Archive by Author

The Power of the Spoken Word

27 Oct

As a writer, you can sometimes forget the power of speech.

This was brought to my attention on Tuesday. Matthew Holder, head of campaigns and engagement, and I presented to a group of apprentices at Kier Building Maintenance in London as part of the European Health and Safety Week.

We were joined by young workers aged 17-26 who were working in gas, electricity, engineering and plumbing. All boys, some had just finished their apprentices, while others were mere weeks into them.

Our presentation focused on engaging the young workers on workplace health and safety. To do this, we gave them examples of how they take responsibility for their safety in their everyday lives. They already look after themselves and their friends on the football pitch, at a nightclub, on holiday. It gave us a good base to talk about attitude and behaviour in the workplace and how it really does have a positive impact on safety.

“We wanted to talk to the apprentices on their level, and hear their ideas of what makes good health and safety at work happen. They shared their ideas and knowledge with us, which was good for us to hear firsthand and great for Kier to know how their training is progressing,” said Matthew after the event.

We also talked about our young worker campaign, Speak Up, Stay Safe, and how that message is at the heart of good health and safety. By speaking to their supervisors, their friends, their family, their mentors, young people can make that first important step to staying safe at work. And we assured them the law was on their side.

This was backed up by the second presentation of the morning. John Callaghan, a Kier health and safety adviser, echoed our message: “If you feel there is something wrong, there usually is – so say something.”

Hearing Matthew and I talk, ask and answer questions on the issues did get them thinking. But watching and listening to the video of Barbara Burke, mother of Steven Burke, who tragically died when he fell from a scaffold at work when he was just 17, clearly got them to consider the terrible consequences of poorly managed workplace health and safety. No one wants those same words to come out of their mother’s mouth. As a reality check and an added kick to the importance of what we were saying, it hit home.

And sometimes that’s it: speaking. We’ve got to take every opportunity we can to talk to young people and give them the chance to be heard. That means everyone: the British Safety Council, employers and colleagues.

Because young people will only use our message – Speak Up, Stay Safe – if there is someone there to listen.


Many thanks to Kier Building Maintenance for the invitation. If you would like us to come and talk to your apprentices or young workers, please get in touch.

“I just wanted to express my sincere gratitude for all the hard work you put into making yesterday’s talk a success. I must say I was much impressed with the way everything went. The talk was very relevant and informative and I really liked it because it was very interactive.”

Judith Bilson, health and safety adviser, Kier Islington Ltd.

For more information on Speak Up, Stay Safe please visit




First Aid: first to work

3 Oct

I was a clumsy kid. My parents despaired as cherryade went scooting up newly painted walls; as by trying to help out I ended up breaking the lawn mower; how I came back from every holiday with scars as souvenirs.

Last night it dawned on me that some clumsy people should never live alone.

Just before dinner, I reached into a drawer of bits and bobs. One of the bobs was an attachment for the food processor. With blades. It sliced into my finger.

I wouldn’t make a good nurse. Imagine clumsy ‘ole me trying to bandage someone, or stick needles into an arm: it would cause more harm than good.

Blood started dripping all over the other bits and bobs; then onto the floor, my jeans and the food I had.

I tried to look at the cut. I knew nothing about what I should do, so I ran it under some water and watched the sink turn red. Then I wrapped the biggest plaster I could find around it, taped it up some more when the blood started to show and ate my dinner with one hand. I ignored the throbbing.

Why was I content to do nothing much about it?

I’m not good with blood and bodies cut open. I can’t sit through an episode of ER or Casualty simply because there are too many bones sticking at the wrong angles and insides of people on display.

I also knew I was coming to work today.

The British Safety Council has a team of trained first aiders in its offices. They have been trained by the Red Cross and they do their refresher course every three years to keep up-to-date.

Cleaning and healing

Paris, one of our first aiders, unwrapped the terrible sticky tape I had put round my finger, soaked with blood.

 “Did you clean it?” she asked. I replied I hadn’t.

“Why not?” I told her that I had known I was coming to work today and we have first aiders who would deal with it.

She smiled. She cleaned it properly and covered it to stop the blood while still allowing air to get to it to heal.

It’s made me think. Let’s keep in mind my injury was not work related.

But I did come to work to get it sorted. This firstly made me aware of the basic skills I obviously lack. It also got me thinking about the reality of the work that our gap year students do in far-flung corners of the globe regarding basic health and safety; teaching children to keep themselves safe and healthy so that clumsy hiccups like mine do not reach dangerous levels.

I also thought about the role and responsibility of employers. Legally, employers must have first aid provision and equipment and facilities for their employees should they be injured or are taken ill at work under the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981. Depending on the workplace, this can be simply having a first aid box available, or, as we do, having trained first aiders to deal with. Points to consider include the hazards, the number of employers and visitors, the working arrangements and the accidents and ill-health record.

It doesn’t account for clumsy people like me.

But that’s OK. I was glad that I could come into work today and have that trained attention.

There are many moments in our working lives where things happen ‘at the office’ and all we can do is think about being at home.

Yesterday, I was at home thinking about being at work. It was a change which has meant my wound will heal nicely.

And my bits and bobs drawer has been reorganised to a safer standard.

Are you a trained first aider? Have you had a first aid experience at work? Do you think all workplaces should have trained employees in first aid? Let us know your thoughts and comments.

British Safety Council’s construction sector interest group up and running

29 Sep

Representatives from construction companies who belong to the British Safety Council came together for the first time at the end of September to share their views on major health and safety issues; help shape our representations to government and the regulator; and identify what more we can all do together to drive improvements through the sharing of best practice.

Alex Botha with co-chairs Phil Coutts and Grant Findlay

The setting up of this group under the direction of Alex Botha, our chief executive, and the ones planned for manufacturing, energy and transport members, are proof of the British Safety Council’s determination to better understand the health, safety and environmental management challenges our members are facing and use the knowledge and expertise they have far more effectively in ensuring workplaces are healthier, safer and more sustainable.

The group, co-chaired by Grant Findlay of Aspire Defence Capital Works and Phil Coutts of Mace Technology, and which will meet twice a year, has a diverse range of construction members from house builders as Bovis Homes to major contractors such as McNicholas, Willmott Dixon and Trant Construction. The discussion at the first meeting covered a range of issues including the role, responsibility, competence and suitability of construction supervisors; HSE’s plans for the extension of cost recovery through ‘fee for intervention; and the Löfstedt review of health and safety legislation.  The work of and output from the construction and other interest groups will be shared on our website and through the pages of Safety Management.

Sector interest groups for manufacturing, energy and transport will follow.

Mutual ground

2 Sep

When you meet people for the first time, inevitably, there will be those twists and turns during the conversation as you and they try to find mutual ground and work out what you have in common and what you completely disagree on.

Moments when you realise you’re both on the same page, with shared ideas and goals, are comforting ones. Lifelong marriages are born in this way: “He loves the black liquorice Allsorts as well!” “She was also at my first ever concert!” And in the workplace, business and government, common ground is the most important thing in getting things done.

The British Safety Council had one of those productive meetings this week, as Neal Stone, director of policy and research has already blogged below. Our local MP, Andy Slaughter, visited us to discuss our work and his interests with Neal and our chief executive Alex Botha.

I sat in on the chat as we will be featuring it in the next issue of Safety Management and it was early in the conversation when we all realised there were more cornerstones of agreement and joint interests than not.

Community was an early theme in the discussion. We are obviously a local employer we discussed future developments in Hammersmith as well as our charity work and work with schools. Andy was very interested in our free health and safety qualifications and how that impacts on workplace safety as well as our campaigns Speak Up, Stay Safe and Changing Habits of a Lifetime.

The health and safety landscape has been changing a lot over the last year and this was something Alex, Andy and Neal delved into, with Alex explaining our position and the views of our members to reviews and consultations such as that of Löfstedt and HSE on RIDDOR. As the British Safety Council represented its members’ views on those reviews, Alex explained how the notion of health and safety as a ‘burden’ was perceived by them, as well as the problems of understanding ‘reasonably practicable’, especially for small and medium businesses.

As shadow justice minister, Andy was keen to talk about the Jackson proposals and changes to civil litigation. It is clear that in this already shifting landscape, more changes are coming and be assured the British Safety Council will share, explain and comment on all updates to its members.

It's good to talk: Andy and Alex at our HQ in Hammersmith this week

“We need to tackle the misuse, rather than say we don’t need it.” These were Andy’s words when the conversation turned to the negative perceptions of health and safety and how the media portray these stories. Everyone round the table was in agreement with Andy’s views and it was made clear the British Safety Council is a robust supporter of sensible and proportionate health and safety.

Positive and fruitful as the meeting was, it was also encouraging that issues the British Safety Council strives to keep on the health and safety agenda are also in the minds of those working in government. Fostering these relationships and communicating the outcomes to our members and the wider audience, is all part of our strategy and work.

Our conversations with government and MPs, bodies and unions enable us to feed in to them what is truly happening in workplaces around the world. In fact, in a couple of weeks, we will be meeting with Ann McKechin, shadow secretary of state for Scotland, about our work, our Scottish members’ responses to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry into health and safety this year and what the British Safety Council does in her Glasgow North constituency.

But these meetings and conversations need you as well. Get in touch with us: here, through our website, on Twitter or Facebook. Any workplace health, safety and environmental issue, big or small, is important to us and part of the mutual ground we all share: that no one should be killed, injured or made ill by their work.

“I want to be a…”

15 Aug

At the end of the month, you’re going to be reading in Safety Management about the successful relaunch of our Speak Up, Stay Safe campaign.

Big message

On a sunny day at the beginning of August, we set up stall at the Underage Festival in Victoria Park, east London. We were bombarded with young visitors for eight hours who wanted to talk to us about what we were doing and the movement we were starting. They also had the chance to star in our Polaroid Wall of Fame by having their photos taken, signing them and adding them to the wall in a pledge to get stuck into the campaign and follow us on our sites on Twitter and Facebook. Visitors could also get their hands on guitar plectrums, mirrors, badges and postcards, all with our cool design which had been chosen from those created by young people who attended our Youth Action Day in May.

We talked to the teenagers, ranging in ages from 13-17 about their work experience, what they wanted to work in, study or at least have a go at.

Young people crowd in to get their hands on Speak Up, Stay Safe freebies

“I want to be a vet.”

“He’s going to study graphic design.”

“I’ve already worked two years in a restaurant.”

“I tried working at a stable for work experience, but want to be a dentist.”

“I work in a shop every weekend.”

These kids were proud to have a job or at least know what they were going to aim for in life. If they didn’t know, they were still keen even thinking about the world of work. The older ones among us might grumble on about how kids can’t wait to grow up these days…

But I had so many conversations with young people who were excited to talk about work, their work experience, or what they wanted to do after school/college/university.

I made them talk about injuries or risks at work and talked to them about how they look after each other at festivals and out and about: that, it’s taking that attitude into the workplace, so that they keep themselves and others safe.

They were up for it, and some showed their energy and creativity by entering our competition. They had to take some of our goodies and use them in a photo or video to somehow get our campaign message across. One girl covered herself in our top tips card to emphasise the point…

Getting into the campaign

The point I got from it all was the pride and dedication a lot of these kids already have to their future careers and the notion of staying safe in them. That’s not to say these future workers will never come unstuck in their workplaces, but if they think back to 2011 and that hot day in Victoria Park, they might just remember the rule:



Landscaping a safe working future

12 Jul

Hampton Court: the scene of ghostly tales, royal spirits and an English country garden which was built by young, talented and dedicated apprentices who are going for gold.


At the cottgae which was built by the apprentices

Team UK will be competing in World Skills, which takes place in London this October. Billed as the ‘Skills Olympics’, it is the largest international skills competition in the world and from 4-8 October Team UK will compete against 1,000 other hopefuls from over 50 countries/regions. The UK is entering competitors in 37 skills ranging from cooking and hairdressing to electrical installation and bricklaying.

I had the opportunity to meet some of the trainers and apprentices who are getting nearer to competing for those gold medals. They were at the Hampton Court Flower Show showcasing their garden, which had been designed by television presenter and garden designer Chris Beardshaw. He worked with apprentices and trainers in the skills of landscape gardening, bricklaying,and dry stone walling, who all came together at Hampton Court three weeks prior to the show opening to build, landscape and plant their garden.

I’m not saying this because I got to go on the garden and interview them – I’m saying it because it’s true: their garden, The Stockman’s Retreat, was the best. It was visually stunning, with a river running through and a naturalistic pond surrounded by flowers, plants and grasses; and, in the background, sat a cottage, with a path leading to an English meadow. It was the only garden the Duchess of Cornwall had wanted to walk around when she made her visit to the show last week.

The apprentices are a bright, enthusiastic bunch of young people. They started their crafts young, learned to love them and became good at them. Now they are able to display what they can do to the world. And to be able to show safe working practices is important and taught to them from the beginning. At World Skills, losing points for health and safety can mean the difference between gold and silver.

One of trainers told me: “Young people do need more guidance; coming straight from school they are susceptible to all sorts of things and accidents. They are not quite aware; they have been living in a bubble for 15 years.”

Talking to these young people there was a sense of the sponge mentality: they had always wanted to absorb information and best practice; that included health and safety guidance.

The idea that young people don’t have the confidence to speak up is one the British Safety Council works to break through, encouraging young people to voice concerns and worries with employers, friends and family if they feel they are unsafe.

The relationship between employer and worker, or in this case, trainer and apprentice was one which really shone through in my chats at Hampton Court; that it had to be one of mutual trust and understanding. One trainer explained: “My apprentices respond positively to suggestions and ways of working. The respect between trainer and trainee is very much two ways. I could say to my guy, ‘What about trying something this way?’ I’d explain it, go through it, and maybe even demonstrate it. He would have a go at that, but if it didn’t work for him, he’d speak up and we would explore something else. Working with these apprentices, they hang on your every word, so it’s important to have that dialogue.”

The apprentices themselves echoed this, and spoke openly about the health and safety issues in their respective lines of work and what they do to combat them. I was surprised by their acceptance of responsibility for their own health and safety. It’s a testament to their good training and education that these young workers take responsibility for health and safety and realise it is part of doing a good job.

“I wouldn’t work without my goggles or gloves.”

“I know when to stop using the mechanical tools.”

“You’ve got to be careful of your back, haven’t you?”

In the next issue of Safety Management, we feature more apprentices from Team UK who will be going for gold at World Skills London 2011 and talk to them about their training experiences and thoughts on health and safety in the workplace. Its future, after all, lies in their hands.

Camilla at A Stockman's Retreat with its creators

Back at Hampton Court, before I left I had one more task to do. The Stockman’s Retreat was hoping to win the People’s Choice Award, which is chosen by the public. I voted.

The result was as safe as houses – they won.

Changing landscape, exchanging ideas

8 Jul

On Wednesaday the British Safety Council held a conference entitled The changing health and safety landscape which heard from a variety of speakers on the reforms currently underway; their likely impact; law updates; and current health and safety challenges in different sectors.

It immediately struck me as an event which was far-reaching and all encompassing; the only shame was that there was so much to say and listen to and not enough time for it all.

The morning was kicked off by British Safety Council chair of trustees Lynda Armstrong, where she spoke of the timely nature of the event and the extent of the breadth and depth of the changes underway. She talked about our upcoming meeting with Professor Löfstedt, where she, new chief executive Alex Botha and Neal Stone will contribute to the review with findings from consultation with our members. Lynda said that we must not lose sight of the benefits that come from good health and safety management while trying to relieve the burden on small businesses, which is where some issues remain to be addressed.

Dan Shears, national HS&E research and policy officer at the GMB union, and Steve Pointer, head of health and safety policy at EEF assessed the impact of the government’s reforms in their own ways. Their views generated some interesting questions from the audience as they discussed the ‘compensation culture’; the government’s Red Tape Challenge; the process of claims and HSE’s efficiency.

Neal was adamant that we shouldn’t just look to HSE for solutions in reaching compliance; that the challenge was for the British Safety Council and the wider health and safety community to be more persuasive, with more publicity and education finding its way to the right people.

Listening to these people talk, one thing was clear: each of these changes, no matter how big or small, will affect someone: that people are important; workers are important and employers need to share in the responsibility for being part of the changes, whether putting forward concerns and ideas or in how they implement them.

Presentations by two lawyers followed. Mark Tyler, partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, spoke of the “evolving scene” of health and safety claims, fines and punishment and how public concern can affect courts’ decisions. In his jovial way, he got a serious subject across to the audience, yet there was an underlying level of uncertainty as well. It seemed for every example one way there was another to prove the opposite. Lawyers in health and safety must be having an interesting time of it at the moment.

Alex took to the stage for his first speech as chief executive. His overriding message was one that our role should be to “inform, not hinder” in these processes of change. He then introduced Gordon MacDonald, HSE programme director and a big draw for attendees as he talked about the fee for intervention proposal. He was direct, clear and honest and tried to cover the concerns the delegates had. Some accepted the cost recovery proposals while others had worries related to smaller business or union reps. Questions to him spilled over into lunch and he readily accepted the bombardment.

I chaired the afternoon session which was given over to discussions related to current health and safety challenges in participants’ sectors. Speaking from the stage and sharing their issues and practices were Ros Seal from the ODA; Paul Haxell from Bovis Homes; Chris Craggs from McFarlane Telfer; and Zerxes Ginwalla from Searcy’s.

So many interesting points were made and experiences shared here that it was a pity there was little time for more discussion. However, I made a huge list of notes and exploratory questions that I am not going to simply cast aside.

This conference was about discussing changes and their likely impact; but more importantly than that, it was about sharing what people already do to make workplaces safer and healthier. From Ros talking about motivation to Chris noting the impact of positive feeling; form Paul explaining their ‘show don’t tell’ policy to Zerxes revealing the challenges of training a multicultural workforce – they all had messages of helping, bettering, evolving.

And that’s what I have taken away with me from Wednesday: that those delegates, whether they agree with everything said and debated or not, are there to make positive changes in people’s work lives; that throughout changes and ups and downs, they work to make sure that workers go home safe and healthy at the end of the day.