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A day in the life of Paul Fakley

05 October 2020

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 Paul Fakley.

What is your job, and where do you work?

I’m executive director of policy & engagement at British Safety Council and prior to lockdown I worked from our offices in Hammersmith. Since March I’ve been working from home like the rest of our staff. We are unlikely to be going back to Hammersmith until some point in 2021, with plans for that still in progress.

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

I’m in the lucky position to be doing something that I love ie. marketing and communications. On top of that, being part of the leadership team at British Safety Council is a tremendous privilege. The organisation has a huge amount of history and being able to work with a great bunch of people to shape where we are going next both in the UK and internationally is exciting. British Safety Council grew from its campaigning and lobbying roots to become what it is today. 

What does a typical day entail for you?

I have a broad remit covering, marketing, PR, public affairs, publications and events, which means that my days are pretty varied. 2020 has obviously thrown a few curve balls our way and I’ve had to do a fair amount of fire-fighting. Generally my day starts with a review of the latest UK and international news, followed by an early morning Executive Team meeting every other day. I try not to micro-manage my direct reports, which means that I have 121s with each of them at least once every week – generally Fridays. I also try to have a whole Policy & Engagement Team meeting every week on a Monday. 

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

Getting back to some form of normality but definitely a ‘new normal’ is high up on the list. We don’t want to go back to some of the bad practices we had before. As a leadership team we are definitely going to use this COVID experience as an opportunity to drive positive changes.

We have spent a considerable amount of time over the last 6 months or so focused on making sure our customers and members have everything they need to get through the COVID pandemic safety and successfully, as well as lobbying Government around various aspects of their response to the pandemic. 

What skills are key to your role?

First and foremost I’m a technical expert in marketing and communications with a background in blue chip organisations, where I learnt my trade. Beyond that leadership and the ability to work with all levels of staff from board trustees downwards is key. We are going through huge changes with lots of uncertainty and therefore a resilient and flexible personality is also needed. 

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

I’m definitely not a health and safety expert although I know a lot more than I did two and half years ago! My background is predominantly in financial services and specifically marketing and communications. I worked for a housing association for three years, which in some respects is very similar to British Safety Council. They have commercial operations but are ultimately not for profit organisations. Part of my role there focused on the care and support function and therefore wellbeing. That has been useful background experience as our industry starts to focus even more on this area.

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

If you want to progress in a technical health and safety role, you are going to have to study and get some qualifications under your belt – sorry no way around it. However, like many industries there are roles that won’t require that direct technical experience (albeit it might help) – and I guess I’m a case in point. You need to decide on your career goals and go from there.

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

That’s a tough one – there hasn’t been much over the last 6 months to laugh about. However, my team and executive colleagues are a great bunch of people and keep spirits high. If I really want a laugh I can talk to our IT director, who is guaranteed to say something amusing…other than switch it off and on again!

What is the best part of working in your field?

There isn’t one answer to this and maybe that’s the best part. Certainly, breadth of role is something that I find attractive, as is the balance between commercial aspects and not for profit goals. Ultimately, we all come to work to drive change and influence those individuals, organisations and bodies that will keep people safe and well at work, wherever they work or whatever they do.

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

Where to start? Every time this question crops up people say that we are in unprecedented times. In some ways I agree but things have never been static, our industry has always been changing even before COVID. COVID has certainly caused a few issues that have grabbed our attention, of that there is no doubt though! But many of the areas causing issues were in motion anyway, they have just accelerated.

Rather than go through every challenge, I think two of the key ones are returning to work and/or working from home. There are obviously physical health and safety considerations for both areas but we shouldn’t underplay the significance of wellbeing and mental health specifically. British Safety Council is launching a new, unique and holistic Being Well Together programme in October specifically aimed at helping organisations in this regard.