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A day in the life of Richard Byrne

22 May 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 Richard Byrne

What is your job, and where do you work?

I'm the group health & safety director for Travis Perkins Plc – a £6bn group of over 20 businesses with more than 24,000 colleagues supplying building materials to the construction and DIY markets, the group include: Travis Perkins Builders Merchants, Wickes, Toolstation and Keyline.

What motivates you to get out of bed on a work day?

Many years ago I was an apprentice mechanic and I saw things that were definitely not safe nor good for your health and ever since I've wanted to help keep people safe. On a day-to-day basis though I work with brilliant people and most days I'm inspired by something someone does.

What does a typical day entail for you?

My days have always varied massively as I've always worked in multi site organisations, it's just the content that changes. Now, for example, I could be helping one of our heads of health and safety map out a strategy to tackle a problem, attending a board meeting, or providing oversight for the non-executive directors.

What is your favourite, or most important, piece of work equipment?

It is nothing I use actually! We have a special grab attachment that we introduced to our Keyline business nearly four years ago that reduced the amount our yard colleagues have to manually 'lift and shift' by a staggering 78%. I get a real kick when I see colleagues using it.

What item would you be lost without at work?

Working for a large group with stakeholders based all over the country for me to be visible is really important. Whilst I use tech to help me do this, sometimes you just have to get in your car and go. So it's my car.

What route did you take to working in the field of worker safety and health protection?

As I said I was an apprentice mechanic when I left school and some of things I saw (and did) inspired me – with a nudge from my father – to find out more about health and safety. I went back to college to get a GNVQ in Advanced Science (which was equivalent to three A-Levels) so that I could go to University. I studied for a combined honours degree in Ergonomics and Health and Safety Management at Aston University before joining Midlands Co-op as a health and safety officer back in 2002. Since then I've been fortunate enough to work my way up the safety career ladder in some of the biggest organisations in UK industry.

What advice would you give a person thinking of working in the area of health and safety at work?

I'm sure lots of people will say "get your qualifications, get a good mentor etc." and whilst all those things are really important, the bit I wish I'd known back when I was thinking about getting into safety was to learn how to be more resilient. Not that knowing that would have changed my path, but developing coping mechanisms quicker would have made my life easier (and happier at times).

When did you last laugh in work? What made you laugh?

Today. Whilst everyone works really hard at TP, we do have fun too. Thinking about it I think I laugh most days, for one reason or another.

What is the best part of working in your field?

When I can go home and know what I've done has helped someone else. Take the grab I mentioned earlier. I was talking to one of our yard colleagues a few months after we'd introduced it at their branch, at a place called Kirkby-in-Ashfield, and I asked what impact it had had on him. His reply humbled me, he said: "I go home now and my back doesn't hurt."

What do you see as the biggest challenges to health and safety at work currently?

The world in which we live is changing at an ever increasing pace – just think about the advances in digital tech over recent years. So for me the biggest challenges we face now are three fold: how do we adapt to keep up with the pace of change, the need to think through the impact of change on health and safety management arrangements and how we evolve our communication and engagement techniques accordingly.