Dr Andrew Sharman CFIOSH reflects on his term as IOSH president and how the challenges faced have created a great opportunity for the profession.
This is the moment that the safety and health profession can shine and demonstrate to all the real value that it brings. Never has it been more needed or more important in my view. That is my overriding thought as I hand over the presidential reins after a term in office which took a route no one could have ever expected.
As president, I was looking forward to engaging with our members and stakeholders around the world. I have been able to do this, but much of it has taken place in a virtual world. Just last month, we took part in the XXII World Congress on Safety and Health, where we announced the launch of the Vision Zero training package in collaboration with the International Social Security Association.
This followed some other important online events, including webinars on COVID-19 and OSH, where we have partnered with the United Nations, International Labour Organization, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, Institute of Directors, Institute of Leadership and Management and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
I have also been able to address each of our 44 branches, and several sector groups. None of this would have been possible without the wonders of technology. I have had one-to-one email discussions and calls with more than 200 members, and mentored 11 OSH practitioners. In all, I’ve voluntarily given more than 2000 hours to IOSH activities.
The best-laid plans
The first six months of my presidential term went as planned, with IOSH being able to engage with stakeholders at events around the world.
We had just concluded the IOSH 2019 conference in Birmingham and went on to attend APOSHO 34 in China, the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering, MOSHPA in Malaysia, the Global HSE conference in Bahrain, each one continuing to enhance our global reach. We held our first Future Leaders Conference and I chaired the IOSH Food and Drink Conference and the Rail Industry Conference. We supported IOSH’s relationship with the Institute of Directors at its roundtable events, its annual conference in Scotland and its Director Awards. And then we had the very successful first-ever West Africa Conference in Nigeria, which shaped our strategic collaboration within this region. Throughout, we continued to support our network, our branches and groups.
Things changed in March when the pandemic began to really take hold. As president, I was saddened that I wasn’t able to engage with our members and stakeholders face to face. However, thanks to fantastic technology, this hasn’t put a stop to our activities. We have simply taken them online – and it has been a roaring success.
Opportunity for the profession
While creating significant challenges, COVID-19 has given rise to a real opportunity for our profession to come to the fore and lead the way as businesses recover.
In the history of this profession, there has never been such an opportunity. We have already been seizing this, adding real value by advising businesses on how they can protect their people and their futures – and we can continue to do so.
As the profession has had to respond to these challenges, so too has IOSH – to ensure it provides the support members require. There has been significant demand for guidance on managing the risks presented by the pandemic and we have responded.
'COVID-19 has given rise to a real opportunity for our profession to come to the fore and lead the way as businesses recover'
The COVID-19 hub is full of resources, including guidance on managing the risks of remote working, preventative measures around the spread of the virus and ensuring resilience in supply chains. Part of this hub is the Returning Safely series, which provides information for businesses looking to reopen workplaces and restart operations – how they can ensure safe people, workplaces, systems and equipment.
IOSH has also ensured its suite of safety and health training products is available online, including launching its Level 3 qualification as e-learning in September. This means people can continue to receive the highest standard of OSH training no matter where in the world they are.
I have been proud to be IOSH president in a year when both the Institution and the profession it represents has responded so well to such unpredictable events.
Professor Dr Andrew Sharman: A life in OSH
Andrew is managing partner of RMS, a global consultancy specialising in culture and leadership that supports global organisations in sectors including mining, construction,oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and FMCG. His personal consulting experience spans 130 countries with a broad range of clients from Fortune 500 companies. He holds master’s degrees in international OSH law, industrial psychology and organisational behaviour,and a doctorate in leadership and cultural transformation.
He is the author of 10 books on safety culture, leadership and wellbeing. His first book, From accidents to zero: a practical guide to improving your workplace safety culture, is the world’s best-selling book on safety culture.
My presidential year has come to an end and I’ve moved into the role of immediate past president. But I look forward to continuing to engage virtually. We can use technology to stay in touch, to network and share ideas and good practice with our peers, to join training courses, events and conferences.
This continues to be a time of opportunity for IOSH and the profession. We have of course by no means seen the back of the pandemic – quite the opposite.
The profession will continue to play a crucial role in helping businesses manage the risks. This is why, as health and safety professionals, it really is the time to shine. I believe we will look back at this moment in years to come and say that’s when things changed, and we became truly recognised and valued.
Future Leader: Philip Lancashire
Lead forwards, learn backwards
Philip Lancashire, a member of IOSH’s Future Leaders Steering Group, posed a series of questions to Andrew.
What is one of the biggest personal lessons you have learnt in your time as IOSH president?
One of the most important is that while we try to ‘lead forwards’, we really only ‘understand backwards’. This retroactive analysis and application is crucial and reminds me that we don’t need to know everything all of the time: the learning usually follows.
What single piece of advice would you give to the next IOSH president?
I try not to give advice unless I’m specifically asked for it, though if I were asked I might say: ‘Don’t take it personally.’ As one of the three most senior leaders in IOSH, the president can often be the recipient of all sorts of issues, queries, challenges and complaints.
What is the greatest defining strength of the OSH community?
Our ability to become one. On an almost daily basis, I’ve been so inspired to see OSH practitioners around the world coming together on virtual events, chat groups and forums, in social media discussions, and in many other ways. We are ‘One IOSH’ and united we stand. Together we will beat this pandemic and create a brave new world for the OSH profession and our organisations.
What soft skills do OSH professionals need to succeed in the profession?
Ironically, the soft skills are often the hardest to learn. I believe ‘trust’ will become the currency of leadership, and that empathy and curiosity will be the tools that the most impactful leaders will need to use more.
How can Future Leaders, who may be at the beginning of their OSH journey, ensure they are heard effectively by the management of the businesses they work for?
Focus on understanding the broader business challenges, use persuasive, well-grounded arguments rather than fear of non-compliance, and communicate clearly and concisely.
The OSH profession is always changing. What do you think will be the focus of the Future Leaders during these unpredictable times?
The pandemic brings an unprecedented opportunity for OSH professionals to stand centre-stage and earn the trust and respect of senior leaders. The next step is to extend this dialogue with business leaders to encompass wider risk management, not remaining exclusively on COVID. We’re quite literally creating the future of the entire profession right now.