Safety advisers need to communicate authentically and inspire the people around them.

Our tried and tested formula has worked in the past, but continuing to do what we have always done is failing. The world is much more sophisticated, hyper-connected and ultra competitive.

We cannot ignore the harsh realities and tough choices that our economy faces. Traditional business structures and relationships are breaking down. Business leaders are having to evolve as well; from hierarchy to shared responsibility, from command and control to listening and guiding.

Safety practitioners can no longer rely on their positional or technical authority. They need to develop the skills to communicate authentically and to inspire people around them.

The health and safety brand!

We need to understand the importance and impact of the health and safety brand. Current media and political challenge strikes at the very root of our existence. We need to rebuild trust and earn new respect.

Brands are all around us, reinforcing reputation, maintaining loyalty and reflecting worth.
Brand is the way that we let people know what we stand for and why that is important in their lives.

To understand our brand we need to consider its positioning and design.

To reposition our brand we need to get better at story telling and relationships.

People do judge a book by its cover

Steve Jobs’s early mentor Mike Markkula wrote him a memo in 1979 that urged three principles. The first two were “empathy” and “focus.” The third was an awkward word, “impute,” but it became one of Jobs’s key doctrines. He knew that people form an opinion about a product or a company on the basis of how it is presented and packaged. “Mike taught me that people do judge a book by its cover”.
This really applies to health and safety. The health and safety brand is out there and needs to change.

New year, new health and safety!

The future of health and safety is all about simplicity. Without a new level of clarity and simplicity, it will continue to feel like health and safety lacks the confidence to effectively explain what we are, what we do and what we are trying to achieve. If we are to design an offer that is attractive to our customers then we have to realise that less is more and work harder at stripping out the superfluous from what we do.

Health and safety needs to be easier to understand, administer and enforce. Managers often feel overwhelmed when faced with the many things they need to do to comply with health and safety legislation. We need to take the complexity away by expressing health and safety in a plain, simple, natural manner and this simplicity has to pervade every aspect of what we do.

The most popular SHP Feature articles of 2012

Our most popular features in 2012

CPD article – Tides of opinion

David Branson compares the legal concepts of ‘reasonably practicable’ and ‘reasonably foreseeable’, in respect of breaches of health and safety law and civil liability for accidents, and explores the changing interpretation of both terms by the courts.
London 2012 – A question of trust

With the countdown to the largest sporting event in UK history now in full swing it would be easy to forget what has already been achieved by the London 2012 Olympics, such as the impressive safety record of ‘the big build’. Caroline Sugden and Nicola Healey explain how safety culture – and, in particular, health and safety trust – was developed, fostered and measured on the Olympic Park site.

Developing the profession – Brand of opportunity

In the first of a series of articles examining what practitioners can learn from the business practices of some of the most successful companies in the world, Peter Roddis looks at how ‘brand’ has the power to change the world of health and safety.

Occupational health – Lighting the way

What can be learnt from the award-winning occupational-health provision on the Olympic Park and Athletes’ Village construction projects, and replicated on the more typical site? Claire Tyers evaluates its potential legacy.

Environment – Scene to be green

The Government’s current appetite for relaxing the reporting requirements for health and safety incidents doesn’t appear to be matched in the environmental sphere. Martin Baxter explains the current regulatory scene on green issues, the changes in reporting on the horizon, and the opportunities opening up for both health and safety and environmental practitioners.

To read the articles and more click here to go to the SHP feature articles index

My new article explores the importance of simplicity in health and safety

Lets Face the Music

The focus of my new article Lets face the music develops the theme of the first article in this series Brand of opportunity . The theme is about how the world is changing faster than ever and how the health and safety profession needs to evolve and think differently. If we want to maintain our influence and thrive, we need to create a new context based on new behaviours. If we are to connect with emerging generations, we have to realise that they have different values and expectations.
My earlier article Its only just begun explored how emerging generations have different expectations and how this will change and is already impacting on the workplace. Generation Y and Generation Z have very different expectations and communicate differently, using social networking. Emerging generations expect simplicity and do not relate to over complicated instructions and processes. Technological change has created an expectation that simple interfaces, style and ease of use are what the world is about.
The view, promoted by the media, is that health and safety has lost it’s way and become extremely bureaucratic and overbearing and this seems to have become the safety brand! We have to change and that means that we have to think more carefully about our interactions, and sell the benefits, so people really understand why health and safety is important. We need to change how we communicate and need to sell the benefits of health and safety. We need to move as far away as possible from the media perception that we are the fun police and over reliant on an overbearing and legalistic approach.
My article explores how simplicity can help us move forward and how we can learn about this from the business world; from the likes of Apple, who have revolutionised the way that the world works and interacts.
Have a read and led me know what you think. We need a debate about the future of the profession, lets start one now.

Lets face the music

Article published in the Safety Practitioner May 2012

Article published in the Safety Practitioner May 2012

It’s only just begun

Faced with dramatic political challenges and the worst economic crisis in recent memory the health and safety profession is on the defensive. It needs to respond by looking to the future and learning to communicate with the emerging generations using methods and language they understand. Practitioners must develop the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively with all those involved in, or affected by, them and their work.

To read the full article please look at the ‘Published Articles’ tab above or click this link

Does health and safety need to move on? – Part one

This is the first of a series of articles based on an article published in SHP Magazine in 2011. The articles will be amended to reflect developments since it was originally published. Sign up to my blog for notification of when parts 2 and 3 are published.

For the past few years we have been under constant pressure and attack by the government and the media. I think it is time for the profession to move on by facing the challenges head on. The health and safety brand needs to change and we all have a role in achieving this. In a depression no one is spared the harsh realities of the economic crisis, but cutting costs must not translate into cutting corners in keeping people at work healthy and safe. In these uncertain times we need to demonstrate that we are up to the challenge of delivering services that offer real value. Health and safety can’t sit in the corner licking its wounds waiting for the challenge to go away. The challenge strikes at the very root of what we do and what we are trying to achieve. Navel gazing will not move the profession forward, we need a new outlook. So what does that mean in practice?

Technical Specialists

One of the most fundamental changes is the need to move away from a passive technical service to a more active partnership with the client. It is not just about raising the profile of health and safety but about providing a clearer understanding of what the service is trying to achieve and how that contributes to the organisations objectives. The profession needs to be less focused on the technical aspects of the job and take a wider more business focused perspective. As technical specialists, practitioners are often involved in a fairly passive exchange of information and advice. They try to take a holistic approach, but do they really take the time to stand back and reflect on the whole collection of services they deliver?

Active Partnership

Practitioners need to realise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to service delivery, particularly in large and complex organisations, and develop the expertise required to identify and deal with a variety of customer demands. They need courage, tenacity, experience and ability to work on their own initiative and deliver services that the client needs to survive. The common approach to Auditing provides a prime example of how we need to change. Non-compliance is often identified as a local fault, but an effective system should alert managers that something is systemically wrong. This illustrates the importance of evaluating audit outcomes to identify the trends and any overall improvements to the safety management system. To be more effective, when we audit and find significant issues in a service, we need to provide support with the action required to rectify the problem. Real effective implementation of the changes required to address many health and safety problems is not easy and managers often fail to address the root cause. At first, this change of approach may be difficult because health and safety is not about identifying the non compliance and walking away. Good health and safety professionals have never done this anyway! It’s about understanding the context, working with managers, supervisors and staff in the workplace, it’s about being hands on but with the objective of improving the systems, understanding the behavioural issues and acknowledging the financial constraints.

It’s not just about senior managers!

Practitioners often see organisations as command and control hierarchies; if the boss says something is important then everyone will follow. Its is crucial to get senior managers on board, but it’s only part of the picture. A related problem in large organisations is that we often have more than one client to satisfy. Senior managers, for example, seek assurance that the organisation is compliant with legal requirements, while local managers are looking for a more hands-on support. We have to design service delivery to suit our organisations and deliver clearly defined outcomes that managers at levels buy into.

It’s not just about legal compliance

While the legal argument is compelling, managers also need to understand that failure to control health and safety risks properly can have a damaging effect on the business. Practitioners need to be more effective at communicating this message to managers, by using more sophisticated business arguments to justify changes to the way that safety is managed. The arguments need to relate to risk, opportunity and efficiency as part of an overall approach to corporate governance. To achieve this, practitioners need to develop an active-partnership approach.
I will be exploring what this means in future postings.

This post is based on an article first published in the Safety and Health Practitioner in 2011 to support a presentation to the IOSH Conference 2011

The Internet is changing the way that we read think and remember- what are the implications for health and safety?

There has been much enthusiasm for using the net to communicate with staff and raise their awareness of health and safety. We used to publish paper policies and guidance and distribute them and place them on notice boards. Now, they are generally published on the net. We tend to think this is more effective because people are more likely to read it, after all it’s available any time and anywhere.

We were never certain that people read health and safety documents when they were on paper. Now they are on the net, we may actually be even more uncertain. One thing is certain, if they are read, they will most likely be skimmed through, rather than read carefully. People read a book line by line, sometimes skimming but certainly in a different way to how they read on line. Jakob Nielson suggest that they read a page in a way that closely resembles a F, glancing across the first line, letting their gaze drop and glancing across, then scanning down the left side of the page. Most people spend only 19 to 27 seconds looking at an internet page.

Nicholas Carr suggests that the hard wiring of people’s brains is changing to reflect this. As health and safety professionals we need to think about the implications for the way that we communicate about safety.

This has real implications for the way that we use the net to communicate about health and safety. We need to think more carefully about how we communicate the important messages that we are trying to get people to take seriously.

If this is hard wiring our brains then what impact has it already had on emerging generations. How difficult is it going to be to communicate with young people who have grown up with the net. A generation of apprentices who communicate and learn via the net, still needs to learn about health and safety. We need a whole new approach, more creative and innovative if we are to succeed in this and not enough thought is being given to this across the health and safety profession.

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Health and Safety a brand perspective – IOSH Conference 2012

Graham Hales Chief Executive Interbrand, gave one of the most useful and inspiring presentations of the conference. Billed as an inspirational closing speaker he really lived up to the promotional material. But his presentation was more than inspirational, it also captured a real development need for the health and safety profession .

Interbrand began in 1974 when the world thought of brands as just another word for logo. They have changed the dialogue, defined the meaning of brand management, and continue to lead the debate on understanding brands as valuable business assets.

The title was Health and safety a brand perspective

He started by talking about understanding the root cause of public perception and how we need to better explain our position.

He explained that a major problem for the profession is that the media debate is unmanaged and that is exactly how it feels in my experience. He went on to ask whether health and safety was a brand, concluding that it was but it was not managed as a brand. If properly managed, a brand creates identification, differentiation and value.

Graham used one of my favourite quotes

Your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room

– Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon

He then talked about how we should go about improving our position.

He explained how we needed to
Be it,
do it,
say it.

We need to create a code of conduct of key points that we want to get across.
We need to keep promises and live up to expectations.
We need to quickly rectify negative experiences

A big question was about who owns the brand. Who is best placed to manage our brand?

The question is who is listening and how can we carry this forward. If we are to challenge the media perspective on health and safety it is crucial to ensure that we create a brand. As Bezo said our brand is what people say about us when we leave the room. At the moment people describe us as time wasting, over the top, bonkers, red tape obsessed, bureaucratic and out of touch. It seems impossible to turn that around but it is crucial that we do. So who is going to take the lead and help the profession to move forward? Hopefully IOSH will take on board what Graham said and help us to start developing a brand for health and safety.