Page 3: The importance of health, safety and environmental management
There are risks associated with every workplace. In some industries, the outcome of a typical incident may be relatively slight, for example an office worker shaken and upset by slipping on a wet floor. In other industries a typical incident can have far more severe consequences, such as a farmer pinned beneath an overturned tractor, a building worker hurt in a fall, or a factory worker caught up in machinery.
Industrial accidents create not only personal grief and distress but also huge financial costs and unwelcome negative publicity for the organisation and industry concerned. They are of great interest and concern to all of the organisation’s stakeholders eg employees, managers, shareholders, local residents and businesses, and suppliers.
In a modern society, people will not allow organisations to ignore the impact of their activities on surrounding communities. Not all of the stakeholders have the same interests. In meeting their health, safety and environmental responsibilities, businesses have to strike a balance between conflicting interests. When a firm puts forward a safety recommendation, its shareholders will want to know the cost of implementing it, whilst employees are more likely to ask how many illnesses, injuries or deaths it is likely to prevent each year.
Before the introduction of health and safety legislation, there was always the possibility that irresponsible or unscrupulous employers might view health and safety issues as a low priority and so set very low standards. When, in the UK, voluntary codes of practice failed to produce acceptable standards across all industries, they were supplemented by laws and regulations set by the UK government and the EU. These set out employers’ duties and responsibilities.
The Health and Safety at Work Act
The Health and Safety at Work Act, passed by Parliament in 1974, sets out the duty of employers to ensure the safety and welfare at work of all employees ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. The Act also imposes obligations on employees to have regard for the health and safety of themselves and others. In the UK, a number of health and safety regulations as well as environmental laws and standards have also been brought in to comply with EU Directives. Today, socially responsible organisations go beyond these standards. They monitor and evaluate their performance and develop approaches to health and safety that reflect best practice across each industry in which they operate.