Health and Safety: Critical Reasons Why It’s Important in the Workplace

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American politician and activist Ralph Nader once said: “There’s no better policy in society than pursuing the health and safety of its people.”

We believe this quote perfectly addresses the vital importance of health and safety in the workplace.

Prioritising health and safety training is more than simply enrolling employees in extensive courses. It’s a commitment from all within the business to operate in a controlled, considered manner.

At TSW Training, we possess nearly six decades of experience providing professional development opportunities.

In this article, we leverage that knowledge to unpack the importance of health and safety. Additionally, we’ll review current legislation revealing the benefits of safe working practices on team morale, business reputation, and finances.

A group of construction workers working on a construction site.

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) is a core piece of corporate legislation.

The act sets out many roles and responsibilities to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of all personnel on a business’s premises.

Temporary workers, the self-employed, clients, visitors, and the general public are all covered – so far as reasonably practicable.

Additionally, the statutes of HASWA don’t just apply to businesses in the manufacturing or physically demanding sectors. Guidance is offered on topics from handling hazardous chemicals to desk furniture.

In fact, health and safety best practices even stretch to the play environment and child protection.

Moreover, health and safety in the workplace is not restricted to preventing physical injury. The legislation also aids the prevention of work-related stress, depression, and anxiety along with musculoskeletal disorders.

With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into why health and safety in the workplace is so important.

A pair of work boots, gloves and a safety vest on a wooden floor.

Importance of Health and Safety in the Workplace

The most recent study into workplace safety by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed 135 work-related fatal injuries in 2022/23.

While that stat does highlight the worst-case scenario, there are also some less visceral markers of this act’s importance.

Prevention of accidents and injuries

Accident prevention is, of course, the main reason for the HASWA’s existence.

In addition to those work-related death stats, the HSE’s 2022/23 report also found that 561,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury.

Preventing common health and safety issues at work involves regularly reviewing your employee training, safety procedures and working environments. Ensuring you remain up to date with the latest guidance is also imperative.

Promotion of employee well-being

As mentioned earlier, the frameworks of appropriate modern health and safety stretch beyond the physical. Businesses should now have robust systems and training centred around promoting employee well-being.

A recent survey by Mind found that 60% of employees would feel comfortable recommending their workplace to others if the employer took action to support mental health.

Safeguarding your workforce’s mental welfare doesn’t just benefit brand awareness. It can also manifest in team engagement.

Simple line manager techniques like scheduling regular catch-ups or one-to-ones are perfect for keeping track of your team’s morale.

Compliance with legal requirements

Health and safety compliance isn’t just embedded in staff wellness. It’s also a legal requirement.

The Government has been known to hand out stiff financial penalties to firms with insufficient procedures.

For example, a potash mining company in the North East of England was fined £3.6 million in 2022 after two electricians suffered burns at one of their facilities.

In addition to financial costs, these events’ damaging effects on a brand’s reputation should not be underestimated.

Increased productivity and efficiency

The cost of workplace injuries to businesses in 2021-22 was around £20.7 billion.

Whether through loss of time due to staff recovery periods or employee disengagement, there is a direct correlation between incomprehensive safety measures and staff performance.

Before we move on to analysing the role of the legislation, we should review why health and safety is essential.

Implementing robust procedures avoids expensive punitive Governmental action and helps keep your workforce engaged.

A person in overalls holding an orange hard hat.

The Role of Health and Safety Legislation

As we touched on earlier, health and safety legislation is crucial in ensuring the well-being of anyone on your premises.

Moreover, the legislation’s values are designed to keep workforces physically and mentally content.

To outline its purpose in more detail, let’s overview the key points of the HASWA.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Summary

After pouring over the Act for some time, we’ve found that breaking it down into six core business provisions is helpful. To maintain thorough safety and health in the workplace, businesses need to:

  • Deliver a safe place to work.

  • Provide suitable facilities. 

  • Supply staff with appropriate, safe equipment.

  • Ensure suitable training is provided to staff.  
      
  • Carry out risk assessments.

  • Appoint health and safety champions. 

Who is responsible for health and safety?

Now that we know why the Health and Safety Act is important let’s explore who’s responsible for it in the workplace.

Staff might believe that operating in accordance with HASWA is solely the employer’s responsibility.

However, while employers hold an integral role, it should be more of a triangular relationship between the business, employees and regulatory bodies.

We’ve already discussed the roles and responsibilities of the employer. But what about the other two angles of the triangle?

  • Employees: According to RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations), employees have a duty to report incidents. 

  • Regulatory Authorities: Appointed bodies, such as the HSE or local authorities, are responsible for enforcing health and safety laws. The HSE investigates and advises the Government on non-compliance.

Who enforces health and safety laws?

As we’ve mentioned, the HSE is in charge of enforcing, regulating, and encouraging health and safety in the workplace.

However, this over-arching organisation works in tandem with local authorities to oversee legislative compliance. Which regulator your business falls under can depend on factors like your sector, location, skill or hazard.

For example, the HSE and Care Quality Control Commission (CQC) help ensure safety standards in social care.

Elsewhere, organisations like the fire service, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency all oversee adherence in their sectors.

So, what can happen if you let your business’s safety standards slip?

A person in an orange vest and hard hat smiling inside a warehouse.

Potential Consequences of Ignoring Health and Safety

The HASWA can be a complex and lengthy text. However, it’s incredibly important to remain up-to-date with safety certification.

Our IOSH and NEBOSH courses can help you stay on track. But without regular reviews or the appointment of a health and safety champion, you risk susceptibility to several issues.

Let’s go through some of the most common non-compliance issues.

Physical injuries and illnesses

Physical injuries can stem from hazards such as falls, chemical exposure or machinery accidents. But there are longer-lasting effects of health and safety mismanagement, too.

For example, 1.8 million workers suffered from work-related ill-health last year, of which 12,000 contracted lung cancer.

In addition, 473,000 workers had a work-related musculoskeletal disorder in 2022/23 due to a lack of suitable ergonomic strain safety measures.

Financial losses for businesses

As we’ve already outlined, the financial implications for businesses falling out of health and safety compliance can be heavy.

Additionally, a common misconception is that incident costs are recoverable through insurance. All businesses must have  ‘employers’ liability insurance’, which pays damages in the event of an employee injury.

However, the damages fee does not consider every financial implication of the injury. Costs not covered by employer insurance include:

  • Fines.

  • Lost time.

  • Sick pay.

  • Legal costs.

  • Loss of contracts.

  • Production delays.

  • Investigation time.

  • Repairs to plant and equipment.

  • Extra wages, overtime and temporary labour.

Reputational damage

Reputational damage incurred by health and safety violations is more challenging to quantify. But can be extremely harmful to your business’s name.

One supremely potent factor of reputational damage in health and safety cases is the influence of social media.

Videos of hazards or consequences of non-compliance going viral ensure health and safety breaches are more difficult to recover from.

Impact on employee morale and retention

Recent reports suggest that the UK could be in the midst of a disengagement crisis costing businesses around £340 billion a year.

One contributing factor to this feeling of discontentment could be the belief that businesses don’t take appropriate care of their employees.

Additionally, a report by Gallup found evidence that companies with less engaged employees saw 64% more safety incidents.

Now that we know how important it is to have a robust health and safety plan in place. Let’s dive deeper into what should be included therein.

Critical Elements of an Effective Health and Safety Program

Comprehensive health and safety programs cover a number of sections, including:

  • Risk assessments.
  • Employee training.
  • Emergency preparedness.
  • Regular inspections.

Ensure you get your approach right with our helpful (and free) health and safety policy template.

But for now, let’s explore each section of that robust program in more detail. 

A person in an orange vest and wearing gloves.

Risk assessments and hazard identification

Risk assessments help companies review the likelihood of incidents occurring. While simultaneously evaluating the level of risk involved.

Comprehensive risk assessments should cover five core reviews:

  • Who might be harmed and how?
  • What actions are already in place to control risks?
  • What further action is needed to mitigate risks?
  • Who needs to carry out action?
  • Deadlines for action completion.

When completing risk assessments, we’ve found that it helps to use the five hierarchy of control pillars. They are:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering controls
  4. Administrative controls
  5. Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Employee training and education

A quote from the Rhode Island Small Business Recovery Program said: “If the owner or manager does not show an interest in preventing employee injury and illness, then the employees will probably not give it much thought either.”

This keen evaluation perfectly demonstrates that it is quite significant to show your employees that you know the answer to the question: “Why is health and safety at work important?”

As we’ve shown, lapses in worker welfare awareness can damage employee engagement.

Stay up to date with your health and safety training with our open program of courses and qualifications.

Emergency preparedness plans

Chapter 5 of the Civil Contingencies Act Enhancement Program defines that any robust health and safety plan should include an emergency preparedness process.

Put simply, this is a detailed standard operating procedure for how your business will react to many conceivable incidents.

Fit-for-purpose plans should include procedures for determining whether an emergency has occurred, training for key staff, and drills to ensure effectiveness.

Regular inspections and audits

As we alluded to at the end of the previous section, regular exercises and inspections are essential to ensure preparedness. But they’re also vital for keeping your program as up-to-date as possible.

Trained external parties usually conduct these assessments to identify compliance with safety standards.

Two individuals in hard hats standing in front of a laptop.

Benefits of Implementing Health and Safety Measures

We’ve already proven the link between robust health and safety arrangements and employee commitment.

But what are the other benefits of implementing these measures?

Improved employee satisfaction and morale

Employees want to know that businesses have their best interests at heart. But let’s reverse engineer that thought. Including workers in the health and safety program planning can be doubly productive.

Joe Flahiff, author of “Being Agile in a Waterfall World: A Practical Guide for Complex Organizations.” said one approach he has taken to giving employees ownership over welfare within the business is:

“I ask the people who work in the warehouse to start thinking about safety and, on a regular, periodic basis, review and discuss how they might work better.”

He continues: “I encourage people to put a meeting on a calendar, once a month, at least to come together for an hour or 90 minutes to discuss ideas for improvement.”

Lower insurance premiums and legal costs

We previously mentioned the spiralling cost of worker injury and the costs that may not be covered by general employer liability insurance.

Improving your health and safety processes can mitigate your outlay in the long run.

Enhanced productivity and efficiency

Earlier, we stated that injured workers cost UK firms £20.7 billion. Of that number, ill health causes around 63% (£13.1 billion), with injury resulting in about 37% of total costs (£7.7 billion).

While this does not directly correlate to worker efficiency, having happy, energised and engaged workers helps reduce those figures.

Greater reputation and stakeholder trust

Having a keen eye on your business’s health and safety program can result in greater shareholder trust.

While high-profile injury claims or incidents can have damaging effects on your brand reputation, the opposite can be true of keeping your staff happy and healthy.

Two construction workers standing on a concrete floor with a tablet.

Resources for Supporting Health and Safety Initiatives

UK companies must ensure they adhere to the specific safety guidelines of their industry bodies. Equipping employees by sharing best practice information and qualifying them through various health and safety training programs and certifications is a perfect approach.

Let’s round off our review of why the Health and Safety Act is so important by outlining these initiatives and courses.

Industry-specific guidelines and best practices

The HSE is a Government agency tasked with overseeing UK-wide adherence to the HASWA.

Staging regular assessments, the HSE checks that businesses have robust safety plans in place. They also ensure that staff are sufficiently trained.

Training programs and certifications

Health and safety training and qualifications requirements can vary from industry to industry.

However, TSW provides many core courses and programs, such as the IOSH Managing Safely Course and the NEBOSH National General Certificate In Occupational Health And Safety.

Conclusion

The cumulative costs of injured or disengaged workers and damage to your brand’s reputation most potently demonstrate why health and safety is so important. 

Use our helpful policy templates to improve your program and procedures.

Additionally, our collection of health and safety training courses ensures your workers are as clear on the regulations as possible. Two simple strategies for mitigating risk and keeping your workforce engaged.

Picture of Matthew Channell
Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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