A diluted role for health and safety managers?

There is an increasing trend in industry for health and safety officers to take on responsibility for environmental matters. We assess whether the water industry is following suit, and look at the causes and implications.

If you are responsible for health and safety, you may well end up having to take care of the environment as well, at least this is the view of a growing number of people involved in the water industry. This trend to merge health and safety and environmental functions has been noted by health and safety managers, auditors, training bodies and recruitment agencies ­ and many of them feel such convergence is becoming increasingly common. Not everybody believes the change is taking place, and those who do disagree about the causes, but the evidence to support it is compelling.

Engines of Change
Ideas differ about the forces driving the convergence. The BSC sees as a key factor the increasingly high profile of environmental issues, believing companies need to be perceived as having good environmental performance to succeed. This need drives clients to seek environmental education, which in BSC¹s view dovetails very neatly with health and safety training, and it is this which gives rise to the crossover. Sypol’s Shirley Parsons agreed that perception was a major factor. She also cited the increasing amount of legislation covering the two areas as important because it gives health and safety and the environment a higher priority at boardroom level, where the two areas are often seen as related and therefore dealt with together. “Companies want to avoid fines and more importantly be seen as green,” she commented.
In Carillion’s case, the move to bring together health, safety and environmental functions was born of a drive for a more integrated management structure, a trend Robert Hartland believes is general throughout the industry. Several people WWT spoke to also conceded that the savings to be made by employing one person to manage both fields was attractive to many companies, especially during the period of re-structuring which is currently affecting affecting many parts of the water industry.

Strong Alliance
The effect of combining the two is generally viewed as positive. Carillion¹s Robert Hartman said the convergence made sense, enabling him to look at the broader picture and making him better equipped to deal with problems. As a result, he said he felt able to carry out his job more effectively. Another advocate was BSC, which believed the approach would allow businesses to: “Improve their efficiency and effectiveness in these areas.” The company cited the case of a firm which had saved £150,000 per year in insurance costs as a result of a joint health and safety and environmental management programme.
The Health and Safety Executive said it had not received any complaints from people concerned about the trend. Commenting on industry in general, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said it was: “aware of a presumption that these functions can be integrated, but the jury is still out as to whether it is a good thing.”

Separate issues
While some disagree about the phenomenon¹s causes and effects, others don’t believe it is an issue at all. A Water UK spokesperson said a merging of health and safety and environmental management was not taking place within the water companies, with the possible exception of smaller companies trying to improve services. He went on to say that the two “did not sit well together,” with environmental issues concerning end product, while health and safety was a staff management matter.
Similarly, the contractors’ and manufacturers’ organisation British Water felt combining the two areas was: “not something mainstream to our members.” The spokesperson qualified this by saying that health and safety policy was not a major part of the organisation¹s remit, and that although he’d not come across the trend, that did not mean it was not happening.
That health and safety and environmental management are being combined in some areas of the water industry appears to be a matter of fact. The real debate seems to be centred on whether the trend is widespread, and its causes and repercussions. Because both areas are as important as they are sensitive, it is a matter which should invite some serious thought.


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