SMEs failing on health and safety
Health and safety standards are not being met by more than half of small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK, according to research carried out earlier this year on behalf of workplace safety specialists Seton by YouGov.
Seton commissioned the research as part of its on-going season of safety , a seasonal campaign intended to boost awareness of health and safety, and based on a business study of 525 senior decision makers from small and medium-sized enterprises.
Some of the key findings include:
- 22 per cent of employers that took part think there is no one, or just one individual, at their workplace that has received any type of workplace health and safety training.
- 60 per cent of respondents suggested their organisation could do more to reduce the risk of accidents occurring.
- 32 per cent of firms admitted they were aware of at least one accident in the last 12 months that might have been avoided if the correct guidelines and procedures were followed or the right equipment was used.
Going some way to explain the figures, Seton’s research identified that the biggest restricting factor for health and safety compliance was felt to be time constraints, with 23 per cent giving this as a reason. Somewhat surprisingly, given the economic climate, only 19 percent felt that costs prevent them from doing as well as they might.
Some industries performed better than others, with the transportation and distribution sector coming out among the worst. Seventy three per cent of workers in this field said they feel that their health and safety needs are “not fully met”, with those in medical and health services just behind on 70 per cent. Manufacturing and education fare only a little better, with 66 per cent and 65 per cent of workers respectively, feeling that more could be done.
Seton’s figures are quite telling in light of the latest statistics provided by HSE, which estimate that workplace accidents and illness cost Britain £14.2bn in 2012/13.  As the main barrier to improving conditions appears to be time, it is important to remember that health and safety compliance need not be a ‘big bang’ approach. Both time and money are best spent focusing sensibly and pragmatically on significant risks, those likely to cause actual harm and damage to property, rather than minor issues.
Competence is another vital factor. Regulation 7 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to appoint competent persons to aid them in complying with health and safety. Following the withdrawal of the related Approved Code of Practice L21, HSE now outlines competence requirements in its recently revised publication HSG 65 – managing for health and safety. Within the publication it suggests that the need for competent assistance is tied to the risk profile of the organisation.
In ‘smaller, low-hazard environments’ the owner or other person with knowledge and experience of the business may be suitable to act as competent persons, although they may not be required to have a qualification in health and safety. There are a multitude of free, self-help resources available online, including HSE’s microsite for low-risk business  and IOSH’s risk assessment routefinder . It is relatively straightforward to appoint someone within the business to research and understand health and safety issues and then apply what they find to the business. Again, the key is to focus on the significant risks to the business first and try not to overcomplicate matters.
In more hazardous environments, specialist advisers may be more appropriate. Outsourcing health and safety assistance can be a cost-effective way of aiding compliance but it is important to check the competence of any consultants, including qualifications, experience, training, professional memberships and registrations. Also, make sure that they will give practical assistance with issues rather than just identifying what is wrong.
Finally, health and safety compliance brings tangible cost savings to business. HSE case studies  repeatedly show that proactive compliance saves SMEs time and money. Despite what the tabloid media would have us think, sensible health and safety is not about being the fun police but should instead be a core business process focused both on saving employers money and keeping employees safe.
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