When companies are looking to save money, the training budget is often one of the first hit, especially for non-core activities such as health and safety. But this can be disastrous, says William Bell
Times have been tough for companies in the rail industry. Even though the worst of the recession seems to be behind us, most companies will continue to be very cost conscious for the next 12 months.
But what is not so clear is in what areas businesses should make cutbacks. Ironically, the areas that companies are most likely to freeze are the ones that will have the most severe long term impact on business performance. The first is marketing. It’s the first thing cut and the last thing you should cut. Businesses that continue to run smart cost-efficient marketing through a recession have a better chance of emerging the other side with a solid customer base.
And the second thing to be cut is training, especially that which is seen as ‘want to do’ rather than ‘have to do’. The prime example of this is health and safety training.
There can be few people who circle the date of their next safety training session in their diary and jump for joy, unable to contain their excitement – well, OK, I do know a few health and safety professionals who act like this. For the majority of people who do health and safety training , though, it’s because they have to as part of their role. But it is vital. Modern health and safety law is complex and while it is based round common sense principles, there are many formal policies and practices companies should adopt. Recent evidence suggests a trend of companies ignoring health and safety in an attempt to cut costs. In my opinion, this is a dangerous course of action that could lead to company directors ending up in court. Let me explain why.
A recent survey by the legal firm National Accident Helpline found that 62 per cent of employees thought their boss was placing less emphasis on health and safety. Only 38 per cent believed that their employer remained as committed to workplace safety as ever.
This comes less than a year after the introduction of a new law which could see managers and directors jailed if one of their employees is hurt at work. The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 started on 16 January, 2009 and makes employers personally accountable for the safety of their employees. Breaches could see managers or directors jailed, or face lower court (Sheriffs or Magistrates) fines of up to £20,000.
If this survey is to be believed, then companies are putting their managers and directors at risk of jail for the sake of cost savings. That’s not a clever thing to do, even after a recession. The safety of staff must be the number one priority for all companies, no matter how badly they are doing. One accident is all it can take to wipe a business out.
And the odds are sadly high that an accident can easily happen to an unprepared business. Thirty-four million days are lost each year due to a work related injury or accident. The reality is that even in a recession, reducing the focus on health and safety is not a risk that any company in the rail industry can afford to take.
This is the right time for business owners and directors to look at where else they can save money to ride out the recession, without placing employees in any danger through lack of investment in health and safety knowledge.
William Bell is the regional manager of Scotland for the health and safety trainer Pivotal Performance.He has worked in the training industry since 1977.