On this page, you'll find out about the key reasons why good Health and Safety is so important to all Churches and Places of Worship.
Moral and Ethical Reasons
Most religions have some emphasis on the importance and sanctity of life. This is extended to a moral duty to look after people in most cases. In Christianity, this is an extension of 'The Great Commandment' ("Love your neighbour as yourself") – if you love your neighbour, you will be mindful of not doing anything to harm them.
There's also the "Golden Rule" - treat others in the same way as you expect to be treated yourself. This simple rule is contained in Matthew (Chapter 7, Verse 12) and Luke (Chapter 6, Verse 31). Other religions usually have something very similar in their rules for living life.
Health and Safety is really just an extension of these fundamental principles. It provides a moral and ethical duty to look after people's safety, welfare and health so that the chance of someone suffering an injury or (work-related) ill-health is minimised.
While many people agree that there is not a high risk of harm to people in Churches and Places of Worship, it is nevertheless important to think about what could cause harm to prevent unnecessary injuries, ill-health and dangerous occurrences
One of the earliest pieces of safety law is contained in Deuteronomy (Chapter 22, Verse 8). It provides an instruction to those building a house to ensure that a person cannot fall off the roof, because should a person fall off the roof the house-builder is culpable.
Legislation is brought in because it is considered necessary to protect society against harm or wrongdoing of some kind. In fact, many examples of legislation that exist have been brought in as a reaction to a serious incident (such as the Kings Cross Fire) or when information about certain substances becomes understood (such as in the case of Asbestos).
Since the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 came into force, there has been a decrease in the number of workplace fatalities by 85%, and serious (reportable) injuries by 77%. The UK legal framework has often been copied and replicated by other countries as it is seen to be a major success story! (see www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/history/index.htm for more information about the historic impact of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.)
Should there be a breach of legislation, an enforcement agency can take various forms of action, from sending a formal warning letter, through to a prosecution. Health and Safety and Fire Safety legislation is part of the criminal law system in the UK, so those found to be in breach would get a criminal record.
Health and Safety legislation which applies to Churches and Places of Worship is enforced by Local Authorities (usually the Environmental Health department) with fire safety legislation being enforced by the Fire and Rescue Service.
In the UK, there is a 'duty of care' placed on premises occupiers and the management of organisations or events under the Civil Law system. This is largely separate to the criminal law system used above by enforcement authorities, and it allows individuals to seek compensation for injuries.
Should a person suffer an injury (or some other form of loss) as a result of the actions or omissions of a person (such as the management of a premises), the person may seek compensation.
It is sometimes stated that Health and Safety costs businesses and organisations, and it has gained a reputation of being more of a burden than a benefit. However the data is presented it is clear that poor Health and Safety costs more than managing safety in an effective way.
Those that worry about the cost or time involved often are doing the wrong things in the least effective way to see the benefits.
The costs to an organisation of poor safety might include: providing cover for the injured worker (such as from an agency); cost of providing immediate first-aid treatment; value of work not done by the injured person; cost of defending a claim or prosecution against the company and the cost of increased future insurance premiums.
If there should be a fire, damage to premises and equipment is likely. In some cases, a significant fire can be enough to force a Church or Place of Worship to close overnight and without warning.
A serious accident is likely to affect the morale of the employees and volunteers, and will also reduce the standing of the organisation in the community. The press might get hold of the story and the organisation can get unwanted attention.
Impact on Society
Poor safety has a major impact on society. The reality is that in 2012/13, 148 people were killed while at work and there were 78 000 significant injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive (http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/). A staggering 27 millions working days were lost to British businesses in 2011/12 due to work related ill-health or injury.
Serious injuries impact on the whole of society due to the costs associated with the emergency service response, the costs of treatment at hospital, social services costs and the costs of benefits and similar payments to individuals. It has been estimated that the cost of poor safety on the UK economy is in the region of £13.8 Billion (2010/11). Most of these costs are difficult to estimate, however every tax payer has to cover the bill.
Environment and Heritage
Two further issues should not be forgotten: our natural resources and our man-made heritage. Many aspects of safety also have an effect on our environment and heritage, not least fire which can damage buildings and release harmful by-products into the environment.
The impact of human living on the wider environment is firmly at the forefront of people's minds. Whether this is about saving rainforests, the impact of climate change or more local issues such as recycling and waste or flood prevention, it is gaining in importance that organisations seek to limit their impact on our natural heritage.
Anyone who looks after a historic building, whether or not it is 'listed' understand that they are a custodian of the premises, and therefore would not want to see the premises damaged. It follows that fire safety should be high on the agenda to ensure that the premises can be passed on to future generations.
What safety is not about...
Detractors often quote stories of bungling bureaucracy and red tape and point to Health and Safety being an expense that small businesses and organisations, such as Churches and Places of Worship, can do without.
There have been press stories about all sorts of daily activities being 'prohibited' by what has been dubbed "'elf 'n' safety gone mad". Children playing conkers and people putting up hanging baskets or Christmas decorations has been targeted over the years - these are just some examples. Usually such stories are the result of a well-meaning but misinformed individual or organisation
The reality is that most of these stories have nothing at all to do with what Health and Safety is about. Put simply it's all about:
Putting reasonable steps in place to prevent harm to people.