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Why health and safety is a matter for the boardroom

At a glance

  • Health and safety is an issue that should be addressed in the boardroom, not merely human resources
  • Brokers need to make their corporate customers aware that a structured approach to health and safety is key
  • Being aware of recent legislative changes are key to understanding the risks corporate customers face

Many companies are vulnerable to risk following recent reform and legislative changes. However many firms are unaware of how exposed to risk they actually are.

It is because of this that Jim Wilkes, Senior Technical underwriter, and Huw Andrews, Head of Casualty Practice, believe health and safety is something that should be addressed at the highest levels.

Q: So what do brokers need to make their corporate clients aware of?

5 ways that boards should address health and safety

  • Ensuring they take a management system approach to health and safety
  • Treat it as they would any other high level issue, such as quality and environmental polices
  • Make sure they take a positive involvement in all health and safety policy instead of having a hands-off approach
  • Engage the main workforce instead of simply telling them what to do
  • And at all times, ensure there is auditing and verification of health and safety policy implementation

Huw: Health and safety has become more of a strategic issue as opposed to being operational hazards. The most interesting aspects of health and safety are being driven by the reform agenda and current political policies. As such, businesses need to have a more structured approach to health and safety management. That is what brokers need to make apparent to their customers – that discipline is the key.

Jim: I would also raise the issues of strict liability, deregulation and the growing cases of corporate manslaughter. Each of these issues needs to be addressed for what they are – strategic boardroom issues.

Q: So what do companies need to do at the top level when it comes to health and safety management?

Jim: When it comes to health and safety, I think corporate management should do five key things (see above box out).

Brokers can get more information in HSG65 (Successful health and safety management), a practical guide for directors, managers, and health and safety professionals who want to improve health and safety in their organisation or the Institute of Director’s (IOD) report of Leadership Actions for Directors and Boardmembers.

The board has to get involved. It is not simply an issue that can be left with ‘Fred in HR’.

Q: Tell us more about these management frameworks…

Jim: Management frameworks can help boards to create the best health and safety policy. It is something that we constantly preach to all companies: to have a management standard approach to health and safety as it will be helpful in dealing with all claims, particularly a corporate manslaughter claim.

Q: And how else will it help brokers’ corporate customers?

Huw: In the past, we have worked with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) on a document outlining what insurers were looking for from a health and safety management point of view.

A key thing noted was that a strong framework for health and safety shows insurers that companies have a rigid and structured approach, and see that they get risk assessments or other forms of assistance from trusted sources.

It’s all about changing the culture within companies. This is the key to getting health and safety right, and it means involving the workforce and consulting with them.

Strict liability, deregulation and the growing cases of corporate manslaughter – each of these issues needs to be addressed for what they are. Strategic boardroom issues.

Jim Wilkes, Senior Technical underwriter

Q: So why is it so important for corporate customers to get these policies right?

Huw: While health and safety has been around for years, it is a current hot topic because of the new reform agenda that’s in place. It is why health and safety is such a hot button issue for brokers and their customers, and being aware of the latest legislative changes is something that brokers can hang their hats on.

Jim: I agree. When most companies talk about risk, they think about physical hazard type risks. Whenever I’ve talked to corporate customers, health and safety is generally twelfth on their list of priorities.

However, at board level, you have to look at overall risk, and how it could potentially affect the company. This includes changes in legal procedures or the civil changes that we are going through at the moment

For brokers, the key is to inform the customer that, while we know there are dozens of other risks that are on their mind, health and safety could cost you in a bad way. If you deal with it now, at least you’re not crying over spilt milk when things go wrong.

Jim Wilkes has spent his working career predominantly in the head office casualty departments of Zurich (and formerly Eagle Star). He has particular interest in strategic business risk issues, including corporate governance and risk management. He currently sits on an ABI working party and often represents Zurich in representational work with government and regulators. He regularly talks at events relevant to risk and insurance.

Huw Andrews heads up the Casualty Practice in Zurich’s Risk Engineering function in the UK. He graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Health and Safety from the University of Aston in Birmingham. He has worked in a diverse range of industrial sectors and is a Chartered Fellow of the Institution of Safety and Health and a Professional Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers.

Image © Getty

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