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Should You Hire an Internal Health and Safety Professional?

It was World Day for Safety and Health at Work this week and the British Safety Council has re-affirmed its position to promote awareness and a greater understanding that good health and safety management is good for business.

According to every year two million people lose their lives through accidents and diseases linked to their work. In addition, there are 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year, incurring US$ 2.8 trillion in costs for lost working time and expenses for treatment, compensation and rehabilitation. In an example closer to home a recent TUC survey suggests that more than two-thirds of UK workers are at risk from potentially dangerous hazardous substances including asbestos.

These are huge figures that demonstrate that if health and safety isn’t adhered to then this can have massive financial implications for any business, but it also requires initial investment to take on a preventative approach. It is understandable why companies, especially SMEs, are often reluctant to invest in H & S as there are so many other financial demands on their operations. But here are some compelling reasons why to consider hiring someone responsible for health and safety internally and what to look out for during the recruitment process.

How much do you invest?
How much you invest in health and safety will depend on the size and complexity of your business and how hazardous the work your employees carry out is likely to be. For example an office based company is unlikely to need as much monitoring as a similar sized engineering firm where there is usage of tools and machinery. In terms of complexity if your operations are particularly complicated or technical then it may not be feasible for a general Health & Safety professional to understand your business sufficiently and someone with an understanding of the industry will be needed. Whether you invest in an external supplier, train someone internally on a part-time basis or take on someone full-time to implement, monitor and communicate your health and safety procedures will depend on these factors.

As well as supplier or salary costs additional costs such as the implementation of changes and communication throughout the business also needs to be a consideration. A budget specifically for implementation, monitoring and promotion of health and safety is recommended.

The positive aspects
When investing in health and safety the focus shouldn’t only be on the negative aspects of what can happen if H & S protocols aren’t in place such as bad PR or litigation costs. There are many positive reasons for making the investment. By showing an interest in the health and safety of your staff it demonstrates that you value them and their contribution to the business which will help towards employer engagement.

Opposed to the negative impact that a severe injury or a fatality can have to the reputation to your business, the positive PR of a healthy and safety accreditation is a draw when it comes to talent acquisition as a company who cares about the wellbeing of its staff is a desirable company to work for. For example Sellafield Ltd, a company in Cumbria responsible for decommissioning, reprocessing and nuclear waste management activities has recently scooped eight national RoSPA Occupational Health and Safety Awards. This will also potentially be a selling point for future customers and suppliers. Finally, there is the financial savings due to a reduction in absences through injury, compensation and potential fines.

“The evidence is clear. It shows that investing in health and safety produces a financial return for employers and helps to improve working conditions for workers ”

Dr Dietmar Elsler, Project Manager at the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)

When hiring
If you make the decision that it is more cost effective/ beneficial to have a full-time, internal health and safety professional then what do you need to consider as part of the recruitment process?

The nature of your business and the amount of training you can supply will very much depend on whether you need someone with industry experience who will understands the complexity of your operations straight away or whether it is feasible for a Health and Safety professional from a different sector to easily make the transition to your organisation. The salary that you can warrant will determine how experienced the candidates you will attract will be.

Communications and people skills are also key especially in a smaller organisation where there may not be support from a marketing/ communications resource to help collect information from the workforce and disseminate the relevant communications throughout the business to ensure buy-in from employees. Having everyone on board is essential in order to ensure health and safety protocol is effective as highlighted in a very good article called Safety at the Sharp End by Felicity Landon. The article focusses on port safety but the principles described can be applied to any business.

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