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The HR and Health and Safety Interplay

Oct 12 2016

I spoke recently at a series of events hosted by Knights Professional Services, the fastest growing professional services firm in the UK.

The main question we sought to answer was, how can HR professionals and health and safety professionals work more effectively in partnership to reduce the risk of harm and suffering to our colleagues?

We generally have the same aims within an organisation, focusing on the protection of our colleagues and the business.  With this in mind, I still find that our people and health and safety objectives are not always aligned.  The Knights event included some of the significant risks posed by not having an embedded health and safety management system and proactive culture.  Some of these we need to be aware of include:

  • New health and safety (including food safety) sentencing guidelines. Even a micro company, as per the guidelines (<£2M turnover) can be exposed to uninsurable fines of up to £450,000.  This will clearly destroy many small companies. Very large firms (£50M+ turnover) can expect top end fines of up to £10 Million. Added to this will be legal costs as well as, if successful, the HSE’s costs.  These fines can be applied based on the potential for harm, even if no one gets hurt.
  • Reputation damage, including loss of key clients.
  • Ongoing pressure on profit and the retention of key staff.
  • Stress, harm and suffering of colleagues and our community.

However, it’s not all bad news.  Installing a robust health and safety management system and a proactive health and safety culture has many business benefits.  These can be harnessed as we work in partnership between HR and health and safety professionals.  The benefits you will experience include:

  • Less absence and attracting and retaining talent.
  • Being an employer of choice and better colleague moral.
  • Increased task efficiency, better workplace organisation and associated increases in profits.
  • Health and safety excellence as a sales tool.
  • Attraction as a well-managed risk to the insurance market.


‘Big H and little s’

Safety has, in the main, taken priority over health for many of us.  In reality the numbers of people becoming ill and dying due to their work, far outweighs those killed from immediate safety risks.  In addition, the largest percentage (circa 80%) of all new reported work related injury/illness cases to the HSE are indeed health related, including stress, anxiety and upper limb disorders (over 400,000 cases per year).

Safety is always going to be important and far too many people are still seriously injured and die at work.  Health and wellbeing does provide a massive opportunity for both HR and health and safety professionals to form effective working partnerships.


Your health and safety strategy

What are the key steps both HR/People teams and health and safety practitioners can take to build an effective health and safety partnership? 

  • Put health on the ‘health and safety’ agenda. Have an active annual plan for measurable improvements year on year.  Avoid the negative health and safety agenda that only asks ‘any accidents since the last meeting?’
  • Know the starting point. Where are you now?  This is where it can be helpful to have an independent audit or internal review.  How do you compare to others in your sector?  Use the HSE Plan-Do-Check-Act model to review your current approach.  http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/hsg65.htm
  • Engage the leadership team and your colleagues. Identify a board level sponsor for health and safety as well as engaging with local management teams and employee sponsors and representatives. Training such as the new IOSH Leading Safely can be invaluable to gain board support and show the organisation that you take health and safety seriously. http://www.iosh.co.uk/Training/IOSH-training-courses/Leading-safely-course.aspx
  • Education, education, education. Using effective communication; present examples of why health, safety and wellbeing matter.  There are excellent examples such as the IOSH No Time to Lose campaign.  http://www.notimetolose.org.uk
  • Are your policies and procedures worth the paper they are written on? Involve your colleagues in reviewing and making policies and procedures, clear, effective and a true reflection of how the work is done.  Ensure that health is equally balanced with safety in your risk assessments, policies and procedures.  Include training in health/wellbeing subjects as well as immediate safety hazards.


If you’d like to know more about how HR and health and safety can work hand in hand, email [email protected] or take a look at the Vita Safety website.

If you want to know more about Knights Professional Services HR and employment law support, take a look at; http://www.knights1759.co.uk/our-services/corporate/employment

For more information about leadership coaching, engagement and effective teams contact; www.10eighty.co.uk