Lord Sugar's health and safety rant reveals UK problems

Lord Sugar's health and safety rant reveals UK problems

The nice man won, but his "flawed" business plan drew an angry rant from Lord Sugar over "elf and safety". Louisa Peacock asks whether inventors can ever cure theUK's sickness absence problem.  Reproduced from Telegraph Jobs.

Had Tom Pellereau, the winner of the 2011 Apprentice TV show, been judged on his business plan alone, he would have failed.

His idea for a chair that prevents back pain sent Lord Sugar into a rant about the endless health and safety rules employers have to keep up with. Lord Sugar didn't like it. Tom's plan of going into companies "testing" workers about the likelihood of them getting back ache sent the business entrepreneur into one of his little monologues.

Lord Sugar said: "A long, long time ago, I stopped worrying about people taking time off of work, OK. Under health and safety regulations, I have to ensure the working environment in my building is a certain temperature, that there aren’t any things on the floor that [staff] can trip up, that lifts work properly, fire extinguishers, washroom facilities and all that type of stuff.

"But I've got to tell you, as an employer, I would give up and emigrate if someone said to me, 'now what you’ve got to do is to allow all your employees to have a desk chair check'."

Lord Sugar's rant also let us into a little secret about how employers really try to deal with sickness absence in the workplace: they don't. Or at least, they cannot afford the time or money to think differently about how to.

This has grave consequences for any attempts by this or any other Government to try to cure "sicknoteBritain", estimated to cost theUK£100bn a year in sick pay bills, unless theUKcan come up with a truly radical solution for preventing and managing absence.

Earlier this year, I revealed the Government had called in leading business figures to review workplace sickness absence and suggest ways of bringing it down. David Frost, the director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, is running the review. Suggestions are flying around as to what he might come up with.

We could see theUKnod to theNetherlands' health care insurance system, which forces all employers to put workers through a "back-to-work" programme after they've taken a certain number of weeks off. Their insurance pays for it. The programme involves occupational health services, GPs, physio, whatever that employee needs.

Another approach could be to cap the amount public sector staff get paid on their currently very generous sick pay arrangements.

But the real solution, experts say, is to prevent illness in the first place. If companies could spend more time and effort working with health care professionals to improve workers' health and wellbeing at work – including management and working environment – they would see absence fall.

Lots of big companies do test their employees when they start their new jobs. They assess their work desk, chair, phone, mouse, keyboard and so on to try to prevent any pain or injuries like RSI developing. These tests are usually done in the first couple of weeks and could be run by private medical providers like Bupa or Nuffield Health.

Smaller companies perform similar tests but probably just don't label it "employee wellbeing programme". Of course, they don't have the big budgets of large corporates, so any "radical" change to managing absence would have to be value for money.

I'm not saying that a chair designed to prevent back ache is the answer. But the very fact that it got dismissed by Lord Sugar, never to see the light of day again, is telling.

This article was originally featured on telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs

Monday, 25 July 2011

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