New research shows surprising attitudes towards health and safety

Posted: Friday 3rd July 2009

HSE launches new strategy for a common sense approach to risk at work.

Workplace deaths and injuries have fallen over the past thirty years but thousands still die every year as a result of work-related accidents and ill health.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a new strategy, Be Part of the Solution, designed to reduce the number of workplace accidents and take a common sense approach to ensuring that risk management is an enabler for business not a burden.

New research demonstrates that employers and workers alike both recognise overwhelmingly that providing a safe workplace makes sound commercial sense. Nearly 90 per cent of business leaders say that people are their organisation’s most important asset. In addition to preventing accidents, 65 per cent of employees say that good health and safety practices make them feel valued.

The recession could make some workplaces more dangerous, as more than a quarter of business leaders say that that their organisation will face pressure to cut spending on health and safety this year. This is not only potentially dangerous but could also be bad for business; nearly eight in ten business leaders acknowledge that good health and safety standards are beneficial. In part this is because the cost of preventing accidents is almost always less than the costs associated with an accident once it happens.

Almost half of Britain’s workers know someone who has been injured at work, yet the actual rate of deaths and serious injuries is greatly underestimated. On average, employees think that 3,000 people were killed or seriously injured at work last year, but the true number is 137,000 – more than 45 times higher.

Too often health and safety is seen as trivial or the preserve of ‘jobsworths’, rather than preventing tragedy. A third of employees wrongly think that HSE bans wearing flip-flops at work or children playing with conkers. In fact, HSE is focused on real risks and preventing the serious harm that dangerous workplaces can cause.

The most effective way to improve health and safety practices is for senior management to show leadership on the issue. HSE is thus calling on leaders today to sign a pledge to ‘Be Part of the Solution’ and improve health and safety standards.

Judith Hackitt, Chair of HSE said:

"HSE is not, and never will be, ‘the fun police.’ Our new strategy shows the way towards a common sense attitude to health and safety. As regulators, our approach to businesses will be proportionate to the risk they present and their approach to managing it. We are calling on employers and business owners to take the lead themselves in preventing the thousands of deaths every year which are caused by work – it is their moral and legal duty and it is good for the business."

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell said:

"There are too many clichés about the role of ‘health and safety' in our society. But amidst ridiculous myths about banning donkey rides and flip flops, the fact is that too many people are still needlessly killed or injured. The fact that some people go out to work and never return home to their families is a human tragedy. The new HSE strategy recognises that a significant challenge now faces everyone with a stake in health and safety. We need to do everything we can to drive down the toll of death and injury."

Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said:

"At a time when employers are trying to cut costs, getting the message across on the importance of health and safety is more important than ever. Today’s strategy is short on rhetoric, but big in vision. Unions and health and safety representatives are committed to supporting this strategy as well as the day to day work of the HSE."

Sir Steve Bullock, Chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) human resources panel, said:

"Having a healthy and safe place to work is a fundamental right of every employee. But it is not a right that everyone enjoys. We must all work together to improve Britain’s safety record. We must also join together to reject the trivialisation of the health and safety agenda – we must not be distracted by silly or frivolous issues when the larger issue is about protecting workers from serious injury or death.

"As well as being a regulator alongside HSE, local government is also a major employer. We are proud to be part of the drive to make Britain a safer and healthier place to work."

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