of employee illness.

Regular audits involving employees
Instead of bringing in outsiders to audit your workplace, it can be effective to  get employees to conduct the audit, but not in their own work area. This could be an annual occurrence with rewards for the best and most detailed audits!

If you want to save your business time and money, it is foolish to ignore health and safety. A company that shows it cares for its employees’ well-being will reap the rewards in less time being taken off and more motivated employees. Consider the economic benefits of health and safety awareness and it will be less of a dusty tome in a cupboard and more of an integral part of business objectives to improve productivity. Smart employers are safe employers!

An example of a whole company commitment to health and safety can be found in The Times 100 Portakabin case study.

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