Every organization needs a strong business case when attempting to obtain board approval for investment in a health and safety program. Only 10% of business cases for Health & Safety Software will succeed if those business cases are based solely on the admin saving from removing paperwork and spreadsheets from your process.
Health and safety managers, or members of a health and safety committee, who want to invest or update their software need to understand the skills they need to build a compelling business case.
1. Understand the Mistake
Building a business case on the foundations of removing paperwork and saving administrative effort is a mistake and will fail roughly 90% of the time. This is the mistake that most business case authors make. Do not fall into this elusive trap. This is a seductive and easy approach to building a business case but will not work. Top leaders in your company are likely more unaware of the current health and safety risks facing your company, and unknowledgeable of how much software could make a difference. To them, cutting down on the time spent by a few individuals on paperwork will not be alluring. More importantly, it will not justify the expense. For them, the bottom line is key. You must justify the financial aspect of this move to new software if you want to succeed.
2. Your Mindset Needs Altering
When building a business case, take the perspective that this business is yours. Consider it your organization and imagine that it is precious to you.
What are the potential risks to this business? If a serious negative health & safety event happens – what are the possible consequences to your business?
Could you be criminally prosecuted, if so who (what person) would be in the dock? What would be the consequences of massive reputational damage? Could your business lose customers? Could insurance costs spiral? What is the possibility of facing claims for damages that cannot be successfully defended? What are the moral and ethical considerations to your staff?
What IS a duty of care? How much productivity cost (£) is being wasted through lost time?
Asking these fundamental questions will bring you into the correct frame of mind to build a compelling business case that will make senior management sit up and take notice. Remember, they will view this as an expense unless you list enough reasons for them to view it as a necessary investment. They are not experts in this area, you are. You must find a way to give them the synopsis they need to see the value in purchasing software.
3. Where Do I Start?
What is your business all about – who are your customers, suppliers and competitors? What is your competitive edge? Think about your customers and why they buy from you. Is your business growing or contracting? What is the nature of your business operations and where are they based? Where are employees located and what jobs are they doing? What is the risk of an H&S event to those people? Do you have visitors to your sites? What is the risk to them?
Understand your business’ financial situation, too. How does your balance sheet look? Are you in sound financial standing? Do you have the budget to make a software purchase? Sometimes, no matter how good your reasoning for needing the software, it is simply not feasible for the company to spend the money at that exact time.
A really good business case shows a very strong understanding of the fundamental facts of your business and its current status. Know thyself, as Will Shakespeare told us all.
4. Roll Up Your Sleeves
Building a business case is exciting and interesting. However, like anything else that is satisfying to complete, you need to put in some hard work. You will need to research your industry in great detail. You will also need to research your regulatory health and safety context – understanding which laws apply to you, and the penalties you could face for failing to comply.
Buckle up, because you need to do some hard work. Who regulates health and safety in your geography? In the UK, it’s the HSE and the law outlines your legal obligations. Research the law and the criminal guidelines for health and safety offences, which are based upon culpability and severity and the turnover of your business. Be factually confident in your research, and make sure you have reliable sources to back up this knowledge when you present it to leaders at your company. Know what a Duty of Care means. Be clear on the Possible Fines and Custodial Sentences to your business and to the people that are responsible officers in your business.
There are other possible regulatory contexts aside from your specific national laws and regulations. Does your business have an ISO accreditation or other accreditation that assesses your health and safety processes? If so, be clear on your obligations in this context.
Research why this accreditation is important to your business and ask yourself what might happen if this accreditation is lost. The answer is usually to do with customers or revenue: losing an accreditation means you are risking losing revenue because of lost sales, tenders, customers. Accreditations instill confidence in customers and employees alike. However, they serve no real purpose if your company is not living out the principles these accreditations ask that you abide by. Beyond building a business case for your investment in new software, understanding each one of the regulations your business is obligated to abide by will help your business reach its full potential.
5. The Worst-Case Scenario
Bad things happen. They happen rarely, but they do happen. Make yourself familiar with the variety of unfavorable outcomes that could result from your business’ operations. A powerful business case is knowledgeable about the worst-case scenario, and accounts for it in the plan. Usually, these are harrowing events where fatalities or significant monetary losses have occurred. You need to research these worst-case scenarios and outline them as the extreme events that need to be avoided at all costs. Do not become sensational or scaremongering – research the facts and state the facts and the consequences clearly. In the UK a good place to start is the HSE press release feed – see what has happened and ensure that your company avoids these scenarios.
6. Bring the Spotlight Back Home
Now that you know the details of how your business operates, the health and safety regulatory framework and the worst-case scenarios you could find yourself in, it's time to tie this back home for your senior leaders. Look back at your business and the past and present health and safety events. Research what has happened in the recent past. Look at incident rates, lost time and near miss data. Do not get back into the cozy old slippers of just passively collecting some data here. Become tenacious in understanding the real consequences and convey to everyone how if only one factor was changed, they could be looking at a very different situation right now. Again, avoid fearmongering here – just emphasize how impactful this data and its interpretation is.
Ask the hard questions of your own business. What claims have we been subject to? Did we ever have a negative experience or face ridicule because of an HSE visit? What happened? Have our insurance costs been increasing in recent years? Don’t forget to uncover your excess levels here. Have we ever suffered reputational damage to our business – and why did that happen? How much do we pay on legal fees defending cases or claims? You have the knowledge of the general health and safety rules and regulations, so tie it all back to your business. Senior leaders hearing your proposal do not necessarily care about general laws or regulations, but they do care about how they affect your company.
7. Be the Health and Safety Professional
As a Health and Safety professional, you’re obliged to not only understand what has happened but also to make a professional assessment of what could happen in the future. Make a dispassionate assessment of your current health and safety processes and state clearly what’s wrong with these current processes.
Are all Risk Assessments and Audits carried out on time and in proper detail? Are all staff trained, including training on Risk Assessment? Are all hazards and near misses reported? Are we collating all the information that we need to prove we are fulfilling our duty of care? What’s our health and safety culture – does every single person in our business understand their role in supporting a vibrant zero harm safety culture? These details are important. Make sure you have the data on your organization. And, if you don’t, convey how big of a problem this is.
8. Delight your Math and English Teacher
A fundamental rule of a business case is to document the hard facts. Get your analytical hat on and turn your above narrative into numbers. Have confidence in your numbers. Remember George Orwell's “four legs good, two legs bad.” Bad translates to a cost increase (insurance / legal costs), productivity losses, fines, revenue losses through reputational damage. Good means your plan is supporting increased revenue through excellent Health and Safety culture, improved worked morale and productivity, reducing costs, eliminating paperwork and admin burden. Help them see that this software you’re proposing an investment in will have returns – across the company and not just in your department.
9. Power and Success
A massive benefit of having an excellent business case is that you will have a better chance of getting strong executive sponsorship for your project. This demonstration of power will help you deliver the safety culture that you and your business needs. Support from the top down is a key motivator for all employees to get on board and gives you the resources you need to general change. You will need to be extremely clear on the success criteria for your project and the KPIs that you need to measure after you’ve implemented your new solution. These leaders may seem optimistic after your proposal but know that they’ll be checking in to see if the investment was truly worth it. The proof will be in the data, so continue to collect and interpret all the health and safety data you need to keep running your business the way you know it needs to be run.
Best of luck!