Sacking your health and safety officer could jeopardise your firm

We ask Dennis Draper at Connaught Compliance for his verdict:"It is unfortunate that the recession often means cut-backs for many small businesses – but it’s vital that you understand the potential pitfalls before cutting any health and safety provision.

"The inaugural Health and Safety at Work Act came into effect in 1974 and, since then, the Corporate Manslaughter Act (April 2008) and the Health and Safety (Offences) Act (January 2009) have increased the level of fines and prison sentences for company bosses and employers who fail to safeguard their employees through health and safety training and provision.  

"Legislation such as this was introduced to make the workplace a safer place. And, so far, it has worked. Figures fell from 651 workplace fatalities in 1974 to 229 in 2007.

"The big rise in fines means that any efforts to reduce spending in the recession by cutting health and safety provision could become a major own goal that ultimately costs more than it saves.

"The Association of Chartered Accountants has identified that workplace accidents cost British businesses approximately £2.5bn in lost trade every year, without factoring in the potential costs from increased fines and prosecutions.

"If you do let go of the person responsible for health and safety at your company, make sure targeted health and safety training such as that endorsed by the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) or Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has been undertaken by key staff within the company who can take over health and safety responsibilities and implement suitable policies – these are even available to buy ready-tailored to your company from  specialists.

"Outsourcing to an external health and safety consultancy is usually cheaper than employing someone full time and so may be a viable option for many SMEs. It will also provide complete peace of mind in these economically uncertain times.

"The important lesson to learn is not to scrimp on health and safety now, as tempting as it might be. It may be the worst business decision you make, both in terms of financial damage and reputation."

Dennis Draper is a senior environmental health consultant at Connaught Compliance.

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