After a fire at London’s residential Grenfell Tower in June 2017 cost more than 70 lives, health and safety in the workplace has been getting the attention it deserves. The incident sparked a fierce public discussion about how tragedies like this can happen and urged many firms and executives to rethink their safety strategy.
Backed up by research from industry experts, such as health and safety consultants Arinite, data on workplace accidents and belated fines is painting a clear picture: letting health and safety slip is not paying off. Average breaches cost companies about £75,000 more on average than the price for compliance.
Since then, it seemed like the importance of a thorough and secure safety plan was slowly starting to sink in, when last year, one of the most shocking cases yet was revealed.
Amey, an infrastructure support service company responsible for maintenance work and repairs in many of the UK’s public sectors, fired two of their employees at Liverpool Prison – for an astounding reason.
The maintenance workers had filed their concerns to the company when Amey changed working practices to require working alone instead of in pairs. The two workers, who had worked at the prison for more than 20 years, felt unsafe working by themselves and tried reverting the new implementations, but were unsuccessful. When they addressed the prison governor with their fears, Amey fired the men for “damaging the company’s reputation”.
Money over safety
The company chose to sack loyal employees with helpful insight into their workplace safety because it saved them money. The new working procedures were implemented to save money and later, the employees were fired for the same reason. At no point did the company seem to care about the wellbeing of their staff.
The two ex-Amey-employees decided to take their case to court and thankfully won their right to return to work, with compensation. However, this kind of treatment is not uncommon and not every case gets set straight.
It’s a question of health and safety, but also of simple common sense. Especially when it comes to manual labour, risks can often not be foreseen until at the work site. Why are decisions that threaten worker’s lives made by CEOs and managers rather than those actually in danger?
The imbalance of power
A successful business thrives from engaged workers and their valuable input on how to improve working procedures. Besides that, extremely high breaching fees and painstaking prosecution fines should encourage a company to ensure they are safeguarded against safety failures.
Especially small businesses may not be able to recover if sued over safety risks and breaches. In the end, the cost of compliance is much lower than the fines they could be facing otherwise. Making sure employees can feel safe and protected is the core of a successful company and will reflect on their work.
Improving the work environment
Every year more than 200 people are killed at work and many more injured, leading to costly delays and restructuring on the employer’s side. Not just for the worker’s safety, accidents need to be avoided at all cost.
The first step is always a thorough risk assessment, carried out by a professional, trust-worthy auditor. This is important as any insufficient safety measure will likely fall back on the responsible person at the company, not the mechanic or plumber who installed it. Also, a faulty audit from an unqualified assessor might lead to more trouble. Therefore, picking capable safety officers and engineers is crucial.
After potential hazards, such as equipment, methods of work, substances and other aspects of work organisation, have been identified, countermeasures need to be implemented and – often forgotten – reviewed and renewed regularly. Putting safety systems, such as first aid kits, signs or fire extinguishers, in place will only be effective if they are working and everyone knows how to use them.
If, after having received safety training, an employee still feels uncertain about safety procedures and how to avoid dangers at work, further instructions are needed. All the precautions and the training will only help when employees understand them and are able to put them into practice.
Working towards a safer future
Therefore, listening to your employees and asking for feedback is essential when creating a safe workspace. The best safety plan in the world won’t be of any use if no one knows about it. If an experienced worker tells you something isn’t working or potentially dangerous in their eyes, be grateful for an opportunity to improve your business – start working together to improve building and workplace safety.
Author: Katharina Busch