Illness at work hurts employees and economy
Injuries and accidents at work cost the UK economy between £14.5 billion and £18 billion a year, according to a report from the Health and Safety Executive released on October 25. Direct costs to employers total around £5.3 billion and have been falling since 1990 – Britain now has the one of the lowest rates for workplace injury in the developed world. But total costs to society from to work-related illness has risen substantially, more than doubling (up 122%) from 1990 to 1996. The HSE estimates that as many as 1.3 million employees suffer work-related illness, of whom about a third take time off because of stress, defined as depression or anxiety.
On November 22, the HSE announced a new policy of naming and shaming companies that flout health and safety law. From next year the HSE will publish an annual report naming companies and individuals convicted in the previous 12 months. Contact HSE Information Centre 0541 545 500 (http://www.hse.gov.uk) or, for copies of the report, HSE Books on 01787 881 165
Higher fines, fewer accidents?
Despite the huge cost of injuries and accidents, employers pay far too low a price for committing health and safety crimes, according to a joint report from the British Safety Council and the TUC . Fine Times: Penalties for breaking health and safety law , published on November 26, wants higher fines to be imposed by the courts on bosses who are paying scant regard to workforce safety. The average fine for a breach of health and safety law in 1998/99 was only £5,038. Contact Fiona Harcombe, BSC, on 0181 600 5569 or Owen Tudor, TUC, on 0171 467 1325 (http://www.tuc.org.uk)
Small firms disregard safety issues
Many SMEs are blatantly disregarding health and safety issues in the workplace, according to a report issued by business advisors, Grant Thornton, on October 20. Some owner-managers fail to address the issue at all, while others put it low down their list of priorities. The report recommends that employers should carry out a health and safety audit, with a written health and safety policy, induction courses for new employees and regular updates and training for staff. Contact Sam Doffman, Grant Thornton, on 0171 728 2757 (http://www.grant-thornton.co.uk)
Recognition for companies which combat HIV/AIDS
The Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS held its annual meeting on November 30, and named five companies as winners of its Awards for Business Excellence. American International Assurance in Thailand was cited for its innovative ‘credited premium value’ scheme – a discounted premium for corporate customers who provide HIV/AIDS education for staff. Other winners were ALMS of the Czech Republic for its website targeted at Czech-speaking teens; Anglo Coal of South Africa for HIV prevention campaigns in its local communities; Larsen & Toubro of India for de-stigmatising HIV status in its workplaces; and Volkswagen do Brasil for establishing a medical care and counselling programme for workers. Two new corporate members have just joined the Council: Standard Chartered Bank of the UK and Eskom of South Africa. Contact Tim Thomas, interSCIENCE, on 0171 331 0331
Company support for keeping kids safe
Walt Disney Television International is to issue free comics, posters and stickers featuring Disney cartoon favourites to remind children of the simple things they can do to become safer cyclists. The company aims to provide material for a million children as part of the government’s Cycle Smart campaign.
Meanwhile, on November 24, sponsors Superdrug (part of Kingfisher) and Huggies (a Kimberly-Clark brand) launched the first in a series of child safety magazines. The One Step Ahead series offers practical advice on accident prevention to help parents reduce risks to young children, so reducing the current 1,500 pre-school children who attend casualty everyday. Contact Natasha Rice, Disney, on 0171 878 3000 or Superdrug on 0181 684 7000
Bet you didn’t know October 25-31 was European Health & Safety Week! Hardly surprising, as H&S is not often seen as a mainstream topic for community and social responsibility managers. But think about this. In their business operations, most large companies have invested massively in safety systems for blue collar workers (though SMEs are still a problem) and the incidence of injuries and fatalities has dropped. Some companies have also used their CCI programmes to address safety issues in the wider community – like the safe cycling campaigns for children we report above or road safety initiatives by oil companies. Some even target their consumers – like the safe use of gas and electricity or responsible drinking of alcohol.
HIV/AIDS apart, few are yet addressing health and safety issues in wider society which directly impact the business, mainly affect white collar workers and largely account for the escalating costs about which the HSE is warning. Time off due to stress is the big factor here: long hours and job insecurity caused by global competition, plus tensions at home from family breakdown, caring for dependents, high costs of housing and so forth, all combine to pile on the pressure.
Here is a social issue where prudent investment in CCI programmes plus changes in corporate personnel policies could yield long-term savings. Even a small fraction of £18,000,000,000 is more than the combined total of Britain’s corporate contribution budgets. The challenge is to identify the costs and focus action where it will bring results.
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 49 – December, 1999