Managing Director, Anntara Management Ltd, Anntara Management

Author Bio ▼

Subash has over 32 years of Operational Risk Management experience (including the following subjects; Health and Safety, Food Safety, Environmental Management, Business Continuity, Fire Safety, Road Safety and Disaster Recovery). Subash left his role as a board director within a large PLC in 2002 to establish a consultancy business, he has worked for organisations large and small all over the world.Subash was the President of the Chartered Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in 2011/12 and a member of the board of trustees 2014/15.Outside of the working world Subash was a Public Member for Network Rail from 2008 to 2011.
July 20, 2021

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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.

Subash LudhraI 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.

Holistic view

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?

See also:

Health and Safety at Work Act (HaSaWA)

The effectiveness of the Health and Safety at Work Act

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Richard Habgood
Richard Habgood
3 years ago

I could not have put these thoughts more succinctly if I tried. If this article initiates debate and a subsequent broadening in the direction of travel we have enjoyed these past 47 years, then good for you Subash.
We all have a responsibility towards each other be it in the workplace, at home, travelling, or pursuing a leisure activity; not least towards each other within our families.
I, too, have spoken widely, and presented papers throughout Europe about this “total approach” and “our responsibilities towards each other”.
This is a good article.

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
3 years ago

Hooray, especially cogent as the digital assistants, computers, were a wonderful innovation however, the transformation has begun in the 4.0 Revolution as the roles reverse and now it is the operators that have become the assistants to digital. Perhaps, that is why in a 2017 HSE RR 600 “Hourglass Economy of Haves and Have-nots” we do not need to include the 30% of our functionally illiterate age diverse population in learning at school nor the disproportionate number of Dyslexics in our prison system. Maybe the UK Government 2018 Accessibility Regulations are just spin and no more effective than the UK… Read more »