" Health and safety on a budget isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity. " Waterman

There are often agonised groans from people and organisations having to pay to comply with the law. Whether it’s a hard pressed family finding the money to buy next year’s television licence, or to get the old banger through its MOT, or a company paying its business rates and corporation tax. Whilst it is obviously true that these payments are crucial – after all who wants to lose the BBC, have unroadworthy vehicles clogging up our roads and putting everyone at risk, or local authorities and government incapable of paying to collect the rubbish or pay for teachers. So even when we grumble, we end up paying up, we pay for compliance.

Paying for Health and Safety?
Getting the wallet out for health and safety, when it is often portrayed as a set of ridiculous rules enforced by joyless jobsworths that create a terrible burden on business, may seem like an unnecessary expense but not investing can be a false economy. If you think that safety arrangements are expensive, just try a serious accident. The impact can be enormous – sucking up oodles of management time, demoralising staff, reducing production, ruining reputations, increasing insurance costs…. and of course injuring people and damaging assets. There is no upside to this, a serious accident like someone slipping over on a wet, poorly lit floor and damaging their back will typically cost much much more than acting to reduce the risk of this happening in the first place. So the first element of achieving health and safety on a budget is to recognise that it is a prudent investment even if the return is hard to measure.

How to save
There are two fundamental ways of saving money in health and safety. You can make your efforts more efficient, which means working out how to achieve your aims with less resource. You can make your health and safety programme more effective so that what you invest yields a greater benefit. To do both is wise, to periodically review and see if there are any possible improvements is best of all. So, how to get the best out of your efforts, how to target that mythical bigger bang for your buck? It’s a twin-pronged strategy, so let’s begin with efficiency.

Efficient health and safety
It is possible to regard health and safety as a special, separate activity – so the production manager deals with production, the office manager with the running of the administration.… the warehouse manager, the transport manager, the ward sister etc etc. And then behind them, like the man running behind the cavalry with a shovel to collect for his roses, there is the health and safety officer. Getting the job done is left to the doers, and risk assessments, health and safety training and accident investigation is the job of the health and safety expert. But that means that if you have a lot of health and safety to do, you need a large team. Instead, you could weave health and safety into the day-to-day responsibilities of those managers. Even better, instead of solely relying on them, you could develop a workforce engagement strategy designed to involve everyone in looking after themselves and each other, and they’ll do it as part of their normal work. If this seems obvious, it wasn’t so long ago that a major bank employed a health and safety team that tried to do it all for their managers, and integration saved the bank several hundred thousand pounds a year.

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Effective health and safety
What really excites H&S professionals is the prospect of making health and safety efforts more effective, and strangely the techniques include much of the above, especially worker engagement. It is extraordinary how many organisations fail to tap into the knowledge of their own staff to identify hazards, assess risks and decide on workable controls. But over and above that, this is an opportunity to focus on what really matters, to make sure that the risks are real and significant, and that the precautions are effective. The opposite of those stories about children wearing protective goggles to play conkers or the banning of hanging baskets lies in the many ways in which you can be more effective by targeting the stuff that really matters. With an expert review of your accident history, with slimming down and simplifying of those complex rule books, you too can ensure that waste and ineffectiveness is eliminated from your health and safety system.

Don’t start from scratch, but don’t make assumptions
If you want to achieve health and safety on a budget, you need to look at your organisation and how it works with a fresh pair of eyes. That’s why so many reviews include an outsider, a fresh perspective. Of course it doesn’t have to be a consultant, a senior manager from another site of a large organisation may be the right challenger of all that received wisdom, all that “because we’ve always done it this way.” But a willingness to ask open questions, to explore why you’re doing things this way that can improve any process applied to health and safety. Often you need extra confidence from professional support, after all we are talking about both legal compliance and the potential to seriously harm people if we get it wrong. But in hard times, health and safety has to show that it too can make a contribution to business survival. And it is very difficult to be a brilliant organisation at managing health and safety but terrible at everything else. It is unlikely that reducing ill health and injuries, the chance of down-time and equipment damage, would not also have a beneficial effect on every other aspect of business activity. Health and safety on a budget isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity.

By Lawrence Waterman, Head of Health and Safety for the Olympic Delivery Authority. Lawrence is speaking at the Health at Work Summit Click here for more information.