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Why health & safety needs talent
23 January 2013
Regardless of political preferences it is fair to say that the Tory appointed health & safety trouble shooter Lord Young had a point when he said in his speech at a recent health and safety conference that â€œhealth and safety is in crisisâ€. (You can view the speech on the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's website, www.iosh.co.uk). A catalogue of events has led me to believe this may well be true.
The first was a friend expressing their bemusement at the latest installment of a health & safety ebulletin they receive at work. In the past they had reported that it contains such wonders as reminders not to drink and drive, and warnings of the dangers of making hot drinks, but this special pre-bank holiday issue focussed on how to safely put up a deck chair - on hearing this I nearly fell off mine. The second is a salesman's account of a factory trip where, when they asked some workers why they weren't wearing hearing protection in a noisy area they replied: â€œTo annoy our health and safety rep.â€ The third, and perhaps the clincher, was when attending a university reunion an engineer friend realised that I was now involved in health & safety and ripped up my business card as an expression of his distaste. No doubt you have your own similar tales to tell.
Of course this isn't news to the industry. It has been grappling with this image problem for some time with the various health and safety bodies doing their best to contest the plethora of health & safety myths that exist in the public domain. But let's face it these efforts have only really amounted to nibbling around the edge of the issue.
In his speech Lord Young lay the blame for the crisis firmly at the door of health & safety professionals accusing them of making health and safety â€œat best an object of ridicule and at worse a bureaucratic nightmare.â€ He also supported IOSH's desire to drive out 'rogue' health and safety traders. But does the idea of Rogue Traders in this industry really stand up? Could you picture the BBC's Matt Allwright in a stationary cupboard with a competent safety advisor ready to jump out and expose someone for giving rogue safety advice? Isn't it less an issue of 'rogue' traders and more an issue of lack lustre ones? The damage is being done not by people doing anything wrong or breaking codes of conduct but by people who are failing to inspire and motivate people.
While, of course, there are many motivational and inspiring people working in health & safety, how often do you see health and safety recruitment adverts asking for these characteristics? Many employers in their choice of health and safety staff seem to gravitate towards the reassuringly dull further feeding this stereotype and coercing these staff into living up to this expectation. Perhaps a drive to engage more passionate and inspiring people in the subject coupled with a training system that promotes these attributes is the missing link?
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