Alicia Custis, head of communications and marketing at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust
What will you be speaking about at IOSH 2016?
A badly-handled crisis with safety and health implications can damage or ruin a reputation.
The saline poisoning murders at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport catapulted our organisation into a full-blown crisis. They put us in an intense national spotlight, led to a four-year police investigation and three-month criminal trial, ending in international media coverage.
The biggest-ever Greater Manchester Police investigation concluded with a life sentence for staff nurse Victorino Chua in May 2015 for killing and poisoning patients. I will talk about the reputation management challenges for the “poison probe” hospital and our strategy and approach to try to ultimately promote Stepping Hill Hospital as one of the safest in the country.
What were the safety implications of the crisis?
Saline bags and ampoules, stored in treatment rooms on hospital wards for regular and routine use, had been deliberately contaminated with insulin. These bags were understood to have caused three deaths and many poisonings on two wards, so the health and safety implications were huge.
The evidence indicated that they had been deliberately contaminated by someone working at the hospital. Our storage of saline bags and ampules was in line with standard practice, but we had to take immediate actions and implement additional security measures across the hospital site because there was understandable panic.
To what extent was leadership key in managing the crisis?
Leadership was critical. This was an unprecedented event with far-reaching implications. Staff, patients, government departments, public bodies, MPs, the media and local people all wanted reassurance that the leaders were managing this crisis robustly.
Our leaders needed to take swift and decisive action, in collaboration with the police and others. They also needed to be seen and heard; constantly updating stakeholders and answering difficult questions as openly as possible, while handling the confidential issues surrounding a criminal investigation.
What does influential leadership mean to you?
It means a leader who can motivate and inspire action in others through skilled communication. They can help overcome obstacles and move a group of people towards a particular goal or objective because people want to follow rather than have to follow. They have passion, energy and integrity.
Michael Emery, director of Securus Health and Safety
What will you be speaking about at IOSH 2016?
I will be talking about collaboration and the importance of coaching skills. In the field of occupational safety and health (OSH) there is no silver bullet, but a culture in which colleagues collaborate is obviously key to excellent performance. Collaboration leads to better solutions to safety problems. Collaboration leads to better buy-in from management. And collaboration leads to better employee engagement, which ultimately leads to safer behaviour.
The skills that underpin a collaborative approach are coaching skills.
Why should people attend the presentation?
Many OSH practitioners characterise themselves as coaches and what they do as coaching. A growing number have the title “safety coach”. Yet there’s still a widespread misunderstanding about what coaching is. The prevailing view seems to be that coaching is supporting the development of others, that it’s a form of training. It isn’t; coaching and training are very different, almost opposites in fact.
How has coaching affected your life?
I have been involved in safety for many years and I’ve managed safety and health for several leading organisations. I thought I knew what coaching was but I attended a course and I learned that real coaching skills are far more important than I’d ever given them credit for; the course blew my mind. I took myself off to the Academy of Executive Coaching in London and became qualified as a coach. Now I help other OSH professionals be the best they can be, through one-to-one coaching support or training in the use of coaching skills through the IOSH-approved Coaching for Safety programme.
What role does coaching have in OSH in the future?
I think coaching skills are really important for the future direction of the profession, which has been fixated with technical competence for too long. This has resulted in the stereotypical “compliance-policemen”, technically-proficient but ultimately unable to provide the support managers need. Modern organisations need more sophisticated professionals than that; those that are capable of collaborating with managers and supporting them to find their own best solutions while still ensuring that legal and other minimum standards are met. The very best OSH practitioners coach; they have excellent communication skills and a collaborative style that means they are able to support dutyholders even when they have little technical knowledge to contribute.
There may be no silver bullet when it comes to developing a safety culture but collaboration and coaching skills come close.
Download IOSH 2016 conference brochure | 21 - 22 June | ExCeL London