David Towlson looks at the business benefits of a positive health and safety culture, its impact on the bottom line and why people are starting to look at an organisation’s moral compass before working with, or buying from it

Historically, health and safety has frequently been seen as something that gets in the way of efficiency in business. However, in reality, consistent research across all types of industry reveals that when impact on lost time is examined, it is often the safest companies in the world that are also the most efficient, well-managed and most profitable. Health and safety training in particular, at all levels, doesn’t simply develop understanding of risk analysis, but can also promote the idea of balancing health and safety risks against operational cost.

Costs associated with injury and ill-health are widespread and can include process downtime, lost production, worker absence, loss of reputation and management time and resources for investigation. Compliance, in effect, becomes the starting point for managing these costs.

Legal compliance
Nasir Aryani holds both the NEBOSH International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety and the NEBOSH Environmental Diploma and is Project HSE Manager on one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest current infrastructure programmes – the development of a 176km metro system which will service the country’s capital of Riyadh. Around 75,000 employees are working on the project, with Nasir taking on health, safety and environmental management responsibility for the construction of four new underground stations.

Saudi Arabia has recently strengthened its legislation around safety and environmental issues and compliance is important, as well as ensuring work is not interrupted through any serious incidents. Nasir commented: “Legal compliance is necessary to avoid business disruption. The consequences of a failure could be a significant fine, civil action or even being barred from operations, depending on the severity. Following serious incidents, projects have been brought to a halt by the investigating local authority and the company has had to pay compensation affected personnel.”

Nasir also talks about the positive business benefits of improving health and safety: “In a safe environment employees perform their roles without any hesitation, increasing self-confidence and ultimately leading to better productivity. With fewer incidents the organisation gains more productive working hours, which of course leads to healthier profit. In the longer term, an organisation can build a good reputation with clients, winning more projects in the future and retaining its more skilled and experienced employees.”

Strong evidence
In the UK, strong evidence has emerged to support the kind of messages that Nasir delivers. The Tideway infrastructure project is upgrading London’s sewerage system to cope with the modern-day demands of the city. It is constructing a new 25km interception, storage and transfer tunnel running up to 65 metres below the river Thames.

Steve Hails, Director of Health, Safety and Well-being at Tideway explained the thinking behind an innovative induction programme designed to embed a positive safety culture across the entire operation: “We wanted to be transformational in our health and safety approach, so we developed a fully-immersive and inclusive induction,” he said. “There is an acted-out scenario that escalates into a very serious incident, which everyone on the induction witnesses. It’s very cinematic and impactful. Participants engage with the characters on a personal level and we usually see a strong emotional response at this stage because of the way we approach it – for almost everyone who attends the scenario becomes very real.”

The result is an induction process that not only grabs the attention of everyone involved in the Tideway project, but that genuinely leads to a strong desire among the workforce to keep themselves and their colleagues safe from harm. Steve added: “Through a range of KPIs and some historical analysis we have been able to benchmark ourselves against previous major infrastructure projects and we’ve found our performance, on Lost Time Injuries for example, has been significantly better, which of course has a positive impact on the bottom line.”

Triple bottom line
Of course, there is more to the bottom line than purely financial outcomes. The emergence of what is known as the triple bottom line, an accounting framework which commits organisations to focus as much on ‘people’ and ‘planet’ as they do on ‘profits’ sits well with health and safety.

It implies that organisations should reset their moral compass, so profits are not put before people for example. It is an approach that Paul Hendry, Vice President of Health, Safety and Environment at Jacobs is a strong advocate of. Jacobs is a global organisation providing scientific, technical, professional and construction services, as well as programme-management for 9the commercial, government and infrastructure sectors.

Paul has a passion for tackling mental health issues at work. In 2018, Jacobs received a Gold Award in the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index, recognising its efforts in embedding mental health into policies and practices and demonstrating long-term commitment to the mental wellness of employees.

Tackling mental health is part of the strategic plan at Jacobs, a significant aspect of which is to measure the level of health and safety activity in the organisation, from the 1300 positive mental health champions there are to the number of NEBOSH qualified personnel employed and everything in between. “We believe if you measure those good behaviours and encourage an increase in those good behaviours then naturally you will drive down your incident rate. As a forward-thinking organisation, that, more than anything, is where our focus needs to be.”

There is growing recognition that positive health and safety culture leads to efficiency improvements, wins business, grows profit and retains talent, while at the same time achieving what is was designed to do in the first place – save lives and protect people from harm.

David Towlson is Head of Qualifications and Assessment for NEBOSH, a leading global provider of health, safety and environmental qualifications. Its internationally recognised qualifications help to raise the competence of safety and environmental professionals as well as individuals at all levels in the workplace.

Since its inception in 1979 more than half a million people from around the world have studied for a NEBOSH qualification. Tens of thousands join this number every year studying with its network of 600 course providers in over 132 countries.
For more information, please see www.nebosh.org.uk/qualifications