Recently in London I attended a briefing at which the new Chair of HSE, Martin Temple, spoke on a number of wide ranging issues – one of his key messages surrounded tackling ill health; one of the core areas of the HSE’s ‘Helping Great Britain Work Well’ strategy. The strategy advocates collective action to improve health outcomes for workers. Earlier prevention is clearly the key, as it is more cost effective and leads to better overall results.

The recent HSE statistics for 2015/16 show that 1.3 million people are suffering from a work-related illness; the costs to industry and the public purse run into billions. Where a business is predominantly owned and run by a family it could be vital for the smooth and successful running of the company to address work-related illness head on. Clearly this would lead to increased productivity but also ensure the continuity of the business for generations to come.

Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 already imposes on employers a general duty to ensure the ‘welfare’ of employees - so the ability for the HSE to enforce in this area exists already; what seems to be clear is that it will become an area which businesses need to prioritise from a health and safety point of view going forward.

In order to do that businesses will need to understand where the health risks are within their workforce and gain more of an understanding of the lifestyle of their workers, in order to inform awareness programmes and to effect significant culture change. If you are in a high risk industry (construction/agriculture for example), how many of your employees eat breakfast before starting an early shift? If some do not, how might that affect their overall well-being, but equally importantly their concentration by mid-morning? Whilst it may be difficult to do, addressing a change could be vital.

One of the other areas Martin Temple emphasised is something that the team at Birketts have been propounding for a long time – risk management should be proportionate and targeted to the specific risks of the business. The interface between the business and others does tend to be a problem area; for instance within contractors/sub-contractors, how do you appoint, check competence, manage and monitor? Managing the real risks should not involve reams of paper, but an informed, proportionate and understandable approach. Good health and safety management should be a business enabler; it goes hand-in-hand with good productivity and service delivery. If you feel it is a burden you are probably approaching it in the wrong way.

He fired a warning shot across the bows of what he described as the ‘bad subset’ of consultancy businesses, who he described as providing costly off-theshelf products that had little relevance to the specific businesses’ needs and lacked proportion and did not properly prioritise risk. Those consultants, he said, require (regulatory) action. In this team we do on occasion have to pick up the pieces where a company believes its systems are in place and working, as they have lots of paperwork about what they should do, which they paid substantial money to obtain, but in fact the real risks have not been sufficiently identified or addressed.

Birketts has a team of Safety Specialists who provide practical, straightforward health and safety advice. If you feel your business could benefit from our intervention help please contact one of the team.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding health and safety, please contact Matthew Gowen. Law covered as at November 2016.