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When the NHS sets a poor example in Health and Safety
Posted by David Cant on October 23, 2016

When the NHS sets a poor example

man-walking-a-tight-ropeAs the UK’s official body for health and wellbeing, the NHS could be rightly expected to set the standard when it comes to workplace safety. How the various NHS trusts approach the issue of health and safety at work provides useful guidance for organisations working in the private sector.

Centralising responsibility for health and safety

Historically each NHS trust has been responsible for maintaining their own health and safety assessments and compliance. But as budgets are squeezed, these trusts are looking to make savings wherever possible.

In order to combat the effect of squeezed budgets, and to free up cash for clinical use, trusts have been pooling resources and offloading some administrative and ancillary functions. It comes as little surprise then that central government advice suggests that adjacent trusts combine workplace health and safety functions, making savings by reducing duplicated workloads and headcount.

In an ideal world, this kind of consolidation should not only create cost savings, but also help to raise overall standards, creating a common best-practice framework for each of the unified trusts.

Is this just about cost savings?

Cost savings are essential to organisations in both public and private sector. Rightly or wrongly, they have also become associated with lower standards. Spending allocation typically follows priorities; if you spend less on health and safety functions, does that indicate a reduced emphasis on the health and wellbeing of your employees?

Employers have long been tempted to make savings by skimping on health and safety provisions. And for less scrupulous organisations, this strategic change by the NHS may give them the twisted logic they need to reduce their own provisions.

Cutting health and safety budget excessively is a false economy

There are legitimate savings to be made by offloading and consolidating health and safety provisions. Outsourcing risk assessment creation and enforcement is often much cheaper than maintaining the same functions in house for instance.

But your business has a legal duty to its employees and the public, to protect them. Any reduction in service that increases the risk of accident or injury could land your business in court – and on the receiving end of a significant fine.

It is actually in your interests to keep your workforce safe and well though. Healthy employees are productive employees, helping you meet output targets and protecting project-related margins. Sick or injured employees will cost more than any saving created by underfunding health and safety.

Cut costs, not coverage

As is always the case, headlines only tell half of the story. Yes, the NHS is being advised to cut health and safety spend, but these savings are to be made by changing the way trusts operate their internal operations. They are not being encouraged to reduce provisions in any way that may affect the protections offered to their employees.

Your business can still learn from the example of the NHS – so long as you distinguish between smart cost cutting, and dangerous underspend. Learn more – give us a call.


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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