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A day in the life of Stephen Cooke

20 December 2021

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 Stephen Cooke.

What is your job, and where do you work?

I recently joined British Safety Council as head of policy and communications.

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

Knowing that I can play my (very small) part in helping to protect people better and save lives by raising awareness and sharing best practice. What I do is all about communicating, but what motivates me is the impact that this can have, if even one person acts as a result.

What does a typical day entail for you?

There is no typical day – which is what’s so great about my job! This time last week, I was on the streets of Glasgow with our chairman and a senior representative from Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation at COP26, to raise awareness about the risks of air pollution to outdoor workers as part of our #TimetoBreathe campaign. We put a large banner up in the city centre, took four outdoor workers out in hard hats and hi-vis jackets, and achieved some great media and social media coverage for our message.

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

My main priority now is our other key campaign, called Keep Thriving. This campaign is focused on people’s wellbeing and – building on Being Well Together, the programme British Safety Council offers to workers and their organisations – aims to improve wellbeing both in and outside of work. Covid has made clear just how important it is that employers listen to their staff, but it has also thrown up new challenges and opportunities with hybrid working and growing vacancies. Businesses want to help ensure their staff feel happy and motivated, but don’t always know how to do it effectively. By joining Keep Thriving employers can show their support and share best practice. We’re planning activity with MPs in the new year to help garner political support.

What skills are key to your role?

My role is multi-faceted, so I need all the skills I have developed in my career – from writing articles and press releases, to working with media and engaging with stakeholders, or campaigning and organising events. I also edit our monthly magazine, Safety Management, and am responsible for developing our policy.

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

I have a communications background, working in both public and private sectors, and for the past ten years in the Civil Service – both in Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department for Transport (DfT). During this time, while at DWP I led comms on a major public consultation on health, work and disability, working with the Department of Health. I also led the cross-government Disability Confident campaign, which supports and encourages employers to recruit and retain disabled people. While in DfT, I led comms and engagement for an independent commission looking into the impact of aviation noise on people’s health and wellbeing. All of this gave me a real interest in both physical and mental health and what we can do to improve and enhance it, both as employers and a society.

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

Go for it! There has never been a time when people’s health, safety, physical and emotional wellbeing have been more important, and possibly more high profile, following the Covid pandemic. Your skills will be in demand across all sectors, and a growing awareness that ‘Health and Safety’ as an issue cannot just be put in a box and brought out ahead of an inspection or after a crisis means you will increasingly be able to influence, shape and lead an organisation’s overarching strategy. Today, it’s only by factoring these issues into everything your organisation does that you are able to be truly effective and endure.

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

Seeing my colleagues’ creative and impressive Halloween costumes, which several wore into the office for a whole team meeting, made me chuckle – and gasp with amazement, of course! Sadly, I couldn’t join them physically that day – so I am very much looking forward to our Christmas lunch, where I will be able to meet many more people face to face.

What is the best part of working in your field?

The enthusiasm and commitment which people around me show to their work. It’s been great to see what British Safety Council has done during the pandemic to support smaller businesses – something that was recognised recently with an Association Excellence Award. It makes me proud to work for the organisation and pleased to be part of its mission to ensure no one is injured or made ill through their work.

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

Without doubt, the blurring of the lines between work and home and also new technologies, like artificial intelligence. These are both challenges – in that they place new and often unforeseen demands on people – and opportunities – in that if we manage them in the right way hybrid working and new technology can help people be more in control of their working lives. History shows it can take time for change like this to happen though, which is why we need to get on the front foot and talk about these issues now.

In future, British Safety Council will be using this page to answer YOUR questions. Please send any problems, issues or general enquiries about health, safety and wellbeing to policy@britsafe.org and their experts will respond in our next issue.