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In the spotlight with John Gill

24 July 2017

Each issue, we put the spotlight on PPE and worker safety & health by asking BSIF members to share their thoughts and insight. This issue, we talk to John Gill, managing director at uvex Safety UK and chairman of the BSIF.

What was your first job?

I joined Upjohn Pharmaceuticals ( Pharmacia ) as a medical representative in the East Midlands and benefited from the outstanding training and development programmes they had developed. The world of complex pharmaceuticals was interesting, exciting and professionally demanding, but all in all a great challenge. 

How did you get into the safety & health industry?

I was approached to consider the role of sales and marketing director for Racal Health and Safety - an industrial 'sea-change' after 19 years in the pharmaceutical/medical sector. I have to admit to having no concept of the safety market at that time, but the passion and enthusiasm of the Racal Board - coupled with a role of open-ended scope - was enough to secure my commitment. It was great to be associated with the company which had led the way in the fast evolving powered air respirator field  Within a year I was asked to take on the responsibility for running the entire business as director and general manager, culminating in its acquisition by 3M in 1998. I joined uvex Safety UK as MD thereafter and retain this position together with other responsibilities within the uvex Group.

Who, in any other industry, do you most admire and why?

Sir Richard Branson and his raw vision, competitive attitude, resilience, determination and opportunism. He’s been very successful at surrounding himself with competent people and giving them the scope to express their talents. He’s a great conductor who knows that he doesn’t have to be able to play all the instruments, to achieve the best results - a sure sign of leadership.

How would you improve the safety & health industry in the UK?

Well first let’s be clear that our Industry has made - and continues to make - a massive contribution to the continuously improving UK safety culture, a contribution to be proud of. Our industry is a benchmark for excellence in many respects and our challenge is to be recognised as real partners for our customers through the way we work.

This requires a high level of consistency in the way we interact, whether it be through the quality, relevance and professionalism of the 'sales process', the extent to which we embed ourselves in the customers workplace to properly understand wearer needs or the efforts we make to ensure our products satisfy the requirements of standards at all times.

The soon to be launched Safe Supply Accreditation Qualification, developed by the BSIF, will enable anyone involved in the customer interface to demonstrate a degree of competence in the broad subject of safety at a level beyond that required by their particular product or service, so raising the value of that vital interface.

What is the best way to combat negative attitudes towards health & safety?

Rather than getting drawn into debates on the extension of 'health & safety' into largely non-industrial activities where the common perception is that it’s a reason to stop or limit something always considered to be normal, we must emphasise the wholly positive and significant effect that industrial health & safety programmes have had on worker well-being and by extension, business well-being.

By giving sustained prominence to what well delivered safe working practice has achieved and continues to deliver, since the launch of the Health and Safety at Work Act ( 1974) in terms of the frequency type and consequential impact of injury.  The combined effect of “engineering -out” risk, the development of positive safety cultures and the significant evolution of PPE technology, has been to ensure that significantly more people are safe at work and return home able to enjoy normal family life.

We must also embed the causal link between optimised safety programmes and the health of workers-where the legacy of the former is the quality of life and productivity of the worker.

Consistent message delivery through all those involved, including Government, of our collective duty of care to workers, will positively enhance the perception of the role and contribution of great Health and Safety practice.

What is the best advice you could give to someone new coming into the safety and PPE industry?

This is a very serious, worthwhile industry, no less demanding of commitment and professionalism than any other mainstream industry. Somewhat uniquely, we have the privilege, to be directly linked to keeping people safe at work. The direct consequences on family life, business performance and potentially, reduced pressure on the NHS are enormous.

Take the time to develop a deep understanding of the way our Industry works, specifically the connectivity between manufacturers, distributors, service providers and industry itself. It’s an intensely competitive industry sector, with multiple participants and a high level of 'me-too' PPE technology. Identify those companies that distinguish themselves through innovative technology, an uncompromising commitment to quality, first class customer support and service and clear evidence of long term ambition. Such companies are committed to delivering measurable value-added and will attract the best talent.

What do you think the medium term future holds for the safety & health and PPE industry in the UK?

A combination of serious challenges, ever present opportunities and a market which needs our Industry to further increase the quality of its contribution. From a purely commercial perspective we face multiple challenges arising from the Brexit process namely, uncertainty, currency effects and the complications which may arise from being outside the free trade zone. Changes in standards and within the European Directive may well prove challenging for businesses with limited resources and the unacceptable level of non-compliant PPE should be a concern for all and one which needs to be resolved.

These challenges notwithstanding, the continuous improvement in the UK’s safety culture, our industries’ contribution to this in partnership with stake holders and the fact that there is real scope for further enhancement-will create clear opportunities for those committed to raising the bar though their service, support and technology competencies. The market rightly demands this value added and Industry is positioned to deliver it.

The medium term will feature the introduction of Smart PPE which is likely, over time, to have a profound effect on the value such PPE will offer to businesses. This could mark a watershed in the recent history of PPE and is naturally aligned with the digital transformation going on around us.

If you could invite any three people, dead or alive, to a dinner with you, who would they be and why?

Sir David Attenborough: for his undiminished enthusiasm for the natural world; his genius in bringing the wonders of the planet to our living rooms… and because he commands universal respect.

Neil Armstrong: one small step for man etc…

Leonardo da Vinci: universal genius-renaissance polymath-developed the first conceptual helicopter in the late 15th century.

Occupational health is a big part of the HSE’s “Helping Britain Work Well” strategy, how do you think safety can retain the profile that it requires?

We have to prove the links between the quality of safety strategy, the products and services which support it, the level of implementation and the measurable effects on wearer well-being, productivity and incident reduction. The extent to which we can demonstrate the relationship between product quality and cost compared with the multiple costs attached to workplace incidents, will increase the perceived value of products and services provided, so building our profile.
Demonstrating how technology not only provides the required protection levels but also enhances the wearer experience ie “helping people to work well” is an important bridge to enhanced occupational health.

Do you see the new sentencing guidelines on health and safety offenses affecting businesses, yet?

Well they’ve certainly affected those businesses already subject to the new linkage between the seriousness of the event, culpability, turnover and resulting fines. Hopefully, the attached publicity sends a clear message to all businesses to review the robustness of their safety strategy and the extent to which it’s invested and implemented.

I do believe that our Industry has a vital role to play in working closely with businesses to contribute to strategy development and perhaps more critically, to support implementation-especially in complex multi-location structures. We clearly need to earn the right to provide this service but such a differentiated approach is what our customers deserve.