However, this is similar to the blinkered attitude sometimes taken about maintenance: that it is non-productive. In the same way that poorly maintained machinery will suffer more downtime - and probably have a shorter life - than properly maintained equipment, neglecting health and safety will almost inevitably lead to higher overall costs in the medium to long-term.
In fact there are many ways in which paying attention to health and safety can pay dividends, and the actual cost of implementing some of the suggestions below is negligible (while it is true that spending money on certain items is necessary, greater savings can be made here in the long run).
First of all, however, consider the potential costs that might result from neglecting health and safety. Sooner or later, an accident will occur and then what? There will probably be an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive, which will keep managers and operators away from productive activities, and a Prohibition Notice may be issued that prevents the use of a critical item of equipment, thereby stopping production. Furthermore, the accident may also result in the operator(s) involved being given paid sick leave while they recover (assuming the accident was not too severe), and it might be that morale among co-workers is adversely affected, leading to increased absenteeism. Customers may decide that they would rather source their goods from a more reliable supplier, and a lengthy court case could keep key personnel away from the day-to-day running of the business. Depending on the nature of the accident, a prosecution could lead to imprisonment and/or heavy fines.
If a company decides, for example, to upgrade the safety on its production machinery, it is prudent to ensure that the individuals involved have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and other attributes). Not only will this help to achieve the required level of safety, but it will also avoid equipment being over-specified. For instance, an engineer who is not fully familiar with machinery safety may decide to err on the side of caution and describe a machine as needing a safety-related control system conforming to BS EN 954-1 Category 3, whereas in fact Category 2 would be sufficient. Such over-specification can lead to significant additional costs in terms of engineering time, hardware and wiring.
In companies where machinery safety is well understood and safety-related control systems are properly designed and maintained, there is a good chance that there will be fewer nuisance trips on machinery. Not only will this lead to higher uptime, but it can also benefit quality, as production is able to continue smoothly instead of being interrupted and restarted. Going a step further, companies can benefit from improved diagnostics if they invest in more sophisticated safety related control systems. In other words, if the machine stops due to the safety-related control system being triggered, the operator can identify the cause of the stoppage immediately, so the fault can be rectified and the machine restarted more quickly.
Interestingly, many paper mills that improved their safety measures during the 'Making Paper Safely' campaign a few years ago found that quality unexpectedly rose at the same time. It appears that operators were, for example, reaching into machinery and feeling the paper web with their hands to check the tension, not realising that this was having a small - but significant - impact on the finished quality. By guarding the machinery so that operators could not reach in, quality was benefiting too.
Training staff in health and safety matters, and generally developing a corporate culture where health and safety is given a high priority, can have an added benefit through making staff feel as if the company cares about them. This often results in reduced staff turnover, which can save the company more money and management time in the medium to long term.
Simple low-cost actions, such as keeping the workplace tidy, can also have a benefit on the bottom line through reduced sick leave. Tripping over a hose lying across a walkway might not lead to a major injury, but any time off work is a direct cost to the employer.
Directors and managers, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) might look at the health and safety record in their operations and observe: "It is not perfect but it is probably no worse than anybody else's." But now there is a way for SMEs to benchmark their performance: the Health and Safety Performance Indicator from the HSE. This is a free, anonymous, online tool that will certainly benefit companies who want to know how well they are doing. Nevertheless, the most important aspect of the Indicator is that it should be possible for companies who perform well to negotiate lower insurance premiums, which will be of great interest to companies wanting to save costs and boost profits. And that must surely include every SME in the UK.