Business and Health: why we should reach beyond our legal obligations

An HR manager I was trying to encourage to be more proactive (without using the argument of the legal obligation) rather than just being responsive with regard to occupational health told me: “It must be said that health is like a spanking machine. When it’s taken care of properly, nothing happens, so nobody says thank you. But when an undesirable event occurs, as it always does, you’re the one to blame whatever you do. So, at least with legal obligations, we shouldn’t ask ourselves or pose too many metaphysical questions.”

The matter of decision-makers’ satisfaction criteria

Since Michel Crozier’s seminal work on the sociology of organisations, we know that whenever decision-makers hold out, they’re generally neither stupid nor villains. They hold out because what they’re being offered doesn’t comply with their satisfaction criteria. We should therefore ask ourselves what the above criteria are and develop an argument to refute them.

Ten reasons for action

  1. Companies now have a legal obligation to contribute to improving the health of the internal and external stakeholders and the wide community
  2. Humanist values, in other words, concern for preserving human capital within the context of an ageing population, promoting dignity, solidarity and equality between women and men and so on.
  3. The consequences of work-related accidents and occupational illnesses of a human, financial, managerial and legal nature.
  4. The need to reinforce internal trust, dialogue and social cohesion.
  5. Psycho-social risks, including stress and other cross-cutting hazards that don’t constitute the prerogative of specific professions and which disrupt day-to-day production.
  6. The need for leadership, particularly setting an example, a guarantee of engagement and commitment.
  7. The return on the investment in prevention and its relationship with performance, documented in numerous studies.
  8. Business credibility: if you want to benefit your customers, you have to benefit your employees. Some people call this the “symmetry of intentions”.
  9. The avoidance of crises whose management is always more costly than their prevention.
  10. International competition, the promotion of image and reputation and an increase in attractiveness, leading companies to have their health and environmental management system certified as proposed by the ISO 45001 standard.

Meaning and operational issues

Faced with fields that are little known and therefore unclear and perceived as threatening, decision-makers are necessarily cautious. In my experience, of the ten reasons listed above, there is always at least one with which we can capture their attention. It’s essential, it helps to define the meaning that’s important to them, but it isn’t enough. When this initial stage, that of the meaning, is completed, a set of operational matters have to be addressed: do I have the skills to do it? Are there any specific methods for a health-related project? How can we prioritise the problems? How can we talk about health without overly concerning people?

We’ll discuss all these points below, but let’s bear two points in mind. The first is a truism: how can there be a healthy company without healthy employees? And the second, in response to the HR manager who doesn’t want to ask himself metaphysical questions (about which he’s entirely right): if we have to act, shouldn’t we do so in a way that maximises results?

If you have any questions to William Dab and the Red-on-line team, please leave them in the comments section, or you can get in touch with us on social media via LinkedIn and Twitter: @HSE_Rol and @DabWilliam.

William DabWilliam Dab is a Professor and Health and Safety Chair at Cnam – France, where he trains specialists in occupational health and environmental risks, notably through an engineering course in risk management. He is a doctor specialised in epidemiology. His career has been entirely devoted to health and safety, whether it be developing tools for risk assessment, monitoring and management. As a former Director-General of Health, he was a member of the WHO Executive Committee and Chairman of the European Environment and Health Committee for the WHO European Region. He has also published a number of books related to health and safety

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