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In the spotlight with Dale Stokes

26 January 2018

Every issue we put a BSIF member in the spotlight to share their thoughts on PPE and worker safety & health. This month we talk to Dale Stokes, board member of The BSIF and managing director, Bunzl Cleaning and Safety

1) What was your first job?

Saturday & holiday role as a ‘Sunshop Consultant’ for Boots the Chemist recommending which sun creams customers should select for different skin types. I like to think I’ve been helping to protect customers in the safety & health industry since I began as a 15 year old!!

2) How did you get into the safety & health industry?

I was MD of a distribution business that supported a range of leading FMCG and retail brands such as Coca-Cola, Heineken, Morrisons and Shell. We sold the business to Bunzl in March 2013 and I stayed on to run the business and complete some further acquisitions before being invited in June 2016 to relocate to London and lead our UK cleaning & safety distribution businesses.

It was, and is, an exciting move - the chance to build on a business with origins back to the 1850’s but ensure we lead the agenda in the UK with a customer centric approach that’s obsessive about helping our customers protect their people every day.

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

Pretty much any leader who builds a truly customer-centric business. I’m obsessive about ensuring a ‘WOW Customer Experience’ - the basics of ‘service’ must always be there of ensuring our customers get the correct products delivered to the correct location but ‘customer experience’ is so much more than just delivering a box of product - understanding our customers business needs, the risks faced by their team members and how we can deploy our expertise to keep them safe & compliant. At all stages for the supply process we look for challenges and pain points and designing ways to alleviate those. At times, there are arguably many B2C businesses that are so much stronger than the B2B sector in this regard, something we’re leading the way with changing.

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

We’re making great headway in embracing innovations such as wearable technology to help our customers navigate various industry challenges – counterfeit PPE, correctly specified items being worn for the correct use and end-to-end sustainable supply chain management, from PPE issue to collection, destruction and recycling. Accelerating technology adoption in our sector can only help to reduce risks and improve the data safety & health professionals can give back to their internal stakeholders.

With the customer experience in mind, it’s great to see an increasing focus on the real end-user of PPE products. Colleagues wearing PPE are doing so for most of their working day, week and indeed life, often in challenging conditions. PPE has got to be properly specified to protect but it’s also got to be supremely comfortable. It’s absurd it’s taken the industry so long to get on the front foot with developments such as female specific PPE and I want to make sure our safety businesses lead the way in always considering the ultimate end-user when we’re working on product development and testing.

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

Like many areas of progression, it’s a journey and one I think many health & safety professionals are making good headway in. Ultimately it’s about education but doing so in practical ways with real examples. Our role is to help customers understand what is changing and how they can be reassured that we have it under control and can take the complexity out of this for them.

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

As a relative newcomer myself, I’ve found the industry to be blessed with some very knowledgeable people who have helped to shape it into what it’s become. Some of my most productive time has been spent with those people asking question upon question upon question!

Overall, the whole world of safety & PPE may at times not seem as glamorous a career step as perhaps working for, say, a tech business or fashion retailer. But why couldn’t it be? It’s a traditional sector at times but so, so critical - lives, quite literally, depend on it, which is perhaps as big a responsibility as there can be. If you’re new to the sector, bring those outside perspectives in and shout about them and let’s ‘steal with pride’ from other sectors!

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

Clearly the seminal event this year is the introduction of the new PPE Regulations. I hope the PPE Regulations become everything they promise to be - a real step-change and bar-raising event for our sector.

We’ve worked hard to ensure all our customer facing team members across our business have an in-depth understanding of the PPE Regs, with extensive training undertaken to be able to advise and support our customers. We see this not as a commercial opportunity but as a chance to help shape our industry for years to come and help our customers to steer a path through the enhanced legislative requirements.

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

From a business perspective, it’d be fascinating to have dinner with Howard Schultz, Chair of Starbucks, and Larry Page from Google. The former has innovated to scale up a business in a sector that has effectively existed for hundreds of years in one form or another but never been grasped and conquered in the way Starbucks now have.   Converse to that you’ve got Google which quite literally couldn’t have existed 20 years ago and has effectively innovated with something we didn’t even realise we needed in our lives to great effect, with every indication being they’ve barely yet begun.

The third invite, and seat at the head of the table, would be reserved for Bill Shankly, pretty much just to say thank you! I’m a huge Liverpool FC fan, I went to my first game at 9 months old and remain a season ticket holder today. Shankly was the architect of everything that followed and the countless highs, and one of two lows, enjoyed by four generations of my family.

9) 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?

Safety is intrinsic to good health strategies so anything that brings greater awareness to Occupational Health or Wellbeing should see a halo effect on the profile of the safety industry. Footwear is a great example of where approaches are changing – where it may once have been about just issuing an employee with a compliant piece of footwear, we’re now working with our customers on initiatives to take that to fresh heights such as our foot scanning roadshows where we can take pop-up equipment to fully scan a workforce and identify not only what footwear is appropriate for them but also innersoles to really ensure great fit and comfort.

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

Great progress has been made across small, medium & large enterprises to raise the bar on awareness and investment by organisations in health & safety. The bar today is so much higher than it was 10 years ago which was higher again from 10 years before that. That’s continual progress and legislation, and sentencing guidelines, will hopefully play their role in keeping and building that momentum.