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Matthew Holder
Head of campaigns at the British Safety Council
Matthew Holder

Business Benefits of Health and Safety

Authors: Matthew Holder Head of campaigns at the British Safety Council

27 May 2014

All too often health and safety is categorised as a burden on business. With press stories of over-zealous health and safety officers banning minor risks and politicians portraying organisations drowning in reams of red-tape, health and safety has a reputation for being a drag on how business operates.  

It is in this context that the British Safety Council has today published a review of what the evidence from the last 20 years actually says about the benefits of investing in good health and safety. For those used to hearing only about the burdens of health and safety, ‘The business benefits of health and safety’ makes surprising reading. In fact the review shows the true burden of health and safety is getting it wrong; of poorly managed workplace risks leading to people take time off sick or worse, reduced productivity, increased insurance costs and damaged reputations. Work-related ill-health, particularly mental health and musculoskeletal problems, is particularly costly. In total the costs of failing to manage health and safety risks in Great Britain – taking account of both present and past injury – is an eye-watering £13.8bn, with over £8bn from ill-health. Globally over 2 million people are killed each year, and some estimates place the cost of failure at 4% of global GDP. It is this waste of lives and money that provides the starting point for the review and acts as a reminder of the burden of health and safety that is less publicised.

 

The review doesn’t stop there. Stopping people being hurt or becoming ill, obviously improves people’s lives and saves money. One study demonstrated that nearly two-thirds of workers say that they would work harder for an employer that invested in their health. Others pick up on the intersections of quality of the working environment, well-being and productivity. However, the argument for investing in health and safety would be less powerful if the evidence showed that it took inordinate amounts of investment to lead to small amounts of savings. This is not what the evidence says. Though the evidence needs to be more comprehensive, studies picked up by the review demonstrate that organisations can obtain significant returns from investing in health and safety.

 

For example, one study that shows how a £16,000 investment to tackle backs resulted in £192,000 of savings and benefits due to reduced sickness absence, better productivity and lower insurance premier. Not any investment in health and safety will deliver a positive return on investment, but it is noticeable that the evidence is stronger where the interventions are sensible, proportionate and targeted. This potential for a return on investment in managing work-related risks is the real story of health and safety, not the myths of regulators banning conkers. And it’s a story that should be better known.

Please get in touch with Matthew Holder at matthew.holder@britsafe.org for a copy of the report.