A day in the life of Louise Ward
07 March 2018
Each issue HSM puts the spotlight on worker safety and health by speaking to a member of the British Safety Council about the challenges and rewards of working in this field. This time we talk to Louise Ward
What is your job, and where do you work?
I am the policy and communications director at the British Safety Council. I’m based in Hammersmith in West London but my job involves travelling throughout the UK and occasionally overseas, so I’m pretty mobile most of the time.
What motivates you to get out of bed on a work day?
I fundamentally believe that everyone has the right to go home safe and well at the end of each working day, and that every family has the right to expect the same for their loved ones. I like to think that each day I make a small contribution to making that a reality, and that’s my motivation.
What does a typical day entail for you?
This is a slightly non-standard health and safety job really. I am responsible for the work that the British Safety Council does to promote health and safety, influence good practice, legislation and guidance and encourage a positive and proactive approach where health and safety enables and supports business efficiency and personal wellbeing.
A typical day might involve meeting with our members to discuss topics of interest; liaising with politicians or regulators; organising an event; speaking at a conference; writing an article; or working with my team to develop topic based campaigns to support our work. It’s a hugely varied role that allows me to interact with a wide range of people and environments. No two days are ever the same, and I love the variety that brings.
What skills are vital to your role?
Probably my communication skills. I’ve learnt that a health and safety practitioner doesn’t need to know everything. It’s important to have a good foundation of background knowledge, but the detail that you might need to know in every situation can be drawn out from the people that you are interacting with. They are the experts, and they are far more likely to get involved in health and safety if they are able to contribute and influence the approach adopted.
I guess I’ve come to see my role as that of a facilitator much of the time. It’s not always easy though!
What item would you be lost without at work?
My iphone! How sad it that? My role is very mobile and is all about communication. My phone gives me access to breaking news, resources and information via the internet as well as to my business server via the cloud, and to my email. I do actually make and receive calls too with colleagues and stakeholders, and any urgent alerts come through to me as instant messages.
We live in the digital age, and as long as I have my phone, I can pretty much work from anywhere at any time and be really effective.
What route did you take to working in the field of worker safety and health protection?
I decided that I wanted to work in health and safety whilst I was still at school, and I went straight on to university to do a health and safety degree. I did a brilliant four year course at the University of Greenwich. It was really intensive but gave me a very detailed grounding in all the key aspects of occupational health, safety and environmental management and practice. I also spent over a year working full time in industry which helped me to build my practical skills too.
Since graduating I have continued to refine my knowledge and skills through working in a wide range of organisations and sectors. The learning is never finished, I can genuinely say that I still learn something new every day, and I love that. The profession is still growing, changing and evolving and there are huge opportunities to make a real difference to people’s lives if you’re open, flexible and committed.
What advice would you give a person thinking of working in the area of health and safety at work?
Go for it! But you get out what you put in. A health and safety career offers an amazing variety of opportunities, but you have to be committed to lifelong learning, and willing to engage with people. It can be tough, especially when things go wrong, but it can be hugely rewarding too. It’s absolutely essential to build a balanced framework of theoretical knowledge, practical experience and technical and non-technical skills, and that takes time. Don’t just think you can do a course for a few weeks and you’re done! To make the most of the opportunities available you need to keep building and refining your skills through formal learning, experience, and continuing professional development. So commitment and a long term view are key.
When did you last laugh in work? What made you laugh?
Last Friday whilst working at home because of the snow. I was on a skype call but got distracted by a group of kids sledging down the road outside. I was actually just concerned for their safety, but my colleagues accused me of wanting to be outside joining in! Anyone who knows me will understand why that’s funny – I have no sense of adventure at all and I hate getting cold and wet!
What is the best part of working in your field?
The variety of work and the people. That really makes it for me.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to health and safety at work currently?
We really need to get up to speed with health and wellbeing.
People are at the heart of every successful business, and we are facing a shortage of skilled workers. It makes absolute sense from every point of view to do everything possible to keep our workforce safe and well.
Years ago we had an industrial economy in Britain and the focus of health and safety was on controlling physical hazards and dealing with major accidents. As time has gone on the balance has changed. Now we are a skills and knowledge based economy and this brings with it a different range of hazards.
We’ve made great progress and far fewer people are now killed or seriously injured at work. This is allowing us to shift the focus and to consider longer latency issues such as health and wellbeing in more detail. The ageing workforce and the 24/7 ‘always on’ culture are also having an effect on our health, and mental health and wellbeing is very much the issue of our time.
We need to reduce the stigma associated with health and mental health issues, help people to understand that it’s completely normal to not be OK all of the time, and build a network of systems to provide support as and when people need it.
See our recent report on the future of work and risk at https://www.britsafe.org/campaigns-policy/future-risk/