Home >Shaping health and safety in the UK
Shaping health and safety in the UK
23 January 2013
2012 sees Geoff Hooke, a familiar face to many HSM readers as the General Secretary of the BSIF, retire from the federation. Geoff has been involved in the safety industry for over three decades and played a major role within implementing the infrastructure of the BSIF. HSM talks to Geoff about his role in establishing a leading trade association and the impact of his work on occupational health & safety in the UK
How did you get into the health and safety industry?
The move into the health and safety industry began when I joined North Safety back in 1986 as a sales director, following successful marketeer stints at Woolworths, Shell and Proctor & Gamble. After a tremendous first year at North Safety, I was appointed to managing director of the Swedish, Nordic and Danish division in 1989.
However, it was becoming more apparent that the numerous trade associations at the time were not adapting to ongoing changes within the industry. I saw this as a great opportunity to create a new model which encompassed all of the different areas of health and safety under one federation; as a result, the BSIF was born.
In 1994 and with the support of the 13 other founder members, I set up the infrastructure of the BSIF. With the funds raised from the founding members we were able to create the beginnings of the BSIF as we know it today. The federation currently has over 120 members and has an influencing role with changes and improvements in the safety industry and I am extremely proud to say that I have been involved in helping achieve this.
Which of the BSIF's initiatives do you think have had the greatest impact on occupational health & safety in the UK?
Probably the most effective initiative was to ensure that Clause 2.2 was not included in the original PPE Directive. Clause 2.2 sought to place on manufacturers a duty to ensure that users selected the correct products to protect their staff and, clearly, manufacturers were in no position to control how users selected protective products. This took some high level lobbying in the UK and in Europe at a time when the BSIF was in its infancy and had yet to establish its presence.
In more recent times, the joint campaigns with the HSE "It's in your hands" and "Clean Air? Take Care!" have had a fundamentally beneficial effect in two areas. In the first place, the association with the HSE has assisted the publicity of these campaigns and while the outcomes of the respiratory campaign have yet to be evaluated there is little doubt that the first one has contributed to much greater awareness of industrial dermatitis and the statistics seem to suggest that the incidence of this condition is now reducing.
Secondly, and perhaps more important, these two campaigns established ways in which the BSIF and government departments can work together successfully to bring improvements in the health and safety of workers. This development has had extensive knock-on effects such as the development of Fit2Fit accreditations for respiratory fit-testers supported by the HSE and joint initiatives with other regulatory departments such as the Environment Agency.
Are there any issues you would like to see the BSIF deal with in the future?
The prime focus for the BSIF has been with PPE because a significant number of members make, trade in and certify these products. Perhaps, in the future, the BSIF will be able to take a wider and more holistic approach to industrial safety through its activities in seeking to embrace a wider product universe such as marine equipment, chemical containment and other safety related products, to bring many of the other supply-chain players together for the common good and to help ways in which the current passion for devolution can be better managed in coordinating the various interests. This latter is currently counter productive in that it is difficult to speak to organisations such as Trading Standards other than at a local level.
What can other trade associations learn from the BSIF?
Trade Associations are not generally flush with funds and often fall into the trap of requiring member companies to carry out some of the planning and delivery of good initiatives while attempting to manage their own businesses. This often results in the "hobbyists" trying to deliver far too many initiatives at the same time and instead of achieving a few goals, the result is a large number of unfinished projects. The BSIF was founded on the principle that it was the task of the Federation to "do the work" and that it should have a Council of commercially aware seniors to oversee and stimulate its programme while, at the same time, ensuring that the Federation is not overstretched by biting off more than it can chew.
What do you think are the biggest health & safety challenges for businesses today?
The prime challenge to anybody running a business is to ensure that it is still trading next year. Time is precious. An SME survey some years ago established that while health and safety was second on the priority list for managers, it figured tenth on the activity list. Health and safety is not rocket science but it does need to compete with selling products and keeping the bank manager on side.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Always recruit people who are better than you. If the job is interesting and they are "valued" the results are significantly better than if you seek to protect your own position by employing "jobs worths." HSM would like to take this opportunity to wish Geoff a happy and prosperous retirement.