Reviews
Richard Byrne, Taylor & Francis

World Class Health and Safety – the Professional’s Guide

Sometimes a new publication comes across my desk and my reaction is: “Wow, this is so good, why has no one written it before?” Here we have just such a book. No doubt it helps that I agree strongly with its starting point, that some of the health and safety professional’s most important tools are “soft” skills such as influencing, persuading and negotiating. Since these are not covered (except in passing) in the syllabuses of our qualification courses, they’re capabilities that practitioners, especially those who are newly qualified, need to be effective. 

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Byrne covers those skills, offering leadership and management tools such as strategy and planning, managing conflict and leading and managing change. No single chapter is very long, making it possible to read the book quickly in bite-sized chunks, and each ends with a pithy summary of the key messages. The text scores very highly on readability.

Not only is this a great idea for a book, it’s also well executed. A major pitfall when covering soft skills is to stray so far from the concrete that we end up with wishy-washy writing that’s devoid of clear, practical action points. But that’s avoided here: just when we’re getting a bit too conceptual, Byrne brings us back down to earth with a practical case study. He likes to quote from the conversations that safety advisers typically have with directors, colleagues and employees. These quotes and case studies have the ring of direct personal experience: there’s very little textbook theory here. 

Perhaps he’s a little too fond of saying “experience shows that...” but, when you weigh up what he then says, it’s hard to disagree, so accurately does he reflect the challenges OSH practitioners face.

So is it perfect? Well, there are several of those lapses that the readers employed by professional publishers should identify, such as “readdressing” – he means redressing – and “crooks” for crux. More significantly, the title is wrong: this book isn’t really about world class safety as such, although the extremely valuable techniques it features could well help you position your organisation towards that goal. I could argue that there is more that could usefully be said on the skills Byrne summarises – in some cases, a lot more. But brevity is a great virtue in any communication, so that is not a big criticism.

He offers how-to guidelines that will enable the safety and health adviser with limited experience of working with outside training consultants, or making a cost-benefit case for an improvement initiative, or dealing with serious conflict with fellow managers to set off in the right direction, and hopefully reach good outcomes, both for the organisation and its OSH standards. This he does superbly, hence my verdict: an outstanding book; highly recommended.

Taylor & Francis, £29.99 paperback

 

Paul Smith’s career spans enforcement, consultancy and the power industry. A former Health and Safety Executive inspector, he’s now a specialist writer on safety and health topics.

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