Many employers believe a few modest measures – including tax breaks for therapies and gym membership – would benefit their businesses and encourage them to provide more health-related support for their employees, according to a new survey by a leading occupational safety and health body.
Findings published today (May 10 2012) also reveal that most decision-makers in small or medium-sized businesses (SMEs) think reduced employer liability premiums for good health and safety management and better access to free, high-quality health and safety guidance would benefit their companies.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) commissioned the survey by ComRes (1) to investigate employer needs and attitudes to occupational safety and health in the UK as the economy fights to recover from recession.
The survey found that for SME decision-makers with 50 or more employees:
- Almost two thirds think tax breaks to provide subsidised employee access to public gyms or sports facilities would be of benefit
- At least half feel tax breaks for employee therapy (e.g. physio) for non-work related injury / illness would be beneficial and would encourage them to provide more health support
- More than two-thirds think that more or better access to free high-quality health and safety guidance would be beneficial
Overall, more than a third of SME employers of all sizes support tax breaks for therapy and over two-fifths, for gym membership; with two-fifths also saying tax breaks would encourage them to provide more health support. On the issue of reduced employers’ liability premiums for good health and safety management, three-fifths thought it would benefit their companies.
IOSH commissioned the survey to find out from businesses themselves what they really think would help them and boost the health and safety of their staff in these tough economic times.
The findings support the recommendations of an independent review of sickness absence for Government (2), suggesting tax-breaks for employers who invest in helping retain injured or ill workers to speed their return to work via treatments or vocational rehabilitation. The review also advised that Government continues tax relief for Employee Assistance Programmes. Government has yet to give its response to this important report.
IOSH Chief Executive Rob Strange OBE said: “We think modest Government investment could yield enormous benefits in productivity and less demands on the State. Firms wanting to do the right thing and support their workers should be helped to do so. Good health and safety is good for business and for tax-payers too!”
Generally, health and safety becomes increasingly important the larger the SME and encouragingly, over half of the reported approaches taken by SMEs are classed as positive according to the survey.
One in seven decision-makers in SMEs were able to pinpoint financial gains of more than a thousand pounds from their health and safety interventions. Significant proportions of decision makers think that a focus on health and safety management would result in better productivity (31%), staff retention (26%) and increased business (20%) for their companies.
Seven in ten SME decision-makers think that health and safety management is important to their company, with higher agreement among those in the transportation and restaurants and hospitality sector.
But comments by bosses on their companies’ attitudes to health and safety varied widely within sectors, and across industry. In the automotive industry, comments ranged from “use common sense in all actions” to “lackadaisical”.
In construction, while one decision-maker said health and safety was “first and foremost”, another described their company’s attitude as “blasé”.
In the education sector, responses to the survey ranged from “very strict” to “lacklustre”.
IOSH Head of Policy and Public Affairs Richard Jones said: “The negative comments are very concerning, and we think better guidance, education and training are all vital for improving attitudes.
“However, despite the economic gloom and ‘bad press’, it’s great to see that the majority of approaches are positive. Comments included that health and safety is ‘essential’ and that it helped SMEs to be competitive, as well improving productivity, staff retention and staff morale.”
Currently, only around a half of SME decision-makers say they monitor how much sickness absence costs their company, the effects of any health and safety interventions that the company makes or how much work-related accidents cost their company, according to the survey. Of concern, more than a third hadn’t had business health and safety training, and a further 12% felt that their business training hadn’t given them a good grounding in health and safety.
Mr Jones added: “Awareness needs to improve if we’re to avoid employers ‘missing a trick’ and help more to appreciate that good health and safety is good for business. The IOSH website has lots of free tools and great tips from real-life cases – business to business.” (3)
ComRes surveyed 1,001 decision-makers from SMEs with 1-249 employees online between 6 and 21st March 2012. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.