In the spotlight with Ian McKinnon

29 January 2020

THIS MONTH we put Ian McKinnon in the spotlight to find out how he is leading CHAS through a period of rapid growth as the company evolves from a health & safety accreditation specialist to a leader in supply chain risk management.

How did you get into the health and safety industry?

My background has always been in risk management, with previous roles as Head of Product for HPI, the vehicle information company and UK Managing Director for one of the global credit bureau, Equifax Plc. I joined Exor, a supply chain Health and Safety / Risk management business, I led its turnaround and sale to Safecontractor, after which I managed both companies and their successful integration. Prior to joining CHAS I ran the Europe, Middle East and Africa region for Avetta, regions in which you can truly see the impact improvements H&S can effect. This has been my introduction to the H&S industry, and 14 years later, I am still involved and more excited than ever.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the continuous challenge of growing a company which was the founder of its industry and which is committed to continuing to set and drive standards. CHAS was a founder of the Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) forum in 2009 which dramatically improved efficiency for the construction industry by facilitating cross-recognition between health & safety accreditation schemes. More recently, in 2019, we were delighted to become the first organisation to offer the construction industry’s new Common Assessment Standard which is transforming supply chain management by streamlining the assessment of a range of risks.  

Seeing other sectors benefit from the third-party accreditation model that CHAS led in the construction industry is fantastic. We now help over a thousand users across our client base and tens of thousands of contractors to ensure compliance with health and safety and ethical operational standards in sectors as broad as healthcare, social care, retail, manufacturing, education, facilities management, public services and hospitality, taking away the cost and administrative burden of these organisations completing these processes in-house.  

It’s also rewarding to build solutions that have a human impact and make the world of work safer. We mustn’t forget that ultimately health & safety is about people. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the health and safety industry in the UK?

Making sure it stays relevant as businesses and supply chains become more complex. The health & safety industry needs to continue to have a positive impact and ensure that the highest standards of health & safety are upheld without this becoming a bureaucratic burden to businesses. 

Also, while safety has been a key driver over the last 20 plus years, the challenges associated with managing health, including mental health, are clearly now coming to the fore. Suicide kills more construction workers than falls which is a sobering thought. 

How do you think these challenges can be overcome?

Collaboration is key and the construction industry is again leading the way here with the launch of the Common Assessment Standard which facilitates data sharing so that contractors and clients can check a contractor’s credentials via a single assessment body. This means once CHAS, for example, has confirmed that a contractor meets necessary health & safety and other risk management requirements, then their assessment can be accessed by anyone specifying the Common Assessment Standard without that contractor needing to be assessed by multiple bodies. It is a breath of fresh air for the construction industry and has already been adopted by many of the leading construction and civil engineering organisations. 

It’s worth noting that the Common Assessment Standard has also been designed to be achievable for SMEs and micro-businesses who make up a significant part of the economy. For example the assessment standards for certain questions have been revised for use with companies that employ fewer than five people and have a turnover below £500,000.

The fact that the Common Assessment Standard goes beyond health & safety also reflects a growing need to appreciate where health & safety sits in the wider risk landscape. You can rarely isolate risk, if quality isn’t up to standard for example there are often implications for the environment or safety. Businesses are increasingly being encouraged to extend their risk management approach across a range of issues. In the best companies risks management is also being aligned with procurement.

In terms of tackling long term health issues, including mental health, continuing to raise awareness of the challenges, facilitating conversations and providing access to support and information will all help. Social media is also a useful tool - traditionally some parts of the contractor and construction markets could be difficult to reach but this has changed. 

Thankfully significant progress has been made recently in raising awareness of mental health issues but this is only half the battle – it’s important to also provide workers with the tools to manage their mental health and to recognise how they can support those around them.  

What sets CHAS apart from its competitors?

CHAS has always understood the role it can play in the industry, so our motivation goes beyond profit and we are committed to promoting continual improvement and collaboration in supply chain risk management.    

Both CHAS, and its shareholder, recognise the importance of effective health & safety risk management for society as a whole. CHAS has always invested in the industry and not just in ourselves – hence our active participation in initiatives such as SSIP and the Common Assessment Standard.  

We are rigorous in our application of standards and innovative in adopting new techniques which sets the standard for the whole industry. 

What are your most memorable successes at CHAS?

I’ve just celebrated my fourth anniversary at CHAS. In terms of the big picture I have taken a business and tripled its size over those four years, moving it from an organisation offering a single service, to being one where we work with customers the deliver a suite of effective supply chain risk management solutions.  

What's next in the product pipeline for CHAS?

As we recognise how companies and clients are looking to manage risk we are further extending our services into the environmental and sustainability space including working with organisations engaged in the circular economy. 

We also recognise risk is not just about business; it’s about people and their effective use of equipment they use, so we are launching CHAS People and CHAS Plant which allow organisations to more effectively manage their people and their equipment and assets. 

From the CHAS People perspective, as modern slavery and workforce compliance increasingly come under the spotlight many businesses are seeking better visibility of their workforce. Based around the concept of a digital wallet, CHAS People simplifies the workforce verification process and allows anyone responsible for workforce compliance to be confident that their workforce is legitimate and qualified, reducing risk and saving time and money.

Meanwhile CHAS Plant meets a growing need for organisations to be able to better manage their plant and other assets. An example of the impact we can have is around the new engine emission standards for non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) on construction sites in London, which are seeing plant operators subject to onsite inspections. CHAS Plant allows them to do this easily in addition to enabling them to keep track of all of their maintenance and safety inspections. 

What's your vision for the future of CHAS?

CHAS will continue to offer solutions around the whole supply chain risk management offering and set and drive standards in the industry. 

We also expect the way organisations manage risk to fundamentally change. Historically a lot of organisations have looked in the rear view mirror around assessing risk but in the future it will become far more about the utilisation of predictive data to help manage risk and this is a direction that excites me.    

What do you think the medium term future holds for the safety industry globally?

As supply chains get stricter there will be increasing scrutiny on the working conditions of people engaged in supply chains around the world, this will include closer examination of working practices and more effort to identify and eradicate the presence of issues such as modern slavery. End consumers are increasingly interested in businesses’ ethical standards and want to make sure that they operate appropriately and people are treated properly so worker safety and health is paramount.

What health & safety issues are you most passionate about?

As mentioned earlier, long term health and mental health because there is still a lot of work to be done. We are proud sponsors of the Lighthouse Club, a construction industry charity which raises money for the construction workforce and their families and has a strong focus on improving the emotional wellbeing of its community.

From the long term health perspective protecting workers from respiratory hazards is an issue that needs our sustained attention. We are much better at controlling the risks around asbestos now but there are still many respiratory hazards that loom large which workers are regularly exposed to, without fully appreciating that although this exposure may not be affecting them today or tomorrow, or even next year, the implications in the future may be significant. 

How can we entice more young talent to work in the health and safety sector? 

Aligning health & safety with environmental and health challenges can help to broaden the appeal of a career in health & safety. Hopefully seeing how solutions are being enabled and driven by technology will also encourage people with a real passion in those areas to recognise that this is an industry where they have the opportunity to make a difference. 

Ian McKinnon is the managing director of CHAS. For more information, visit