Health & Safety … surely that’s somebody else’s problem?

Rebecca Santoro,
Health, Safety & Wellbeing Manager

Whether a high-rise residential building or a small commercial unit, Health & Safety needs to formulate the basis of any respectable property management process.

It’s Health & Safety gone mad

Often Health & Safety is seen as an “additional cost” just to conform to an era of Health & Safety gone mad. I’m forever hearing comments along the lines of “back in my day we didn’t have all this, and no one got hurt”.  Is that really true, or does modern communication and media mean that we hear about it more?

There is, in fact, overwhelming evidence that the number of workplace fatalities has significantly reduced since the introduction of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA). Health & Safety Executive figures show this at just 15% of the level 45 years ago.  This means that hundreds of lives are saved each year due to improved safety standards. Is that really that mad, or is the investment worth it?

Ok, so Health & Safety is important, but who manages it? 

Well actually, we all do. Whether we are owners or managing agents, employers or employees, we all have a duty by law to ensure that the properties are not only compliant, but safe and fit for purpose. This duty extends to employees, residents, contractors, the public, and even trespassers.  Therefore, co-operation and co-ordination between all parties is vital.

But there are so many pieces of legislation, how on earth can we know everything? 

Thankfully, you do not need to understand it all.  What you have to know is that you must do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of those using the property, and that you need access to competent advice.

Having access to experienced, qualified and trusted people is extremely important. To me the word, ‘trusted’, is the most important. Sometimes, answers are not so straightforward, and solutions are more complicated.  You need to know that whoever you ask is giving you advice that is not only factually accurate but is best for the organisation and is reasonably practicable.

But Health & Safety is a massive cost, isn’t it?

Safety should not be seen as an additional cost, but as part of the day-to-day running of any property, no different to heating and lighting. Unfortunately, when budgets are tightened, Health & Safety is often one of the elements first affected.

Suitable allocation of finances needs to be made to ensure risk assessments are carried out, compliance inspections are completed, and equipment is safely maintained. These are not just tick-box exercises that can be ignored once complete, but working documents, where actions need to be progressed through to completion.  Actions may be simple fixes or require longer term investment.  However, ignoring them could lead to higher long-term costs.

Allowing equipment and fabric to deteriorate due to lack of investment often leads to catastrophic failings and the need for replacement. This is not only a significant cost, but something that is needed immediately, rather than allocated over time.

More concerningly, when safety and compliance is ignored, incidents happen, and people get hurt. As well as the moral, legal and reputational issues, the financial costs can be alarming. Substantial, unlimited fines, or imprisonment are imposed for breaches of the HSWA. In 2016/2017 Health & Safety Breaches cost the UK economy £15 billion, with some penalties being more than £2 million (to a single organisation surrounding a single incident – although multiple breaches).

No more “buts”

There are many excuses used not to manage Health & Safety, but none are creditable. No comfort will be found by someone who has lost a loved one knowing that you thought that managing Health & Safety was a pointless exercise, and the Courts will not sympathise where it was clear that corners were cut to save a few pennies. There is no question that managing Health & Safety does require money, but not managing it costs a lot more.

1.4 million working people suffering from a work-related illness

2595 mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposure (2016)

144 workers killed at work

555,000 injuries at work according to the Labour Force Survey

71,062 injuries to employees reported under RIDDOR

30.7 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury

£15 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2016/2017)

Source: HSE (Health & Safety Executive)