In the spotlight with Dr Chris Payne
10 May 2021
This month we put Dr Chris Payne in the spotlight to find out about his route into the health and safety industry, his career highlights and how he has recently gained a greater insight to taking health and safety beyond compliance
How did you get into the health and safety industry?
That goes as far back as the start of my career in the health service, where health and safety and unions were intertwined in everyday work. Throughout my career in education and training, health and safety has played an important part, especially in the 90s when young adults were entering work experience.
More recently I have gained a greater insight to taking health and safety beyond compliance and reached out to promoting and practicing supporting the approach of human behaviour, including wellbeing and mental health as a wider remit for our profession.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
That is a simple one, people. My competitiveness has taught me over many years to enjoy the moment. Success is not yours but is determined by what other people see as your success, therefore I enjoy enabling people to develop and achieve in whatever they do. That is my job, to ensure my team, our Learning Partners and learners are successful. Of course, if you played me at tennis I would have to win!
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the health and safety industry in UK?
I hope the past denigration of our profession over the years with such things as it’s the 'Health and Safety Police' is now confined rightly to history. Although on a personal note the pandemic has seen many people suffer with the loss of family and friends, it has [perhaps] raised the profile and the appreciation of the valuable work the health and safety profession and people within it undertake.
There are many challenges but certainly one is to sustain the positive reputation the profession has earned in recent times and also to build upon that to be recognised as a real and genuine business imperative rather than a nice to have. For me, one of the biggest challenges is to recognise that mental health and the wellbeing of the workforce is an employer responsibility. As strong as the 1974 Health Safety and Welfare act remains today, we [industry] struggle with the human capital, the people factor, but it remains integral to productivity and duty of care.
The profession should be the enabler, profit maximiser and a guardian of the workforce. The far-reaching benefits of health, safety and wellbeing – reduced accidents, illness and injuries, increased employee satisfaction, reduced sickness absence, reduced staff turnover and much more – have a positive impact on productivity and profitability; thus the profession is absolutely deserving of a place on the Board and the highest levels of decision making and influence.
How do you think these challenges can be overcome?
It is, perhaps, necessary to put health and safety on the business balance sheet, as an asset, and with this business-based footing to add value above and beyond what is already recognised and accepted. Health and safety has often become more salient after a high profile accidental loss and that may be highlighting the need for a change in the practitioner’s education level, and the investment can only better equip our professionals to operate at the highest levels of business.
What sets NEBOSH apart from its competitors?
In my eyes NEBOSH doesn’t have any competition. Let me explain. In the world of health and safety, where the common purpose is to protect and save lives, thus ensure people return home safely from work, then we don’t have competition. So together we offer a range of ways to educate and train people, the profession, who live with that responsibility on a daily basis. We don’t have competition, what we need is collaboration for the greater good of who we serve.
What are you most memorable successes at NEBOSH?
After five months in the job, success is for others to judge. That said, what have I enjoyed the most in the past few months, even though I have yet to meet my team in person, including the board, it has been a pleasure to have formed such a great rapport with everyone, via Zoom. And the team has produced a remarkable recovery from the shock of lockdown, enabling learners to access their examinations and assessment, with the same rigour and robustness the industry expects from NEBOSH.
I’m not sure people understand my sense of humour yet, but you can’t have everything! Maybe in the years ahead it will become part of the NEBOSH story.
What’s next in the pipeline for NEBOSH?
We have been reviewing and updating our current portfolio to make sure the taught content continues to meet the needs of today’s health and safety practitioner. This has also included revisiting our assessments to ensure they not only measure what our learners know and can do but also that they are digital and can be accessed by any learner anywhere. So, we have lots of new products planned for the coming year which embed what we have learnt from the last year - we’re building resilience into everything we do for our learners. We’ve already promised a new flagship Diploma and we’ll be delivering that – not only is it more focused on professional skills, but we’ve also made sure that assessments can all be done remotely. Even the assessments are a learning experience – we’ve included realistic simulations, reflective practice, application in the workplace and a research element to help develop transferrable skills that professionals need.
We’ve also launched completely reimagined fire and construction qualifications. Check out too our brand-new Working with Wellbeing course – it’s one day that’ll change your world, if you let it. We were tired of the confusion and muddle in the wellbeing space and we wanted sort that out and give a new perspective and a new hope in these trying times. We are also striking out with IIRSM into the world of eLearning with a new pilot programme on risk management. This is our first venture into direct eLearning and the first time with our partner IIRSM, so we want to make sure we get it right.
We are also working on our product strategy to make sure we continue to deliver the right products to all our stakeholders – courses, qualifications and other services that will help our learners reduce risk in workplaces around the world.
What’s your vision for the future of NEBOSH?
First is to deliver our charitable purpose, and I quote “preservation of health and wellbeing by the promotion of high standards of health, safety and environmental protection at work…”. However, it is how we achieve this in the future which drives my vision. As we, NEBOSH, celebrated our 40th Birthday in 2019, a great achievement, and then hit by lockdown in 2020, which became a catalyst for change, a new dawn, an awakening, a Phoenix; whatever the metaphor, NEBOSH needed to modernise, using technology to complement our talented team.
We will grow not by luck, but hard work and determination to serve and deliver our purpose. This will, as previously mentioned, involve a collaborative approach with stakeholders and the industry bodies, enabling and supporting our Learning Partners so we grow together, creating a fantastic learner journey, a health and safety career pathway from entry to board level.
What do you think the medium-term future holds for the safety industry globally?
The future is very positive because of the aforementioned strategic plans we have to give health and safety professionals an opportunity to advance and enhance their education skills and thus develop further their place in business and wider employer organisation in both the private and public sectors. The time is now, and we [the industry] need to grasp the opportunity and rise to the challenge.
What health and safety issues are you most passionate about?
I know that many high-risk sectors have been wrestling with the problem of human behaviour - behavioural safety - as almost a ‘final frontier’ in exemplary health and safety performance to ensure people get home safe every day. Our very raison d’être is to preserve and improve health, safety and wellbeing. I would also like to see the profession and its practices be more proactive than reactive to be better recognised for the outstanding work they do.
How can we entice more young talent to work in the health and safety sector?
We hope to provide education above and beyond what might be typically traditionally expected to enter and enjoy the noble profession of the health and safety practitioner.
We also want to give people the educational platform to develop into an all-round business professional; this will provide real opportunities for progressive health and safety professionals to play a major and increasingly influential role in business and I expect that health and safety professionals will feature more and more in CEOs of the future.
It’s really encouraging to hear that businesses are incorporating NEBOSH qualifications into their apprenticeship schemes; these schemes are a great way for young people and school leavers to develop both the technical and soft skills that are needed by a health and safety professional. It also provides people seeking health and safety as a first career an opportunity to continue their education without needing to go to university.
Dr Chris Payne is CEO at NEBOSH. For more information, visit www.nebosh.org.uk