Leader interview

Tim Proctor, ISS UK

The UK group safety head at the facilities services giant emphasises the need for practitioners to be seen as business partners. 

Tim Proctor ISS UK
Image credits: Andrew Firth

Every three months Tim Proctor attends a two-day course for all new managers in ISS UK’s businesses. Along with his fellow operations board members, he makes a presentation to the initiates to explain the work of his health, safety and environment function.

“I put up my first slide which says Health and Safety, Page 1 of 63 in bright red letters,” he says. “Then it fills with all sorts of financial, moral and legal reasons until it’s a really bad PowerPoint slide. I say, ‘This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?’”

The common audience reaction is what he describes as an inverse Mexican wave, heads and arms slumped.

“I leave that screen for what seems like an age, but is only ten to 15 seconds, then the dementors from [the] Harry Potter [films] fly across the screen.

Tim Proctor career file

2015 – present,  Director of HSEQ and CR, ISS UK
2012 – 2015, Director of HSE, ISS UK
2010 – 2012, Director of HS6E, western region and central Europe, Ericsson
2007 – 2010, Head of group risk management, Waste and Recycling Group
2003 – 2007, Director of HSE and CSR, MFI
1999 – 2003, Group risk manager, Carlsberg 
1995 – 1999, Safety and loss control manager, Walkers Snack Foods
1984 – 1995, Quarry manager, Tarmac Roadstone

“Everyone perks up a bit and I say ‘What do the dementors do? They suck the life out of you. And if that’s how we treat health and safety, that’s what it will do’.”

Proctor heads the group health, safety and environment function of ISS UK, the British Isles division of the Danish-owned diversified facilities services group ISS World. Its 43,500 employees – 9% of the ISS global workforce of around half a million – are contracted to provide everything from cleaning and catering to plant maintenance, tree surgery and reception duties.

Tim Proctor ISS UK career fileHis keenness to catch the company’s new managers early and persuade them that the OSH function is there to support them is illustrative of an approach to creating a culture in which safety practitioners are seen more as a business resource than as po-faced disciplinarians.

“If they think they are going to help you they will engage with you,” he says. His commitment to casting the safety function as an accessible, enabling one recurs throughout our conversation. He believes it is a vital component of a strong safety culture.

He writes a monthly column for a business update emailed to ISS’s workers.

“The last one I did I quoted [the film] Kung Fu Panda. We were trying to work out the secret of success in our safety culture. In Kung Fu Panda the lead character Po asked Mr Ping what was the secret of his ‘secret ingredient soup’. And it turned out the secret was that there was no secret ingredient. There is nothing that will suddenly make the business 100% safe, but if you can engage with people and use humour you are on your way.”

Climate change

To assess its culture, ISS UK began annual workforce surveys in 2015 using the Health and Safety Laboratory’s (HSL) Safety Climate Tool.

The results of the 2016 survey made it “clear we were getting better at engagement but that there was more we could do”, says Proctor.

The responses suggested safety procedures could be easier to follow. “I’m told by HSL that usability of procedures is always one that comes up,” he says. “But we made the commitment to analyse everything we do and ask if it is as simple as it can be without losing the message.”

When he reviews the documents produced by the company’s risk assessment software, he says he wonders whether some are too long: “The legislation talks about recording the significant findings. How many of what we have put down are significant findings and how many are actually adding value to the end user?”

Overspecification reinforces the feeling among non-practitioners of “Here comes the safety person; they are going to give us something to read and give us a bollocking because we aren’t doing something or other”.

Heroic effort

In the scheme of things

Tim Proctor is ISS UK’s director of health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ) and corporate responsibility (CR). He reports to the UK division’s people and culture director – a synonym for human resources – who sits on the UK executive board with the chief executive, three chief operating officers and a chief finance officer.

Proctor is on the ISS UK operational board with the managing directors of the 15 businesses. His function includes three health and safety staff in the central team plus three people looking after the group’s integrated management system, which covers OSH, environment, quality and security. He also manages a CR manager and CR business partner.

There are also two heads of safety and health for the divisions, one each for public- and private-sector contracts.

“Underneath them we have about 65 to 75 HSE people in the business,” he says. “Some of those will work directly on an account and are embedded there. Other people will look after several accounts.”

In some cases, ISS provides OSH management for client organisations as well. “Across the business, around 80 people have HSE in their job titles.”

“We work on matrix management,” Proctor adds. “In an organisation of our size and complexity we have to, because it’s not all centrally driven. There is ownership in the businesses, which is exactly where we need it to be. I would love to be in a position where they didn’t have a central team but they do need somebody to co-ordinate activities and make sure there is a strategy. We aren’t quite in a position where the MDs [managing directors] can do that on their own, though we are not far off. This is the first business I have worked in where I could say I trust the MDs to take safety seriously.”

When Proctor started at ISS in 2012, the MDs of the divisions told him they received a lot of safety statistics but they were not presented in a meaningful form. He developed a one-page “dashboard” giving each MD an overview of their safety performance, including accident and absence statistics but also near-misses, safety campaigns completed, toolbox talks and safety advocates signed up.

He believes he has contributed to the MDs’ greater engagement by showing them that safety can add value to the business. “If it doesn’t add value, why are we doing it? And if we put another process in place, what are we going to take out as a result, because you can’t keep adding processes or people lose the will to live.

After the HSL survey suggested there was more work to do on safety engagement, the OSH staff convened focus groups of employees to gather ideas.

One of the resulting initiatives was the safety heroes and safety leaders programme. “The groups came up with the names,” Proctor says. “We had had something called safety champions, but that was implemented slightly differently in different areas of the business.”

In some parts the volunteer champions were sponsored to gain certificates from the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health and in others they received shorter in-house training.

The new scheme, launched on World Safety Day (27 April 2017), distinguishes between two levels of engagement. Safety heroes are those who commit themselves to being mindful of safety and health and are willing to stop the job if they believe it is unsafe.

“Our ambition is to have 44,000 safety heroes,” he says. So far around 800 have been inducted.

They receive an hour’s training, which will soon be launched online on the company’s learning management system. “We don’t want to create an administrative burden, having to put 44,000 people through a training course.”

Safety leaders display a higher level of commitment and applications from safety heroes to move to this echelon must be approved by line managers. “We don’t want people who are going to cause the wrong sort of disruption. Though we like disruption because it makes us rethink what we are doing.”

Around 350 safety leaders have been accepted on to the programme to date, from among the cleaning, catering and maintenance operatives.

Their extra duties, once trained, will include assisting with accident investigations, risk assessments and giving toolbox talks. “They’ll come up with ideas, they’ll come up with solutions and they will identify things going on in the business that we weren’t aware of,” he says.

The leaders receive a one-day Managing Safety in ISS induction. “It’s fun, it’s not death by PowerPoint,” he adds. The leaders learn why OSH is important to ISS, their new roles, the use of near-miss reporting, basic accident investigation techniques, how to work with management teams on site and collaboration tools to share their ideas and concerns.

The company then puts them through the three-day IOSH Managing Safely course where they learn the principles of safety management. “That’s our payback to them. We give them a qualification, so if they want to go on that journey, safety hero to safety director, we’ve given them the first step. Plus it gives us 350 extra [pairs of] eyes and ears around the business.”

Tim-Proctor-ISS-smiling-close-upThe career path he alludes to was made explicit in a diagram in the promotional material used to promote the scheme to ISS’s workforce, which shows a potential ascent from safety leader, through safety adviser and safety manager, right up to executive level.

Though ISS UK may not end up with multiple safety directors, the scheme is a neat way to “grow your own” OSH practitioners from a pool of people who already understand the business.

“Yes, we have a video that we show them that is a talking heads discussion between me and my boss about what we are trying to get out of the programme and I say in there, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we got one of these safety leaders that came through to join my central team?’”

The scheme could produce a pipeline of candidates who understand shopfloor issues. Proctor believes his effectiveness as a safety leader is partly down to the “practicality and pragmatism of being an operator myself. I spent 11 years working for Tarmac, operating quarries and making black, sticky stuff for the road.”

The only drawback I can envisage with the new scheme is that overlaying the leader cadre on the existing networks of OSH professionals and safety reps from recognised unions, including the GMB, Unison and Unite, could duplicate effort or risk people treading on each other’s toes.

I also bring an element of pragmatism because I have 
had to make things work in different industries and not 
use the same old tools 

“We don’t have a huge number of union-appointed safety reps,” says Proctor. “Our safety culture doesn’t rely on them saying, ‘We are the union, we want to be involved in safety’. They don’t need to play that union card because we are already doing it.”

On the specific point about the extra layer he says: “We haven’t come across anyone saying, ‘This is our domain’.”

Rooting around

Another finding from the 2016 climate survey was that accident investigations often ended in finding individuals at fault.

“In around 70% [of investigations] the cause was recorded as the attitude and behaviour of the individual. We said we are blaming them because it is easy to do. There may be some culpability there; some people do silly things, even if they perceive them to be for the right reasons. We don’t employ 44,000 people who want to take risks. But we may put them in scenarios that are not necessarily right.”

In late 2016, the safety and health function launched a programme of investigation review panels. The panels are convened for accidents that trigger an absence of more than seven days and some others that have a high potential severity.

Compliance component

I ask Tim Proctor how compliance fits into OSH management in ISS UK.

“We spend a lot of time looking at compliance as a whole,” he says. The company is certified to the ISO standards 9001, 14001, 50001, 27001, BS 11000 for business collaboration, and BS OHSAS 18001 for safety and health. It plans to convert the latter to ISO 45001 as early as possible now that the standard has finally been launched.

“So we do a lot to make sure we have compliant systems. Regulatory compliance absolutely has to be there. However, you can be compliant without it stifling your business. We have to make sure we use the legal framework in the right way. That doesn’t mean bending it in any way but you must not overcomplicate it and we, as a nation, are not good at taking European legislation without adding to it.

“You have to go back to the legislation and ask ‘what is it trying to do?’ My guys don’t quote legislation at people. If we do that we have failed. If you look at it just as legal compliance, you are setting the benchmark there” – he places his flat hand at desk level – “and we are trying to set it there” – moving the hand up to shoulder height. “If you set it low and you fall short, you fall below the law. If you set it high, you have a huge delta to work in and still keep compliant.”

“Once an accident has been fully investigated and action taken as a result and lessons communicated to the business, myself or one of the other HSEQ leads, the MD of the business and the area manager will sit down with the people who have done the investigation. Not to reinvestigate but to see whether we have got to the true root cause and what else we can learn from it.

“So we ask wider questions about the culture and why the accident happened and whether the local and wider communications are right.”

When the reviews were launched some of the MDs were sceptical. “[They said] ‘You want two hours of my time to go over something that’s already been investigated?’ Now all of them will come back and say ‘We have learned so much from doing that’.”

He likens the senior management’s normal exposure to safety processes to the world as seen by royalty, for whom everything has been freshly painted and spruced up. Involvement in the panels “allows them to get to the nitty gritty of what has gone on. [They ask] ‘Why did that happen?’ [and get the answer] ‘Well this doesn’t work’. [They say] ‘But I thought we had sorted that by doing this.’ ‘No, that’s not working’.”

The experience is not always comfortable for the local managers who carried out the initial investigations. “But they aren’t designed to be punitive; they are just designed to dig that bit deeper.”

The panels have been backed up by a round of root-cause analysis training, which started last autumn for up to 4,000 managers in the UK and Ireland. Now, he says, the primary accident investigations are more likely to find the cause is poor design or lack of procedures or supervision.

The training in causal analysis has applications beyond safety in quality management or engineering, “so it’s a tool that can be used across the whole of the business”.

“A lot of people, when they talk about culture, say, ‘It’s the way we do things around here’. That doesn’t work for us, so what we say is it’s the conditions we allow to occur that give us the safety performance we achieve. Those conditions are completely within our control.”

In translation

I note that a comparison of the safety sections of ISS World’s annual corporate social responsibility report and the one that Proctor’s function prepares for the UK business suggests a reasonable degree of cultural adaptation of the central initiatives at country level; the initiatives described at global level – and the term is justified as ISS operates in more than 80 countries – do not always bear the same name in the UK report.

“We are following the spirit rather than the word and [ISS] group are OK with that,” he says.

He points to ISS World’s “Vision 100” strategy, which includes the aims of being pre-eminent for health, safety and environmental performance in its industry and achieving zero fatalities and workplace injuries. In most countries the annual targets to meet the strategy are badged “Drive to 100”, using the number to indicate 100% success.

“We fully endorse the strategy, but if you talk about ‘Drive to 100’ in the UK, people say, ‘You want me to break the law?’ and you have to keep explaining it’s nothing to do with a driving metaphor. So we are trying to work out how to get that message across in the UK.

Tim-Proctor-ISS-standing“We have a strategy called the three Es: [safety concerns] everyone in the business, everything they do and every time they do it. That drives us to get to the Vision 100. It’s a better cultural fit.”

He says in his monthly column to staff he has tried an alternative metaphor of a pub which not only serves the right beer at the right price and excellent food, but has paid attention to a host of other details as well. “You want to be in that pub where when you walk in someone says: ‘How are you, what can I get for you? Same as last time? We took your advice and put some extra things on the menu. Don’t worry that it’s getting close to closing time, you still have time’.

“It’s that intangible element of people feeling it’s right. Because if you have got that right, your lost-time injury rate will go down, your RIDDORs will go down.

Returning to the international scene, I ask if he gets the chance to learn from his peers in other countries. Yes, he says. His patch of the UK and Ireland is grouped with Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland and Iceland in a northern Europe cluster.

“We meet on a regular basis,” he says. “I had the guys from those countries over for two days last week at an information-sharing session. We also have a ‘team room’ [online] on Sharepoint where we can exchange ideas.”

He says the UK probably contributes more to the pool of best practice than it takes out of it.

“We have a more mature safety culture – generally in the UK, not just in ISS – than in some of the Scandinavian countries. In the business we have a reportable injury rate which is a quarter of that in Finland, a half of that in Sweden, so we have a good rate compared with our peers.”

Full disclosure

Proctor’s function is assiduous in public accident reporting. His most recent CSR report has a hefty table listing the totals and rates for fatalities, over-seven-day injuries reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), lost-time injuries (LTIs), non-reportable injuries and all accidents each year since 2012.

The timelines show a virtuous trend in most measures; there were year-on-year declines in the total accidents rate (from 4.55 per 100,000 hours worked in 2012 to 3.06 in 2016) and the non-reportable injuries rate (4.32 to 2.9). RIDDORs ticked up from 0.12 to 0.16 between 2015 and 2016 before falling again and LTIs have been broadly flat in the past three years at just over 0.3 per 100,000 hours.

In 2017 a long run of no fatalities in the UK divisions was broken when a new employee who was working in a Maidenhead cemetery was hit by a 95-year-old driver who had become confused on the cemetery access road, which had an 8 kph speed limit, and pressed the accelerator instead of the brake, travelled about 10 m across a lawn into a hedge, behind which the worker was standing.

Proctor says all the company’s reviews of the incident have failed to suggest anything it could have done to have prevented the death.

“It hit us really badly,” he says. “It’s not something we could have foreseen, but you are still always asking that question, ‘What could we have done differently?’ Because he was one of our people.”

Returning to the accident statistics, slips, trips and falls and musculoskeletal disorders are the most common causes of lost time in the business “because we are doing a lot of manual work”. The most severe, in common with many organisations, are associated with confined space entry, work at height, driving and electrical work. These are the subjects of four of ISS’s ten safety rules.

Proctor says that, in the UK at least, these are not the same as the type of “lifesaving” rules introduced by organisations such as Diageo and Vodafone, designed to tackle unacceptable levels of serious injury and backed by heavy sanctions for non-compliance. (ISS’s ten rules also include more general areas such as housekeeping and stopping unsafe work.)

The rules are supplemented by toolbox talks and publicity campaigns. “The rules are all very well, but you need guidelines on top,” Proctor says. “They are a statement of the obvious and if they were all we had we would also have a lot more incidents.”
In common with most larger companies, ISS has increased its emphasis on health and wellbeing in the past couple of years. The company has already trained 45 mental health first aiders and will put more volunteers through the course to reach around 75 by the end of this year.

Tim-Proctor-ISS-standing-and-smilingIn another initiative, to be launched on World Safety Day on 28 April, the UK divisions will commit themselves to follow the principles of Public Health England’s Workplace Wellbeing Charter (bit.ly/2ChwHEA), which sets standards for health promotion, including smoking cessation, mental health support, physical activity and healthy eating.

All trades

Proctor started work in the quarrying industry in 1984. At the end of 11 years he was managing sites turning over £10m. Tarmac gave him the opportunity to study for a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) which, he says, broadened his horizons.

“So I went to work for Walkers Crisps, part of Pepsico, as a production manager,” he says. “I did that for two years and they were running a project on loss control and said: ‘Tim you have a background in quarrying, why don’t you come in and do it?’”

The project involved sacrificing his weekends for three months but he parlayed it into the new post of safety and loss control manager.

I note that he is one of the few people I have met who had notched up an MBA before any OSH qualifications. Also that it has been a varied career to date, moving from quarrying to food and drink manufacture to furniture, to waste and recycling, telecoms and then to facilities services with ISS.

Does he believe there are benefits in not having specialised in one sector’s hazards?

“Because I have never gone from one company to another in the same industry I think it has made me a more rounded individual. I could think back to stuff we were doing operationally in the quarries that would work in waste. I could think back to things on the shopfloor in Walkers that would help in [furniture maker] MFI.

“I also bring an element of pragmatism because I have had to make things work in different industries and not use the same old tools.”

He sees a parallel in Darwinism, comparing sector specialisation to inbreeding and moving industries to hybrid vigour.

Most important, he says, is his experience in operations before coming into OSH. “Being on point for profit and loss, for managing a team, for productivity, for knowing all the pressure from customers. To work in health, safety and environment and get systems that reflect all of that, it’s really important.”

He says one of the biggest lessons he has learned came from a chief operating officer at MFI who took him to one side and said: “Tim, stop apologising for health and safety.”

“That was really important to me because I had been saying, ‘I’m sorry, we are going to have to do this in a different way’. Why are we sorry about it? This should be the way that we do it.

“If you apologise for safety you won’t get listened to. I had to realise I’m proud to work in health and safety; I’m proud to make a difference. Unashamedly I have made a difference to the way ISS works over the past six years.”

Is there anything he’d still like to achieve?

“I suppose given the opportunity I’d like to replicate what I’ve done in the UK on a global basis. We’ve come a long, long way in the UK and to be able to do that for half a million people in ISS, I’d love that.”



Louis Wustemann is former editor, IOSH Magazine. He was previously editor of Health and Safety at Work magazine and Environment in Business. He has written, edited and consulted on health and safety, environmental and employment matters for more than 25 years.


  • I enjoyed reading this

    Permalink Submitted by Lee Burden on 25 April 2018 - 09:40 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article. There have been a few good articles recently from straight talking H&S Practitioners who don't get caught up in all the corporate fluff. Tim's approach to keeping H&S management interesting and relevant to the workforce was enlightening.


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