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Why health and safety is a job for HR

25 Sep 2018 By Fiona Cattell

HR professionals involving themselves in health and safety is not only good for our organisations, it also supports personal development, says Fiona Cattell

HR and health and safety might not always seem like the most natural bedfellows, but they have a common denominator: they are all about people. The two functions go hand in hand; making sure that the working environment is not only physically safe but that we’re looking after the wellbeing of our employees throughout their life with the business. Getting it right can mean the workforce is at its most productive – I’m sure most of us are familiar with the effect a poor environment and wellbeing can have on engagement.  

In larger organisations, HR and health and safety are often two distinct functions or teams which work in close collaboration. For example, an initiative to address absence rates could require both a health and safety-led assessment, coupled with HR-led training and support programmes. 

In SMEs, the roles are often combined and you have one person with responsibility for both, particularly in a (typically) lower-risk office environment. There can be a lot to consider, so even if you’re not aspiring to a career in health and safety, having a broad understanding of the topic can make a real difference to the people in your care. 

It’s important to remember that because we’re working with people, nothing is static. Employees may change roles and have different requirements, or someone might develop health issues which we work together to accommodate. We might also have an interview candidate with additional needs coming to the site, so it’s up to HR to ensure the facilities and tools are in place to make sure they have a fair opportunity. 

Harriet Cook, HR manager at The Private Clinic, a Harley Street-based cosmetic surgery provider says: “Like many HR professionals, I started off as a PA and then HR duties just started falling into my lap. As the company grew, I took my CIPD diploma and now I’m mainly responsible for HR. 

“However, as a clinical company, health and safety is also vitally important here, so I took the NEBOSH certificate in occupational health and safety. Although it is not my full-time responsibility, having that level of knowledge around health and safety has been incredibly helpful, particularly from a compliance point of view.”

When HR is well versed in health and safety legislation, it adds another layer of protection to an organisation. “I’ve faced many questions around health and safety as HR manager and I’ve been able to deal with them confidently,” says Harriet. “Health and safety has so much scope and things can go horribly wrong if you don’t get it right.”

She adds: “For me, HR and health and safety are like a Venn diagram, where the two circles clearly overlap. On the health and safety side, there are often misconceptions. As HR manager, I’ve been able to trickle down some of the knowledge I gained in my studies to my colleagues, either through basic training or just during the course of my day-to-day work. This includes concerns around health and wellbeing, as well as safety. They’re all things that are really important in any workplace.”

Of course, one additional benefit for people like Harriet, who are willing to extend their learning and responsibilities beyond their core role, is their own personal development. Health and safety adds another hugely relevant string to the bow of any HR professional, making them more productive and valuable to their employer. That sounds like HR setting a good example to me.

Fiona Cattell is head of HR for NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Health and Safety)

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