We often see the phrase "safety is our number one priority", in marketing literature, company posters, in health and safety policies and other documentation. But is it really the number one priority, for any business?
Health and safety is an important priority in any business. To comply with the law, to look after your people, to keep healthy and productive, and to avoid fines and enforcement. It is particularly important in high-risk industries such as construction and manufacturing. But of course, health and safety is an essential aspect of running any business.
If you visit a workplace or site, you can really tell the difference between and site that has health and safety right, and those that are missing the mark.
When the site has health and safety right, not only is the documentation in order, but the whole site runs better. When it is safe to move around, the site is laid out well and work areas are clean and tidy, workers are generally more productive.
When health and safety have gone wrong, chaos tends to follow. If care hasn't been taken to plan and organise the work, everything becomes a mess. Hazards are uncontrolled, and work slows down as a result.
So a business that takes health and safety seriously should be celebrated. It makes good business sense and is vital for growing a successful business.
But is health and safety really the businesses number one priority?
There are several reasons why health and safety is NOT your number one business priority, and shouldn't be.
Because in a business, the number one priority will always be financial. This is not a cynical view, it is how the world works, businesses are run to make a profit (or at least cover costs). If a business doesn't, it is unlikely to last in the long term. If you don't make money, you can deliver a return for your investors, you can't pay your staff, you can't buy goods and materials, and you can't continue to work. And if you're not doing anything, you don't have any need for health and safety at all.
That's not to say health and safety won't support the need to make a profit. Without completing the work you do safely, - delays, fines, shutdowns, labour shortages, investigations etc are all going to hit your finances and your ability to deliver your business service.
Plenty of businesses have good intentions, and making a profit is no bad thing. It can be achieved in harmony with other business priorities, like treating people well, keeping them safe, and serving your customers.
Your top priority is to deliver your business service. Unless you're a health and safety company, that number one priority is not health and safety. Because that's not your business service. If you are a construction company, your number one priority is to build things. If you are a manufacturer, your priority is to make products. If you are an educational establishment, your priority is to teach, etc etc.
Can health and safety help you achieve your top priority? Is health and safety part of business success? Of course! And that's exactly what health and safety should be. Not your number one priority, but a way of supporting your number one priority.
If you're a construction company, and your business service is to build things, doing it safely and keeping your team healthy will allow you to continue doing that.
Because while health and safety can save you money in the long term, it often requires a little upfront investment. Training costs time and money. The latest equipment with top safety features doesn't come cheap. PPE, signs, notices, lighting, protection, they all need to be purchased and replaced.
By the way, there are many ways you can improve health and safety cheap, and even free. Here are 10 free ways to improve construction site safety.
Business success and health and safety go hand-in-hand. Good health and safety management is needed to win new clients, to grow your business and to stay profitable. You also need to stay profitable so you can continue to invest in improving your health and safety measures.
Health and safety should be a top priority in any workplace. Not only to comply with the law but also so the business can thrive. It should be part of every activity and task you do. Just like you check for the quality in what you do. You should check for the safety of what you do too. By producing a good quality product, your business will grow and you can increase profits. By producing that product in a safe and healthy work environment your business will also grow and profit, without the risk of fines, ill-health or loss of life.
However to be effective, health and safety practices must complement other business priorities, and not restrict company growth.
Good health and safety management will ensure that you can achieve your number one priority, running a successful business, without causing harm to those you employ or others. Through minimising hazards, and controlling risks.
A positive health and safety culture will enhance your business, rather than restrict its growth.
Is health and safety your number one priority? Maybe not. Is it a top priority that should be part of every business decision? Absolutely.