As the Brexit debacle continues to rumble on, many businesses have been cutting back on their investment in staff, training and equipment. The simple fact is that nobody knows whether the UK will leave the European Union with a no deal Brexit or we will see a transition period, estimated at around two years, after which “a trade agreement will be in place”. While it is not hard to understand why businesses are holding off on planned investment in the short to medium term as the UK parliament appears to be making Brexit as difficult as possible, this can be dangerous for a variety of reasons.
Investment In Staff
At this moment in time it is unclear how many EU citizens will remain in the UK post Brexit. There are expectations that the majority of EU citizens currently working in the UK will remain in their employment but time will tell. It is therefore essential that employers look towards investment in staff (in terms of time and money) with the following issues at the fore:-
- Backup procedures in case a large number of EU workers decide to return to the EU, post Brexit
- Ensure that all EU staff are fully aware of their rights and the procedures in place, when these are confirmed, if they wish to remain in the UK
- Cutting back on staff recruitment at the moment could become a double-edged sword if a significant portion of EU workers also leave a company
The truth is that even now nobody knows how the UK will look post Brexit and indeed whether Brexit will actually go through. The majority of politicians seem to be doing as much as possible to cling onto EU membership despite the fact that the UK public voted by a majority of 1,269,501 to leave the EU in 2016.
The Dangers Of Being Understaffed
Aside from the fact it would be difficult to fulfil customer orders if your business was understaffed, there are real issues with regards to pushing your employees to the limit. We know that in troubled times, often when there has been a lack of communication from management, employees can become troubled and fight back against company owners. This is not good for efficiency and customer service going forward. There are also serious potential issues if you overload your staff with work, ambitious targets and extend their working day significantly – often beyond the legal limits.
We have seen issues where mental health, bullying in the workplace and simple overloading of work, have led to significant compensation claims. While many people assume that mental health issues are treated very differently to physical injuries, this is not the case. In the eyes of the law the two are one and the same. Anyone who was suffered stress at work and mental trauma as a result of negligence by their employer may well have a claim for compensation.
It is fair to say that staff training is an integral part of any company budget because you need your staff to be aware of changes in regulations as well as new techniques, products and ways in which they can improve the efficiency of your business. Some employers may not be aware but you are legally obliged to carry out regular health and safety training for all of your employees – not just when they join. This is the part where you tick the box to say they have attended their annual health and safety update and file it away until the authorities ask to see confirmation.
In years gone by, many people saw staff training investment as a waste of money and something which could be “done on the job”. The fact is that training with regards to health and safety is best done away from the shop floor so that all parties can be focused on their legal responsibilities. At the end of the day, it will be the employer that pays the price when employees aren’t trained properly and injuries occur as a result of negligence.
The days of word-of-mouth as a means of training apprentices and new starts to a business have long gone. That is not to say there is not a role to play but from a legal standpoint companies need to provide training literature and reference guides for all employees. If you were to send an employee to carry out a task for which they were evidently not trained for, and they were injured, can you imagine the legal ramifications?
In many ways it is better to over-train your staff, so they can fill in during periods of staff shortages, than ignore/reduce training and leave yourself open to legal action. As we touched on above, if you’re looking to maximise output from your business ahead of/after Brexit then you need to squeeze as much efficiency out of your business and your workforce as possible. Training is an integral part of this as well as a legal obligation in relation to health and safety.
Investment In Equipment
In times of difficult trading/uncertainty it is often investment in equipment which is the first casualty as companies look to rein in their spending. You can understand this to a certain extent but there are issues to consider if cutting back on investment in equipment such as:-
It can be a finely balanced equation when looking at the cost of new equipment set against potential short, medium and long-term efficiency gains. Does the business warrant further investment? Does the business need further investment? Are there any areas which can be automated? Are there any efficiency gains you can secure with new equipment? What is the expected payback time for investment in new equipment?
These are simple, but very important questions that need to be addressed.
Health And Safety
You should carry out a regular check of all equipment in your workplace (and the workplace itself) to ensure it is safe and secure. This relates to everything from the kettle in the kitchen to the forklift truck on the work floor, from the salesperson’s BMW to the roof that protects everybody in the building. In the event of an accident where negligence is proven this can be extremely costly for business owners. Some of the more common issues to take into consideration include:-
- Replacing defective safety guards
- Addressing general wear and tear of machinery which can sometimes be dangerous
- Training staff on the use of machinery
- Ensuring that machinery is only used by qualified staff
As with all health and safety issues, when you see them written down in front of you they look obvious. However, taking a tick box approach will ensure that you address the general issues, and specific issues, associated with your industry.
Reduced Investment Can Be Dangerous
Whether we are looking at pressure on the workforce, a lack of training or under investment in machinery, these can all have a significant impact upon efficiency and profitability. It is very important that you keep on top of health and safety, staffing and machinery issues so that all parties are protected and the business is profitable. The idea that investment in health and safety is nothing but a waste of money is an unhelpful myth. There may well be serious legal implications if you fail to invest in the above areas, leading to injuries and potential claims of negligence.
Common Injuries In The Workplace
It is nigh on impossible to list all injuries associated with the workplace but some of the more common issues include:-
- Slips, trips and falls due to flooring issues
- Inappropriate safety guards leading to hand, eye and other injuries
- Undue pressure on individual workers can put others in danger
- Bullying and aggression in the workplace can lead to mental trauma
- Asking employees to do tasks they are not trained for can lead to serious injury
- Cuts, crush injuries and broken bones as a consequence of faulty equipment
- Concussion and head injuries can occur if products are not stacked correctly
As we touched on above, while many people seem to separate mental and physical trauma, in the eyes of the law they are one and the same. As a consequence, injury victims are entitled to seek compensation where they has been negligence leading to injuries. If the health and safety executive become involved and see patterns emerging amongst historic injuries in the workplace, additional legal action may be taken and significant fines handed out.
Keeping An Eye On The Long Term
While there is no doubt that businesses, and indeed households across the UK, are concerned about the debacle the government is making of Brexit, as we stand today it is impossible to know exactly how the situation will pan out with various rumours and counter rumours emerging. One thing is certain; if you have a business and you are looking to the future then it can be damaging to rein in investment in staff, training and equipment in the short term.
Any situation brought on by alleged negligence which leads to an injury to employees could lead to a significant compensation claim. Ironically, in this situation it is the determination to save money which could actually undo all of the previous good work and lead to significant compensation payments. While the majority of these payments would likely be covered by business insurance cover this may not always be the case – all claims would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
There is now a mutual need, and indeed legal obligation, for employees and employers to work together to create a safe working environment. We often forget that employees also have a responsibility to act appropriately in the workplace and not to endanger others. This is often ignored at both the employees and the employer’s peril!