From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
Businesses aren't moral entities. They may be staffed by people who do the right thing more often than not, but that's because they reflect the make-up of the general population.
Companies exist to turn a profit and their executive directors in particular are appointed with the primary duty to generate shareholder value.
It's a powerful imperative and it can occasionally push them to act in ways that are not in the best interests of their employees, customers or the rest of society, though corporate statute insists they bear all three in mind. That's why businesses are hedged round in most jurisdictions with regulations that aim to counterbalance the profit motive with sanctions for everything from price fixing and false product claims to dumping noxious materials and skimping on personal protective equipment for their workforces.
It can be hard to persuade even wellmeaning senior executives to dedicate time and money to issues they do not see as contributing positively to the bottom line that is their key performance indicator. And the OSH profession is only beginning systematically to gather evidence that good safety and health management correlates with higher financial returns.
Jennifer Lunt, Mike Webster and Malcolm Staves' article in this issue offers some alternative routes to an executive's heart. (Board engagement is a topic that we'll return to in IOSH Magazine because it's a pinch point for so many practitioners who depend on directors for funding and approval.)
Some of their suggestions that involve appealing to board members' self interest or even vanity may appear to verge on the Machiavellian; in fact they reflect the authors' experience of how strong the other claims on directors' attention and effort can be. IOSH's executive director of policy Shelley Frost notes in her column this month that some organisations are beginning to estimate the value that comes from incorporating worker protection into broader sustainable business models.
Many are not (yet) so enlightened and OSH practitioners in the rest of industry have to gain traction with their seniors where they can.
For those in England and Wales, there may be some comfort in the fact that the traditional compliance argument they have probably relied on has suddenly gained weight.
The galvanising effect of the new sentencing guidelines has been for courts to start handing down six-figure penalties for corporate safety failings at a frequency that once seemed impossible.
If fines continue at this level, directors perception of the increased risk of an unpredictable and uninsurable dent in a year's profits could translate into less need for sophistry on the part of OSH managers in seeking the respect and resources they deserve.
But the consultation and briefing events the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hosted in January and February suggest the debate has moved on at last. Invited audiences around the UK heard about the new strategy, Helping Great Britain work well, and those at the London meeting, opened by Justin Tomlinson, the minister responsible for safety and health, could be forgiven for wondering where all the political animus against regulation had gone.
Other months may be less busy, but the spurs that propel such topics into the public realm guarantee a continued supply.One of these is the interface between technological innovation and the vagaries of human nature; people acquire new devices and find improbable ways to use them. Hence the calls for tighter restrictions on domestic use of drones and, more curious still, laser pointers. (I can’t have been the only one whose belief in the goodness of humanity suffered a knock at the news there were 1,440 reports by pilots in 2014 of people shining lasers into plane cockpits.)
With a possible change in our relationship with Europe in the offing, would leaving the bloc make the UK safety and health landscape look any different and would we remain as influential among the remaining members?Our robust Health and Safety at Work Act has had a profound impact on EU law. The act’s “so far as reasonably practicable” qualifying phrase was included in the 1989 Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work (not without dissent), which became a strong foundation of EU safety and health regulation.
Words: Stephen Marriott What would you do if you had to alert local workers in multiple countries, many of them unable to read even their native languages, to serious safety and health threats on remote sites? If you were imaginative and watched the right TV shows, you might come up with a suite of visual instructions that are as striking as they are functional. The man who did just that is Daan van Wieringen, safety manager at Dutch environmental consultancy Tauw.
Words: Dr Jennifer Lunt, Dr Mike Webster, Malcolm StavesLast month we highlighted some common obstacles that prevent board executives prioritising safety and health, and illustrated them with reference to three high-profile incidents. This time we present potential solutions.
OSH as a discipline and practice has been on a rollercoaster of a journey over the past years – polarisation of opinion in the press fed a public perception which was often less than complimentary. The social, cultural and technological legitimacy of the profession has been undermined at times and the uninformed still see safety and health management as all about compliance.
Safety interventions should be practicable and cost-effective, but too much of an imbalance towards safety does not make economic sense for employers, argues Geoff Vaughan, who suggests ‘gross disproportion’ provides a practical limit.