President of health and safety institute warns businesses not to cut corners in the downturn

The new president of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has warned that cutting health and safety corners in an attempt to save costs during the financial turmoil could put firms out of business.

Nattasha Freeman told delegates at the UK institute's annual dinner that, in challenging economic times, good health and safety practice is “critical in ensuring firms stay afloat”.

She said: “Companies need professional, competent health and safety advice because one accident could put them out of business. Accidents and ill health place a huge strain on budgets, so it makes sense for firms to do all they can to not have them.”

Freeman, a former chair of IOSH's Midlands branch, is the director for health and safety at Birmingham-based property consultant Phoenix Beard. She is the first IOSH president with a background in construction since 2004/05, having worked on projects including the Channel Tunnel and the construction of the Five Ways Centres I and II and Regency Wharf in Birmingham.

“Historically smaller contractors with less resource have struggled to get it right both on paper and in practice, and health and safety may take second place when a full order book is the first priority,” Freeman said. “Free information is available but having the time to use this facility becomes another resource issue.

“The nature of the work has changed too. The geography of the site becomes extended and the environment itself operational: people want to continue to trade while construction carries on.”