Dr Peter Bonfield OBE FREng FIET was appointed chair of IOSH’s Board of Trustees in February. In his first interview in the role, we asked him how he foresees the profession’s progress.
Competency, professionalism and ethics. ‘These are the key words for us, ones that we speak a lot about,’ Peter Bonfield says.
‘Then we have being inclusive, being digitally competent and being open and global. These are part of WORK 2022 already and part of the parlance of IOSH and the profession, and I am looking forward to playing my part in building on these attributes alongside, and with, the trustees, president, presidential team, Council, volunteers, members and executive of IOSH, learning from all the excellent work that has been done.’
Peter became chair of the IOSH Board of Trustees on 1 February, bringing a wealth of experience, including executive and non-executive positions at senior government level.
Having worked closely with OSH professionals previously, he is clear about how the profession can continue to develop and adapt to the changing business and policy landscape.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been responsible for many of the recent changes facing businesses, and OSH professionals are playing a crucial role in keeping workers safe, he says.
‘COVID is a challenge for us all,’ he adds. ‘But it has shown how important our members are in businesses when crisis hits. Our profession has been given much more visibility and voice at the top of organisations and we must seek to retain and build on this influence.’
These three words are at the heart of IOSH’s WORK 2022 strategy. ‘We must build on this to ensure that we are at, and remain at, the top of our game,’ Peter says. ‘IOSH is leading the way in building a strong profession to ensure every single one of us is competent at what we do, professional in how we operate, all underpinned by strong ethics and ways of working that enhance and protect our reputation together.
‘When you have that and a culture that works well, it’s incredible what can be achieved. But when that breaks down, I’ve seen the terrible consequences. We have a continuing duty to work together to ensure we protect people.’
Peter’s career history includes being seconded part-time to the Olympic Delivery Authority ahead of the 2012 London Games. There, he co-created and delivered the sustainability strategy and led on sustainable procurement of construction products. The project has received many plaudits for its work around health, safety and wellbeing.
His experience in sustainability aligns well with one of IOSH’s priorities. The OSH profession has a key role to play here, with 41 of the targets within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals directly related to safety, health and good work. Sustainability links to human capital management; how organisations develop, invest in and look after their people.
Peter’s government work has included chairing four independent reviews, and appearing on the expert panel appointed after the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017 to advise on the safety of residents in high-rise housing. As former chief executive of the Building Research Establishment (BRE), he has seen excellent and poor practices and approaches across the built environment globally.
Now vice-chancellor and president of the University of Westminster, he is responsible for ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of approximately 22,000 students and staff.
Peter is also deputy chair of London Higher, which represents London universities, and where he founded and chairs the London Health and Wellbeing Network, which focuses on students and staff who face mental health and wellbeing challenges.
Peter says the profession should continue focusing in this area. ‘We already have a distinctive role to play,’ he says. ‘But we can grow and become a really essential part in protecting people’s wellbeing.’
Peter says that to ensure wellbeing is protected, organisations must work on diversity and inclusion. ‘People can bring their whole selves to work, be valued for that, feel safe and that they belong.’
Selected current/recent non-executive positions (all voluntary)
- 2014 to date Trustee, Institution of Engineering and Technology including President and Chair of the Board of Trustees for 2019/20
- 2019 to date Vice-Chair, London Higher, which represents approximately 39 London Universities, and founder of the London Higher Health and Wellbeing Network in 2018
- 2016 to date Senior Non-Executive Director, UK Active, which focuses on supporting a healthy nation through its mission for more people being more active more often
- 2015-2018 Non-Executive Director of UK government, assigned to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and also the Talent Advisory Group (until December 2020) which focuses on the recruitment, retention and development of employees of the Civil Service
- 2015-2018 Non-Executive Director of AIRTO, which represents research and technology organisations working across industry sectors, and founder and Chair of the Safety, Health and Wellbeing Network.
- 2018 to date Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Westminster
- 2012-2018 Chief Executive, Building Research Establishment (BRE) Group
- 1992-2012 Senior Scientific Officer, rising to Chief Executive, BRE
- 1988-1992 Research Officer, University of Bath, working on safe wind turbine design.
- July 2015-December 2016 Chair of Independent Government Review on Consumer Advice, Protection, Standards and Enforcement for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for UK housing. Appointed by Secretary of State of Department for Energy and Climate Change and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
- December 2015-September 2016 Chair of the development of an Action Plan for Property Level Flood Resilience for the UK. Appointed by Floods Minister
- Summer 2012 to 2013 Chair of an Independent Review on the Public Procurement of Food and Catering. Appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment
- Winter 2011 to Autumn 2012 Chair of an Independent Review to Create a Sustainable Future for UK Woodlands and Forests. Appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment
- Early 2006 to March 2012 Part-time secondment into the Olympic Delivery Authority to co-create and deliver the London 2012 Sustainability Strategy, and to lead on construction products
- July 2017 to April 2018 Appointed onto the Grenfell Expert Advisory Panel by the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government soon after the tragic fire to deal with aspects of building safety across the UK.
- Fellow, Royal Academy of Engineering, FREng
- Fellow, Institution of Engineering and Technology, FIET
- Fellow, Institution of Civil Engineers, FICE
- Fellow, Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, FIOM3
- Fellow, Chartered Institute of Building, FCIOB
- Fellow, City and Guilds Institute, FCGI
- Honorary Fellow, Institution of Structural Engineers, Hon FIStructE
- Honorary Fellow, Chartered Association of Building Engineers, Hon FCABE
Acknowledging how its position as a global body is ingrained within IOSH’s DNA, Peter says: ‘IOSH must continue to recognise, that what we think might be right in one part of the world, isn’t necessarily the right for other parts of the world. The power of IOSH is bringing the profession, regulators, business and governments together to share knowledge and the principles of good practice.’
A former national cycling champion who went on to coach Great Britain’s women’s triathlon team for the 2004 Olympics, Peter keeps up his appetite for cycling, and gets the most enjoyment out of seeing others succeed.
‘My biggest achievement is celebrating the success of others,’ he says. ‘At the university, for example, that is watching students get their degrees or colleagues publishing papers and doing great things. It’s especially pleasing when those achievements are unlikely.’
‘I look forward to hearing about the successes of our members and to working together to further the success of IOSH and the profession.’