Following best practice in occupational health has wider business benefits, evidence from HSE shows.
There’s a simple way of increasing business efficiency that many executives overlook, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Their experts argue that embedding occupational health in the wider business culture enhances efficiency, and can even increase profits.
HSE Inspectors are best known as enforcers of health and safety regulations, protecting lives and livelihoods, but they also influence and educate, working with employers to help them innovate, be productive and grow.
OH Specialist Susan Donnelly points to a small manufacturer, who called “out of the blue” to thank her after seeing a 75% increase in profits. “When I visited there was a problem with occupational asthma. As the business started to grow and production increased, they’d been supplying employees with masks instead of improving ventilation.
“They weren’t happy about my recommendations to spend more money on the problem, but within a year they had won a massive order on the back of their health and safety systems. The new customer said it was rare to find an
SME with such good working practices.” Fellow OH Specialist Jenny Hannay agrees. “Good practice is about much more than health surveillance. A lot of employers think it’s a matter of ticking the boxes and offering a few wellbeing initiatives. They only act when there’s an actual health problem.
“For example, by the time employees complain of the symptoms of vibration damage, they’ve already become less efficient. A more forward-thinking competitor might already have invested in remote or mechanised systems that are not only better for employee health but actually pay for themselves by increasing productivity.”
Heather Cunnington, another HSE OH Specialist, also underlines the importance of integrating occupational health into the fabric of the business. “If health and safety is the responsibility of just one person, when they leave the health and safety culture leaves with them. It should be a board-level commitment.”
However, creating workable health and safety regulations isn’t a one-way street. “We know what good practice looks like,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from industry, where materials, equipment and processes are always changing. It’s important to understand issues on the ground and feed that back into HSE policy and recommendations.”
Influencing people at all levels, from cleaners to chief executives, takes confidence, good communication skills and real insight into the commercial pressures facing business. It’s a rare combination of skills but one that the HSE is currently looking for as they expand their team.
OH Specialists are from a nursing background and are likely to have several years’ industry experience in occupational health. Joining HSE with a Specialist Community Public Health Nurse (SPCHN) qualification forms the basis for further training as a Regulator for HSE.
“It’s hard work but it’s worth it,” Susan, Jenny and Heather all agree. “In an internal OH role you help just a few people at a time, in these roles we help the whole workforce of Great Britain.”