As a health and safety consultant, when I talk about health and safety as a key component in the sustainability of a business, more often that not I will be asked ‘what has health and safety has got to do with sustainability?’ Well, rather a lot actually – when talking about the long term sustainability of your business, the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees is key.
Changing the Image of Health and Safety
To really appreciate the role of health and safety in sustainability, we need to reframe it. For as long as I can remember health and safety has been viewed (generally) as being burdensome; the focus on keeping the director out of jail and doing what is necessary to tick the boxes and keep the regulators away. Of course, we can’t ignore legal compliance and minimum requirements must be set; but the focus of health and safety should be on looking after your people because you want to – they are your most important asset. If ever I’m lucky enough to walk in to see a new client and hear the words ‘I want to took after my people’ or words to that effect – my heart sings, I know we are on the same page; their priority is the wellbeing of their people and health and safety will be implemented with purpose not resentment.
The world is shifting – we know sustainability is key to the future of the planet. Focusing on the profitability of an organisation above everything else might bring an increase in profits, but failing to look after your people and consider your impact on the environment is unlikely to bring longevity in today’s business climate. Employees quite rightly are beginning to prioritise their wellbeing and the sustainability credentials of employers when scanning the job market. Likewise, consumers and clients are becoming much more savvy, choosing ethically and sustainably produced products.
What makes a Business Sustainable?
The Triple Bottom Line concept identifies 3 components of the business sustainability model.
These 3 components are inextricably linked – to be truly sustainable, a business cannot focus on one to the detriment of the others.
So, back to health and safety. Good health and safety management plays a key role in looking after your people. A well designed and relevant health and safety management system will work for and with your organisation. A health and safety manual should not sit on a shelf gathering dust only to be dragged out when the regulators come to visit – I’ve seen that many times and it achieves nothing.
It's all about the Bigger Picture
Investing in good proportionate health and safety management and creating a culture where employees feel safe, listened to, able to raise concerns and valued will unlock discretionary effort, increase productivity, reduce staff turnover (reducing the associated loss of skills and knowledge and the inevitable recruitment cost), reduce sickness and lost time following incidents. All of this will impact positively on the business in terms of reducing costs, reducing downtime, driving up profits, improving public image and reputation. It will of course also achieve the ‘traditional’ aims of health and safety by reducing the incidence and costs of accidents and increasing legal compliance and increase in profits.
Greater profit allows for better financial reward for employees, investment in the local economy, greater investment in green technology and sustainable practices which again feed employee satisfaction and reputation whilst benefitting the planet. Everyone wins. For me People-Profit-Planet is a cycle of continuous improvement that has no beginning and no end and should be actively and passionately pursued. We should be constantly striving and improving our working conditions for our people and fairly rewarding people for their efforts to create a sustainable standard of living, a sustainable society, ongoing investment in green technology and genuine ethical and sustainable practices and overall, a sustainable planet.