By Marcus Leach

British businesses are losing their competitive edge because of a failure to tackle the risks of injury and illness in the workplace, the UK’s leading professional health and safety body warned on Thursday.

A survey, published by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), reveals employers are underestimating the economic benefits of worker protection and are placing it low on their list of priorities.

Work-related accidents and ill health cost businesses nearly £8 billion a year, with absenteeism, low productivity and legal bills among the financial hits faced by bosses. The overall cost of health and safety failures to the British economy, including welfare and health bills, is estimated at a staggering £22 billion.

In a new campaign, Life Savings, IOSH will aim to set the record straight on occupational safety and health. Rather than a burden on business, good, proportionate health and safety is being used by forward-thinking CEOs and managing directors as a driver for growth, says the Institution.

IOSH unearthed examples of employers saving millions of pounds through the introduction of occupational safety and health programmes. Now, the chartered body wants the Government to showcase their good practice to demonstrate how managing health and safety can dramatically cut costs.

It also wants Ministers to make sure that their austerity measures, and blitz on red tape, do not damage people’s health or lead to accidents.

And the Institution is calling on the Government to reverse the decision to axe the Health and Safety Executive’s advice line — a move IOSH says could deprive small businesses of vital free support.

“Businesses are missing a trick with health and safety. When you operate in a global marketplace, and you’re trying to claw your way out of recession, a happy, healthy workforce is a driver for growth," IOSH President Steve Granger said.

“It’s frankly wrong for Ministers and business leaders to talk about health and safety as ‘red tape’ and a burden on business. When done properly and proportionately, health and safety is essential to a business’s long-term prospects for survival in what are difficult times for our economy.

“As well as the primary aim of saving people’s lives and livelihoods, good occupational health and safety can also deliver vital cost savings and help your business to grow.”