How to find money for OHS

By Steve Griffiths*
Wednesday, 04 May, 2011

It is naive to think employers are going to spend money on anything that is not justified, including OHS, and practitioners in this field need to learn to present a powerful cost-benefit analysis to management. OHS practitioners who ‘do their homework’ and speak the ‘language of management’ will be able to attract funding for occupational health and safety initiatives.

Anyone involved in procuring funds for an investment by a business knows how difficult it is to secure what they believe is needed to get their job done right; and that challenge applies equally to occupational health and safety practitioners. The good news is that the basic risk assessment tool that is so familiar to occupational health and safety practitioners can provide a very sound foundation for a compelling business case for OHS investment. But it is only the foundation. However, a much more business-oriented, five-step process is needed to build a capital expenditure proposal that will resonate with managers and employers.

Step 1: Get hard data

The process should begin with a thorough risk assessment of the business’s workplace that includes hard data to support your case.

Larger businesses may already have their own injury data, but if that is not available to you, statistics gathered by the regulators and Safe Work Australia can be utilised to your advantage. For instance, the Victorian WorkCover Authority and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland publish industry hotspot information that will help you to identify the likely areas of concern for your business and back that up with data.

Step 2: Analyse the costs and benefits

It is quite normal for senior managers to evaluate expenditure proposals in terms of costs and savings. OHS practitioners must learn to speak that same language.

There is also a new legal imperative that provides a compelling argument for investment in safety. From next year, the national work health and safety laws will require employers to demonstrate that they will ensure the health and safety of their workers and others at their place of business, as far as reasonably practicable. So a cost-benefit analysis is an important part of the decision-making exercise.

You should use risk management principles that take frequency and severity into account to put a value on the risk of not undertaking the project. You should look at it from every angle - work health and safety projects also often generate measurable savings in terms of productivity.

Step 3: Prioritised recommendations

No business can hope to address every risk instantly. A useful approach is the use of the risk matrix to create a recommended program that systematically addresses high-priority risks.

Step 4: Communicate

Don’t simply email your report to management. Occupational health and safety practitioners have a responsibility to educate employers about risk management. You should talk the plan through with senior management and, if necessary, revise your report to match management expectations.

Step 5: Persevere or find another approach

Many OHS initiatives that are rejected initially are ultimately adopted, so perseverance is important. On the other hand, there is often more than one way to address safety hazards and it is also worthwhile reviewing the risk assessment to consider alternative control measures. Employers also need to be aware of the industry standard for managing the hazard and need to keep abreast of new control measures.

Of course, a lot of safety initiatives require little or no capital expenditure. Many injuries result from unsafe behaviour that stems from the attitudes and actions of managers. Workers take their cue from what managers say and do, rather than what is in the policy handbook. Perhaps the most lasting investment any organisation can make is to ensure the behaviour of its managers is consistent with its values.

*Steve Griffiths is the Principal Work Health and Safety Consultant for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland. The Chamber will present a free seminar at the Queensland Safety Show on June 22 that explains where to find grants and other funding for OHS, how to budget and how to be sure of a return on investment.

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