How Health and Safety Can Affect Your Bottom Line and What to Do About it
We’ve all heard the derisory comments about ‘health and safety gone mad’ and assertions that ‘we didn’t have health and safety in my day’. Tiresome and short-sighted as they are, nevertheless the sentiments they express do still have traction in some sections of the business community.
The perception seems to be that health and safety regulation is an expensive bureaucratic intrusion into the autonomy of private business. A visit from the HSE is as welcome as root canal work. Meeting the prescribed safety requirements is viewed as onerous and expensive, raising business costs for no material gain.
This is a serious misconception. While in industries such as construction the dangers are plain for anyone to see, even in the average office environment, physical hazards can lead to serious consequences. In the life sciences and biotech industries, there may be no risk of falling masonry or runaway diggers but the laboratory, the testing facility and the distribution centre can all be perilous for employees and visitors. The challenge of health and safety is just as pressing for an established life sciences enterprise as it is for a startup or a scaleup.
The Size of the Problem
The latest published figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 142 employees were killed in accidents at work in 2020-2021 while 60 members of the public were killed. However, a staggering 400,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury at work, while 12,000 died from lung disease linked to past exposure to toxic substances at work.
The Health and Safety at Work Act imposes a legal duty on management to take all reasonable and prescribed measures to guard the health, safety and welfare of employees as well as anyone else likely to be affected by their acts or omissions. This is not about ticking off a checklist but making a genuine difference to the well-being of individuals insofar as is humanly possible.
While the consequences for the individuals are profoundly serious, the effect on businesses can also be severe. Fines can be brutal, lawsuits can be ruinously expensive, insurance premiums can rocket, recruitment can become difficult and productivity will inevitably be hampered. Short term cost savings can lead to major long-term losses, while sound health and safety practices not only protect employees but also help to create an environment that fosters economic success.
The Vulnerabilities of Employers
Top of the list of concerns is the potential for prosecution and fines. If you are judged to be deliberately in breach, then as an employer, you can be liable for an unlimited fine and even a prison sentence. Not only is this costly to you and to the company but it can do serious damage to the reputation of the business. That can have far-reaching consequences in the life sciences and biotech industries where the challenge of securing funding from venture capital firms and other investors is never-ending. Given the choice between a life sciences operation with a good safety record and one with a chequered history, venture capital will follow safety.
The victim of a workplace action often has grounds to sue the employer. Depending on the nature and extent of the injury, a compensation award could be calculated on the basis of a lifetime’s loss of earnings. If the employer is found to have been negligent in their duty of care they could also have to pay all the employee’s costs.
We all know how insurance companies work. The more claims you make, the higher your premiums will rise. A robust safety regime will minimise the need to claim, thereby keeping insurance costs down.
Damaged Productivity and Profitability
Every one of your employees has an important job to do. If one or more of your personnel suffers an injury, that immediately depletes your resources and will have a direct detrimental effect on your business performance. Even if you are able to find a temporary replacement, this will entail an extra cost, thereby eroding your profitability.
The effect on the motivation and morale of your employees is harder to measure and can’t be directly quantified in monetary terms but it can be substantial. No one feels positive about being employed in a workplace that has been shown to offer inadequate protections. An accident might be an isolated incident but for those working in that environment, the likelihood of a repetition will always be at the forefront of their minds. This may well result in poor performance.
What Can You Do in your Life Science Business?
Workers in the life sciences sector face a unique set of risks. They are in the business of biological innovation which means constant contact with toxic chemicals, bacteria, carcinogens, pathogens and blood products. They will be using specialist equipment and procedures that involve heat, chemical reactions, fumes and all manner of contaminants. While older firms might have sound procedures in place to prevent accidents in the laboratory, it is quite likely that early stage European biotech companies and new UK based startups and scaleups will need to implement protocols as a matter of urgency.
It is vitally important that you review all the legislation as it applies to the life sciences industry with a view to devising an exhaustive plan for health and safety. HR departments will play a significant role in this, making sure that all induction and onboarding processes place appropriate emphasis on safety.
Ideally you should engage a consultant who can look at your operation with the eyes of an expert outsider. They will be able to help you plan, review your proposals, identify any omissions and give you the benefit of their professional experience. They will work with you to create a fully comprehensive set of policies and procedures that will provide protection for your employees, you, your business and, of course, your bottom line.