Health & safety, business cost or commercial opportunity?

There are very few businesses that would put health and safety compliance at the top of the corporate agenda. Yet for any organisation with a significant asset base, failure to consider the financial and business implications of safety procedures is a mistake – a potentially extremely costly mistake.

As the Health & Safety Executive’s Fee for Intervention begins to make its mark, there is growing awareness that minimising reactive maintenance through effective planned, preventative maintenance can drastically reduce accidents – as well as improving uptime and reducing costs.

So how can a business turn health and safety compliance from a grudging tick box exercise to a culture of proactive maintenance that delivers measurable business value? Karen Conneely, Group Commercial Manager, Real Asset Management outlines the value of embedding safety and compliance within the maintenance system.

Fee for Intervention

As the first anniversary of the Health and Safety Executive’s Fee for Intervention (FFI) approaches, a growing number of businesses are discovering first-hand the cost of failing to take a more robust approach to compliance.  Facing a budget reduction of 35%, the HSE had a target of at least £37 million in fines in the first year and after a slow start, feedback from HSE is that the money is beginning to flow.*

Yet while the HSE’s FFI has raised the bar in terms of the cost of investigating non-compliance, the associated fines are still minimal when compared to the longer term business implications. From the bad publicity associated with injuries at work to the business upheaval and disruption associated with both investigation and the introduction of new processes, failure to put procedures in place can be highly damaging.

Of course, asset safety encompasses an extraordinary range of requirements from the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) to the dangers of an employee getting injured opening an unmaintained window or the need for routine Portable Appliance Testing (PAT). Given the wide extent of these demands, it is perhaps little wonder that most organisations have a somewhat tick box approach to health and safety.

Minimising Risk

However, there are significant positives that can be gained, not only from ensuring compliance to a raft of health and safety legislation but actually embedding a ‘safety first’ culture into the entire asset maintenance strategy. Not least the fact that minimising reactive maintenance through effective PPM can drastically reduce accidents – as well as improve uptime and reduce asset maintenance costs. 

According to international giant DuPont, when it comes to maintenance processes, the most likely person to be injured is a maintenance technician with less than two years’ experience doing reactive work. Similarly, Exxon Mobil reported that accidents are five times more likely in maintenance when doing breakdown work than when doing planned and scheduled work; and in 66% of companies more than 60% of injuries occur when doing reactive maintenance according to Idcom.**

Improving Safety

It is clear that prevention is always better than cure. Maintenance managers know that a good proactive, preventative maintenance schedule reduces equipment failure, minimises downtime and optimises asset cost. These figures also underline the importance of good PPM in improving safety and cutting injury. With the right, approach PPM will lower the number of reactive events and hence the risk of accidents. It is also a fundamental component of ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements – such as the routine PATs.

But PPM on its own is not quite enough. Organisations need also to embrace a safety aware attitude within the overall maintenance process. Making safety a business Key Performance Indicator, for example, is a key component in changing culture and attitudes.

And this is important: to be truly effective, compliance requirements and safety awareness need to be embedded within the PPM.  By tracking and publishing maintenance performance on a weekly, monthly and annual basis, organisations raise awareness and reinforce a safe culture. Indeed, those organisations that proactively display ‘number of days since last safety incident’ completely change attitudes both towards ensuring compliance and undertaking every maintenance activity, both planned and reactive, with a safety first approach.

Embedded Model

Entrenching safety within the maintenance system is fundamental to improving performance without adding any administrative overhead. At the most basic level, organisations must ensure that manufacturers’ service requirements for each piece of equipment are recorded and automatically included with the PPM schedule. This guarantees that warranties remain valid as well as minimising the risk of unscheduled downtime.

In addition, any legislative compliance requirements must be recorded and included within the schedule. Any failure in the PPM routine – due to staff absence or emergency – that may affect these required events must be automatically flagged to the maintenance manager for urgent action. With this approach, the company can minimise risk and demonstrate its buy-in to duty of care obligations.

Even day to day activity must be conducted with safety awareness – such as ensuring any work order includes relevant information. This may be nothing more complicated than a list of required safety clothing or equipment, advice on how to clear an area of employees or the public before commencing any activity or include vital information that the location has been flagged as one with asbestos, which could make even the changing of a light switch a hazardous activity.


With poor implementation proven to lead to a significant proportion of equipment failure, a ‘safety aware’ attitude needs to start from the installation of equipment. By embedding safety and compliance within every aspect of the maintenance process, from reactive to planned, from equipment to skills and education, companies achieve far more than avoiding HSE’s FFI.

Changing attitudes and achieving that much vaunted shift from reactive to preventative maintenance is proven to reduce costs and improve uptime. By adding a safety led KPI to the PPM model, organisations can improve overall performance and operator safety.