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A day in the life of James Lewis

03 September 2019

Each issue HSM puts the spotlight on a health and safety worker by speaking to a member of the British Safety Council about the challenges and rewards of working in this field. This time we speak to Matthew Holder.

What is your job, and where do you work?

I am head of audit and consultancy at the British Safety Council, a health, safety, wellbeing and environmental management charity and membership organisation based in London. 

What motivates you to get out of bed on a work day?

Simply knowing that you’re helping someone preserve the basic human right to be healthy and safe. It’s also about the challenge of helping organisations develop and see that health and safety is not only a legal requirement but also a great business enabler. 

What does a typical day entail for you?

There is no such thing! I usually start with supporting our international and Indian business. A large part of my role at present is supporting two very large projects – a student accommodation provider for whom we act as a H&S team and a group of companies in Middle East in the shipping, storage and petrochemicals sectors for which we are creating a standard H&S, security and environmental management system. I also spend part of my day speaking to clients and helping solve their problems, no matter how big or small. 

What is the top priority on your work agenda at the moment?

The organisation is further establishing its business in India so ensuring we have on the ground delivery capability is a top priority for me. One of the biggest challenges the organisation is dealing at present is educating the industry that health and safety is a broad concept incorporating employee wellbeing, risk management, crisis management and security. We are trying to model our five-star audit on this concept and this is also one of my priorities. My job is also to inform the industry about the suite of consultancy services which the organisation offers. We have a team 48 consultants, many with some 30-40 years of experience, so this is a huge pool of expertise. 

What skills are key to your role?

An ability to problem solve and be organised. We operate globally and one of the major challenges we have is ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time! An ability to understand people’s needs and getting them to work together is also essential. Working with global clients means you really need to be able to read people’s minds and communicate with them in a way that works for them. 

What route did you take to working in the field of H&S? 

I never knew I wanted to be a health & safety professional and I don’t think many people make a definitive choice to be one, but from a young age I was exposed to health & safety.

I was involved with events and theatre productions at school from the age of 12. When I turned 16 the school employed me to help produce all of their internal/external events and school productions. They also part-funded my NEBOSH Certificate. I realised then that I wanted a career in risk management. From a very young age I have been taught to care for and look after people.

What advice would you give a person thinking of working in the health and safety industry?

Listen and learn. As a practitioner, you need to be able to listen and learn from the person you are dealing with and understand their point of view. The attitude ‘My option is the right point of view’ only alienates people. 

In the UK, we reached the point where our health and safety performance is almost static. To truly improve things we need to use the ‘big data’ which contain detailed information, e.g. about the timescales of people’s reporting which is a good indicator of the organisation’s culture. There are many H&S practitioners who are totally oblivious to the available technology and resistant to change. 

When did you last laugh in work? What made you laugh?

We’ve got some great members of the team who make me laugh on a daily basis. Some of the members of the team have been with our organisation for a long time and hearing the stories from the past could cheer anyone up. 

What is the best part of working in your field?

The conviction that you are doing the right thing. Also, opportunities to observe new developments - I am greatly inspired by some of our clients and what they are doing to put people first. Observing how the organisations’ culture is changing and being able to share this best practice with others. 

What do you see as the biggest challenges to health and safety at work currently?

Management of multigenerational workforce and the further introduction of technology. There is a massive age gap between generations of people working in health and safety; between those just entering their careers with their technological know-how, new attitudes and social expectations and the older practitioners with different experience and values. I don’t think organisations are doing enough to manage successfully these diverse generations. Technology is rapidly encroaching on everyone’s roles.