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The Reasons for Managing Health and Safety

Within society there are three overarching reasons to manage health and safety, these being moral, legal and economic.

Moral

As humans, our society is held together by a binding moral code. Part of this, it is widely agreed that we have an innate responsibility to each other to ensure that another does not come to harm or suffer ill effects as a consequence of our actions. This reasoning should be the prime motivator for workplace health and safety. Without such moral codes, we are likely to act for our own personal gain without consideration for others; this goes for employers just as much as it does for the individual, with financial gain being the prime motivator for immoral behaviour.

As a result, the concept of owing a duty of reasonable care is imparted on an employer to his employees and those that might be affected by his/her acts that might foreseeably result in harm. It is reasonable to expect that any person does not expect to risk their life, physical or mental health, as a condition of their employment.

 

The idea to not place unnecessary/unreasonable risk by an employer on an employee is a societal expectation. As societal expectations change, the moral duty of the employer changes along with it. The change is almost always in the direction of improved safety, nevertheless this is not always the case, as public opinion can be swayed by the threat of negative market effects and economic strain.

Legal

Unfortunately, the moral obligation of an employer to ensure the health and safety of an employee (or person affected by their business activities) is often not enough, normally as a result of perceived economic gain, insufficient motivation or poor education. As such, further measures have been required to ensure that organisations adhere to a minimum health and safety standard.

Over the years, the moral obligations of an employer have been enshrined into Health and Safety legislation. The establishment of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and subsequent legal enactments, such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) are examples of these. These are discussed further in the Legal Frameworks Section.

In order to enforce these legal doctrines, both the law courts and enforcement agencies are able to pursue the following measures:

·         Preventative – the issuing of improvement or prohibition notices via inspectors

·         Punitive – delivering sentences and fines for breach of legal duties. These can be put upon a company or individuals within the company.

·         Compensatory – where individuals are able to pursue monetary compensation through civil claims.

Economic

The result of accidents and ill health is not only to the individual effected, but constitutes a significant financial burden on both business and wider society as a whole. For a business, these can be categorised into direct and indirect costs.

Direct costs, are those that result directly from an accident and are measurable/calculable. These might include employee sick pay, repairs to buildings or equipment, fines from criminal courts and/or compensation. Indirect costs, are those that are a as a consequence of the accident, but do not involve the direct payment of monies, these might include loss of staff morale, lost orders, damage to reputation, costs of remedial actions. Indirect costs are often substantial and dwarf those of the direct costs.

 

Some of these costs can be insured against through:

·         Employers’ liability insurance

·         Public Liability Insurance

·         Motor vehicle insurance

 

However, the extent of cover and scale of claims against that cover will often, if not always result in a higher premium. It must be noted, fines from the criminal court cannot be insured against, as the defendant cannot be seen to benefit from the proceeds of a crime.

 

It is often the case that companies are not able to determine the true costs of failings in health and safety, as they do not have the resource, skills or time to perform the analysis. Furthermore, the culture of some companies might be such that they have little interest in health and safety, with the collation of accident statics or even reporting never happening. In this circumstance, the costs of not managing their health and safety will only become apparent through criminal or civil proceedings, which might take considerable periods of time to come to fruition.

 

There is also the cost to society as a whole, with work related accidents and ill health impacting the taxpayer through emergency medical treatment (NHS), long term medical treatment, state funded benefits and even in the event of major accidents, disruption to local commerce through interruption of transportation.

Societal Factors

Society as a whole also determines the direction and perceived importance of Health and Safety. Predominately, the economic climate of a country determines whether health and safety can be made a priority; influencing the amount of investment. For those countries in which food and running water may be an issue, they might not consider workplace Health and Safety to be a priority.

Government policies and initiatives also play a major role in workplace Health and Safety, with legislation often pushing employers to meet more stringent requirements. Linked to government policy is the rate of sickness absence, with government policies giving definitions of ill health and disability. This has resulted in an increase from just over 2% in the 1970s to 10% today of the working age population claiming incapacity benefits.

Immigration policy has also effected Health and Safety, with significant numbers of EU migrant workers introducing risks associated with poor communication and differing cultural perspectives on Health and Safety.

 

In summary, there are many factors that influence the need for Health and Safety management, with the above accounting for a number of major categories. For further information and discussion please visit www.rospa.com or www.hse.gov.uk.