That kind of reflection often leads to a discussion about training and qualifications, but from my perspective there is an opportunity to be more radical and creative.
This isn’t to downplay the value to formal training and qualifications. I have a line of alphabetti spaghetti after my name and draw every working day on what I learned when studying for a master’s degree in occupational hygiene – so long ago that in the UK we were still sending people down coal mines.
No, education has to include structure, examination and proof of understanding in a range of core disciplines.
When I lecture at Loughborough University I am positive about reaching undergraduates and postgraduates, soon to enter the construction industry in management, design and engineering roles.
I explain about the essential integration of health and safety in their careers. But, and it is a big but, although a technical, legal understanding of health and safety is necessary for professional advisers, it is only as a foundation stone, your starter for ten.
Most of the work we do starts with understanding what people want to achieve, whether it is a zero harm workplace, business success, good customer feedback and return custom, or a positive reputation as a good organisation. So although we could slip into the technocratic notion that legal compliance and not hurting people is where it is at, for our colleagues, bosses and employers there may be other targets. Understanding people, communicating – which means listening as well as speaking – then presenting our knowledge and information in ways that motivate them to reduce risks, are what we have to do most of the time.
Although a technical, legal understanding of health and safety is necessary for professional advisers, it is only as a foundation stone, your starter for ten
Of course, for many of us the past few years of shouting safety and whispering health – something I’ll return to in this column – means that gaining a better understanding of occupational health is a developmental necessity and challenge. Getting to know your local occupational hygienist would be an excellent beginning. Learning about wellbeing programmes is a good idea, but only once you have got to grips with the basics. One of the lessons of the London 2012 Olympics project was that health should be as much a focus as accident prevention, and for many of us in the OSH community that is a new approach. We risk being bedevilled by the snake-oil salesmen offering corporate health challenges, weight loss programmes and telling people what to eat, while ignoring the health risks we expose them to every day.
So far, so blindingly obvious, but look again at those words: understanding, communicating, motivating – these are terms from the world of marketing, sales and promotion. Perhaps the IOSH Blueprint for modern safety and health advisers, their personal development programmes, their training, will look a little more at gaining work experience with colleagues in these areas rather than yet another course on the construction regulations.
The great thing is it will be a darn sight more interesting and enjoyable, as well as make us better, more influential advisers. So, a secondment to the marketing department, anyone?