culture and behaviours
Is the Health and Safety at Work Act a problem?
Subash Ludhra, Managing Director at Anntara Management Ltd and former IOSH President, looks at how people’s attitude towards health and safety has potentially impacted the Health and Safety at Work Act.
I have been in the risk management field for over 32 years and have had the privilege to have been able to work all over the world in most industry sectors. I do not claim to be a psychologist or have any professional qualification in this subject and the following is based on my experiences and observations only.
The Health and Safety at Work Act (HaSaWA) was introduced in 1974 and over the years it has been widely accepted to have been a huge success in helping to reduce workplace incidents. In fact, its content has been adopted (directly or in modified form) by many governments around the world. The fact that its content has not substantially changed in over 40 years is a testament to the foresight of its writers.
However, the world of work was very different in the 1970s, as was people’s attitude to health and safety.
Whilst I am a great fan of the Act and its aims, my concerns lie in the fact that, it has, by virtue of its title only required employers to focus on health and safety in the workplace and although employers cannot dictate what employees do outside of work, employers have traditionally done little or nothing to encourage employees to focus on their health and safety outside of the workplace.
People are not like switches; we cannot think health and safety when we are working and then stop thinking about it when we are not working. More importantly, we cannot leave our trained / conditioned out of work unsafe habits / thoughts the moment we start working.
Definition of the workplace
Employers must work harder to get their employees to think about their health and safety not just at work but outside of it too. This has come to the fore more so during COVID-19, where the definition of workplace has become blurred, and workers are working remotely or in isolation.
In a week (168 hours), an employee might:
- work for 40 hours (24%),
- sleep for 49 (29%) hours and
- do other things for 79 hours (47%).
If employees are not consciously thinking about their health and safety for 76% of that time, its unlikely they will think about it for the 24% of the time they are at work.
More importantly, if an employee is injured or becomes ill outside of work, its highly likely that their employer will still pay for their injury or illness through:
- Sick pay
- Medical insurance cover premiums
- Compensation claims (particularly due to mental – ill health)
In addition, greater pressure may be put on the employer, as a result of:
- Employing temporary employees to cover
- Training temporary employees
- Reduced production
- Reduced productivity
- Reduced colleague morale
- Lost business due to knowledge held by the absent employee
Shift of mindset
The health and safety industry places a huge focus on initiatives to improve health and safety in the workplace, but we do little to get workers to shift their mindsets and consider risk 24/7.
The advantages of a change in mindset would not only benefit employers, but there would be a benefit to employees, the NHS and society in general.
I am not suggesting that legislation should be changed to force employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees 24/7 and I do not advocate promoting a nanny state. However, I do believe that we as health and safety professionals have a duty to change employer / employee mindsets in every way that we can, whenever we can.
Existing behavioural safety programmes are attempting to get individuals to change their mindset / learnt behaviour for an alternative safer way of working. But surely, this needs to extend beyond the workplace.
In other articles, I have also raised the concept of parents and educators helping to shape mindsets pre work life.
Risk management is a fundamental life skill that many children have limited exposure to in their cosseted upbringings in modern developed countries. It should not be taught at work just in the context of health and safety.
Is now the time to lobby employers and ministers to take a more holistic view to protecting people’s Health, safety and welfare?
It will take years, but the next generation would be much safer, and is that not our ultimate goal?
Health and Safety at Work Act (HaSaWA)
The effectiveness of the Health and Safety at Work Act
Coronavirus advice for employers
This hub page complies all the latest government coronavirus updates. It includes what you can and cannot do in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, workplace advice from multiple sources, including information on welcoming staff back to the workplace and the latest vaccination information.
It also contains a host of useful external links and resources to find further information.