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The importance of safety in the workplace

Safety in the workplace is of paramount importance. True or False?

Around 95 per cent of people answer 'True' to this question, but here we explain why the correct answer is 'False'.

If a company made safety of paramount importance, it would soon be out of business. The reason for this is that if something is 'paramount' it is the top priority. But what is the top priority for any company? You have to agree that it is to make profit. On the other hand, the safest factory is an empty one; as soon as you bring in a machine and a person, it becomes inherently unsafe and you have to manage the risk.

A simple example of managing a risk would be a trailing cable in an office environment that is covered by a cable cover/protector to reduce the chance of somebody tripping over it. Although this does not guarantee that tripping will be prevented, it does reduce the risk to what is called an acceptable or tolerable level.

What this means is that we have chosen this control as an alternative to burying the cable and putting a socket in the floor - which would be deemed to be too expensive when balanced against the risk or, in legal terminology, it would not be 'reasonably practicable'.

However, it must be recognised that the best control, which is burying the cable and installing a socket in the floor, would be reasonably practicable to implement at the design stage, because putting a socket in the floor at the design and planning stage would be no more expensive than putting one in the wall.

Notwithstanding the above, companies often state that employees are their most valuable asset and nothing is more important than the employees' health and safety. This is also correct, because nothing should be more important - but that does not make it the 'top priority'. To operate to the best practice, companies should make safety of equal priority to other aspects of the business, such as production, quality and customer satisfaction.

Employers should not put a price on a person's safety. True or False?

As with the previous question, the vast majority of people instinctively answer 'True' to this question, but here we will show why the correct answer is 'False'.

In fact the logic follows on naturally from the argument above. As previously stated, the law requires companies, when managing health and safety, to take into account the balance between the risk and the cost (which is what is meant by the phrase 'as far as reasonably practicable'). So the example of the cable cover/protector is an illustration of how it is perfectly acceptable to 'put a price on a person's safety'.

Unless they have already had formal training in health and safety, most people answer questions such as the two above by relying on opinion, 'common sense' and 'gut feel'. Unfortunately, that is not enough - as can be seen from the explanations given here - which is why formal health and safety training is essential for anybody who has any such responsibilities.

Not only does health and safety training teach people about legislation and regulations, but it also teaches people how to think the 'right' way. Managing health and safety the 'wrong' way not only poses potentially unacceptable or illegal risks to the health and safety of employees, the environment and the plant itself, but it can also cost the company dear. In the example above, an over-zealous health and safety manager could soon run up huge bills if he or she decided it was essential to bury cables and install sockets in the floor.


Pilz Automation Ltd
Pilz House, Little Colliers Field
Corby, Northants, NN18 8TJ
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 1536 460766
E-Mail: sales@pilz.co.uk