The business benefits of health and safety: a literature review

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A new report by the British Safety Council shows the real burden on business from health and safety is not keeping people safe and well. Great Britain wastes over £13bn a year from failing to manage workplace risks when it could be investing profitably in the future of its workforce.

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 would seem to be a drag on the business growth agenda.

It is in this context that the British Safety Council has published The business benefits of health and safety: a literature review, a report on what the evidence actually says about the costs and benefits of investing in good health and safety. For those used to hearing only about the burdens of health and safety the results of the review are surprising. In fact the true burden of health and safety is getting it wrong: poorly managed risks leading to people take time off sick or worse, reduced productivity, increased insurance costs and damaged reputations.

In total the costs of failing to manage health and safety risks in Great Britain – taking account of both present and past injury and ill health – is an eye-watering £13.8bn. It is this waste of money and lives 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 end there. Stopping people being hurt or getting ill, or worse, is one thing, which obviously saves money and improves people’s lives. 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. The evidence says the opposite.

Some case studies picked up by the review demonstrate that organisations can obtain significant returns on investing in health and safety. For example, one of the studies shows how a £16,000 investment to tackle bad backs resulted in £192,000 of savings and benefits due to reduced sickness absence, better productivity and lower insurance premia. Not just any investment in health and safety will deliver a positive return, but it is noticeable that the evidence of the return on investment 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.

The review does offer some thoughts on what we should do next. Given the difficulty of finding data to produce evidence, it is important for businesses to keep records on health and safety and keep a separate budget for investing in health and safety. This will help business planning and will develop evidence to support the business case.

There is also a need for an extensive set of business benefit case studies from smaller organisations and from a wide number of sectors. Currently the pool of case studies demonstrating business benefits is too narrow. Finally, making the business case for health and safety does not negate the need for a well-resourced regulator such as the Health and Safety Executive. Many of the interventions that have benefited businesses have originated from advice given by HSE inspectors.

The report available for members of the British Safety Council at: www.britsafe.org/policy-and-opinion/research


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