Business savings can affect health and safety

Cover Story, Editorial, Features

Vol 25, Issue 10, 25 November 2022

The past couple of years has seen many challenges for businesses and people alike. First the pandemic hit businesses in both the lack of customers and then the limited availability of supplies. Then we have the political situation in Russia and Ukraine again affecting supplies of energy resources, foods, raw materials, and other goods. Now European countries are cutting back on energy use due to the high prices and lower supply. But what does this mean for businesses and the staff that they employ?

Towns around Europe are now saving energy in several ways. Here in Finland leisure facilities are having their own restrictions, lowering heating and air-conditioning, closing the saunas, reducing light levels, and so on, also some towns are closing some swimming halls for the winter. Also, I have recently noticed, that street and car park lighting has been reduced. Driving home yesterday I noticed that every second lamp was unlit causing pools of darkness along the road and my own street has the lighting turned off at night once per week. Even the campus P2 car park the other day was in complete darkness when I came out of the building and I couldn’t even see my car!

For town residents of course this is mostly an inconvenience and lower comfort standards in one way, and a slightly reduced standard of living in another. However, I would hope that towns have considered the health and safety aspects, especially to darkened roads and car parks. I am sure people can live with reduced leisure facilities for some time – they got used to it during the pandemic.

In Finland, many companies have started to reduce their energy consumption by lowering heating/air conditioning levels and removing non-essential electrical devices. Some have even gone so far as banning employees from using/charging their personal electrical devices at work. Coffee makers, kettles, extra desk lamps, and even bright lights (SAD syndrome lamps) are disappearing from offices.

The scourge of the workplace electricity consumption, the humble kettle and coffee machine.

Businesses have to seriously consider the health and safety aspects for employees when committing themselves to saving energy and thereby money. Of course, it is in the employees interests if an employer is saving money by cutting costs without affecting employees, but colder, darker premises can seriously affect how employees act and work, and of course could be a safety concern. Just 1-degree lower temperature can be felt by a human, and can reduce output, although I will concede that building temperatures in Finland are often higher than I would like. Not allowing employees to use “extra” electricity using own coffee makers in their workrooms, or being able to use a bright lamp, can seriously affect not only happiness and moral, but wellbeing at work. In Finland approx. 1 in 4 people suffer from seasonal affection disorder (SAD), and a bright lamp for an hour a day at the desk whilst working can help drive this dark mood away – remove that possibility from the workplace and you could have an employee that will soon be reporting in sick.

Of course people should be concerned with saving energy, especially during the current climate. As electricity prices have quadrupled for many here in Finland, householders as well as businesses have to seriously consider how they can cut down on electricity consumption. More and more household and personal devices demand electricity for use or for charging, and coming up to the Christmas season we tend to use more electricity than at other times of the year. Seasonal lighting is common in many countries, but in Finland people tend to decorate their homes and gardens with lighting to cheer them up in the dark season. Also, as the winter days are short and dark, we need to turn on our lighting more. We also tend to use our cookers and ovens a lot more in wintertime for hot food, especially over the Christmas holidays.

Having said all of this, we have to give a thought to the people living in the Ukraine, who are seriously suffering with the loss of power, heating and water during the current conflict. Conditions for many people there must be unbearable especially at this time of year. If there is one wish we could have for Christmas, it must surely be an end to the conflict in the Ukraine and for peace on earth.