A survey carried out by theSafety and Health Practitioner websitehas shown that British businesses have reported cuts to their Health and Safety budgets of between 15 – 65%. The authors,Bernie Catterall, Nigel Heaton and Claire Williams, explain that thisis thought to be due to the current difficult economic circumstances in the UK. The fact that Health and Safety budgets do not provide direct profits is thought to be partially to blame, as is a general sense that businesses want to cut down on 'overheads' as much as possible. However, it quickly becomes clear that these justifications are ill-advised.
The move to cut Health and Safety spending, while perhaps understandable when financial pressures are influencing every aspect of business, is misguided and short-sighted. The nature of Health and Safety provision means that it is unlikely that most businesses would see an immediate increase in accidents and injuries as a result of the budget cuts. If there were, this could then lead them to conclude that the budget cut was potentially dangerous. Instead, however, it is more likely that the detrimental effects caused by these cuts will appear over a period of time, as the systems and procedures which are already in place are not updated as necessary, or are not adhered to or adequately managed.
As the authors of the Safety and Health Practitioner article explain,
“Consequently, over-reliance on ‘lagging’ performance measures conceals the problem, and many companies end up making cuts in the mistaken belief that these will not have a major effect on health and safety outcomes“.
Maintaining appropriate and effective Health and Safety systems within any organisation is vital. Avoidable accidents can injure staff, contractors, visitors and members of the public, and research suggests that personal injury claims increase during times of economic hardship. The cost of even one serious personal injury claim resulting from inadequate health and safety provision can be vast, and managers can even be held criminally liable for certain types of incident. In this way, health and safety budget cuts can become a false economy for any business, rather than a cost-effective move.
Cutting health and safety budgets can also contribute to an environment where workers feel under-appreciated. If they believe that their employers do not value their personal safety, the atmosphere can deteriorate. Catterall, Heaton and Williams describe what can happen if cuts are perceived by staff to be 'uncaring':
“Worse still, if commercial delivery becomes the only obvious value held by a company, then workers – especially those concerned about their jobs – will be encouraged to take risks that, previously, they wouldn’t have taken. This is already a major factor in many personal-injury cases”
So while reductions in the funding of Health and Safety departments within businesses may at first appear to be harmless, there is a lot more at stake. From the confidence of employees and contractors to the risk of personal injury claims, as well as obvious risks of injury to anybody in a company's premises, Health and Safety is an essential part of an organisation. Its worth may not be immediately obvious when looking at profit and loss accounts, but this should not devalue the important role it plays.