With the recent publication of UK Q1 business investment figures, a new literature review by the British Safety Council is a clear reminder that effectively investing to reduce workplace risks can save lives and save money.

The literature review pulls together evidence into how much money can be saved by avoiding damage caused by health and safety failures, and outlines the true cost of accidents, injuries and ill health to the UK economy to be £13.8bn in 2011/2012.

As the economy recovers, there is a danger that new, inexperienced workers will add millions more to that figure, says the Council.

“At a time when the latest GDP figures show the country slowly returning to economic health, we know that making workers ill and injured hurts all of us. What this literature review tells us loud and clear is that getting health and safety right makes good business sense and can save organisations money,” said Alex Botha, chief executive of the British Safety Council.

“Take something like work-related back injuries that still plague too many workers. Changing the way tasks are carried out to protect people’s backs is an opportunity for an employer to improve the operation and efficiency of their business. The literature review captures one study that shows how a £16,000 investment to tackle back injuries resulted in £192,000 of savings and benefits due to reduced sickness absence, better productivity and lower insurance premia.

“The potential for a return on investment in managing work-related risks is the real story of health and safety, not the myths of conkers being banned. And it’s a story that should be better known. ”

The literature review examined research conducted over the last 20 years, mostly from the UK but also from Europe. In total over 50 pieces of evidence were assessed and grouped into costs, benefits and return on investment in occupational safety and health (OSH).

The main findings were:

Evidence from the Health & Safety Executive shows that occupational safety and health failure cost Great Britain £13.8bn in 2011/12, with work-related ill health costing £8.4 billion. The majority of this burden is picked up by individuals through loss of income and rehabilitation costs (£7.09bn, or 57%). Taxpayers also significantly contribute to this bill through increased health and social care costs.

Studies from Great Britain and Europe show that investing in OSH can reduce sickness absence, reduce injury rates, increase productivity and enhance an organisation’s reputation. Research shows that 61% of workers said they would work harder for an employer who invested in their health.

Some studies demonstrate that organisations can obtain a significant return on investment in OSH; with some showing returns 12 times that of investment. A key lesson is that successful interventions are sensible, proportionate and targeted.

The British Safety Council would like to hear from anyone with information or experience of generating benefits from implementing improvements to health and safety in their business. Please contact Matthew Holder at matthew.holder@britsafe.org