Health & safety: Empowering sustainability

Anthony Hoey

January 21 2020

As a society, we’re attempting to tackle the concept of meeting today’s business needs without compromising ‘our common future’.

With that in mind, we’re going to discuss how health & safety can empower sustainability and meet the 2030 Paris agreement, without impeding the 21st century’s equivalent of the Roaring Twenties.

The impact of health & safety

Health & safety has overcome the stigma of profit limitation since its foundation (Factories Act 1833) and is now deemed an essential prerequisite for any tender processes. This would have been more reflective of regulatory fines and social image of corporate social responsibility than profit.

The impact of health & safety practices has directly contributed to proactive lean management and profitability through increased productivity, reduced sick leave and reduced negative cost i.e. insurance. This is evident in the U.S. where it’s estimated that $200 billion is directly contributed to occupational illnesses, injuries and fatalities annually. Regardless of these facts, health & safety is still associated with burdensome regulation which obstructs profitability, strategy development and efficiency.

This continuous stigmatisation has essentially restricted health & safety to an afterthought, not a principle practice that assists in the shift towards sustainability.

Stop-start initiatives

Implementing health & safety strategies has proven problematic in many developing projects over the last 20 years. For example, many U.S cities saw initial savings of 90% from the switch to the use of LED bulbs in traffic lights. These savings would be out performed by the failure to incorporate the foreseeable impact of annual snowfall and the fact that LED lights do not produce heat.

This lack of natural heat led to the build-up of snow obstructing the visual signals. This then directly resulted in an increase in road traffic incidents. As a result, these incidents drove up insurance and remedial work costs.

Nevertheless, the above design flaw had simple reversible measures that could be implemented in reactive consultations with all vested parties, in contrast to the ever-increasing design flaws in new construction design. These designs are reflective of society’s immediate need for structures that are aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly. However, these structures are difficult to maintain in the long-term as they impact the health of workers.

Issues in Ireland

There are many examples of these aesthetic designs in Ireland, including stadiums, office blocks and transport systems. These structures often have an open glass vent design which, despite being easy on the eye, can indirectly entrap wildlife within the structure, thus creating a volatile hygienic and slip hazard.

These failings can be further seen in transport infrastructure which can be directly contributable to environmental and safety issues. For example, cobble stones are often used to present a nostalgic visual perspective. However, they can cause slips, trips and falls due to their smooth, uneven surfaces. And as we all know, they can impact both vehicles and pedestrians in certain weather conditions.

Enterprise Risk Management

Businesses and governments have begun to take pro-active measures at the principle design stage to reduce negative and costly remedial works. This shift has resulted in the rise of a more holistic model known as Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). ERM seeks to place all risk departments under one umbrella including safety, environment, human rights, supply chain and cyber-crime.

ERM and other management systems, including ISO 45001, encourage greater ownership and empowerment at all levels of an organisation. That is, to ensure economic viability and that employees thrive in their roles. Doing so could make sustainability an aid to the vision of a common future truly possible.

ERM has had many successes including the United Rentals case study. Through ERM, United Rentals reduced costs and increased efficiency by eliminating the use of spills kits and oil-related incidents by introducing QuickConnect technology.  

QuickConnect technology promotes auto seal and closure for use during the removal and connection procedure. 

System accreditation

Although ERMs are a significant policy development, many businesses are encouraged to seek accreditation for contract and social responsibility purposes. The already mention ISO45001 is one such system.

ISO 45001 encourages the development of a company framework for looking at risk, opportunities and supply lines. Particular focus is placed on the conduct of company subcontracts, regardless of jurisdictional borders. This concept is known as ‘extended workbench’ and in modern business terms it can be the deciding factor in investment or contractual opportunities.

Furthermore, accredited systems and ERMs lead to the development of Total Quality Management. This is by reducing boundaries between departments by encouraging non-sector specific terminology, which is transferable without further training. Through these developments, businesses have developed sustainable and consistent guiding policies, meaning they’re not led by input and the bias of one department. Instead, these policies and principles can be embedded into engineering, systems, processes and your workplace culture.

The rise of the drone

As a direct result of these internal processes and Total Quality Management systems, businesses have begun to develop cost-effective strategies that are innovative and would not have been previously considered due to initial investment cost, without the long-term cost benefits. An example of this is the growing use of drones in all industries that can require an initial purchasing cost.

Drone’s offer long term savings with more accurate results and eliminate high-risk tasks that may have resulted in a fatality. Drones often give a competitive edge against competitors and make you a market leader. They can be used in any work environment including working at heights, septic tanks, sewage systems, skyscraper construction and can offer unique efficient logistic system.


As we’ve shown, it’s important to value the input of all departments equally and to facilitate constructive discussions. Doing so will lead to the integration of economic, social and environmental activity. That, in turn, will lead to a more sustainable and healthy future.

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