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The good feeling of helping to protect people

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In this, his first interview, the new chief executive of the British Safety Council shares his views on the health and safety landscape and his expectations for the organisation going forward. Interview by Iris Cepero, editor.


On 1 September 2015 Mike Robinson took over the role of chief executive. He walked into the Hammersmith office with nearly 20 years’ experience of leading international businesses. He had worked in the maritime services sector in a private equity-backed business he co-founded, and in a maritime-related Trading Fund within the Ministry of Defence. Previously he’d had a career in financial services.

In his first meeting with the staff he said that in the weeks to follow he would be asking questions and listening, much more than talking himself. That made sense for someone trying to familiarise himself with an industry and type of business he hasn’t worked for before, but this was also his way of announcing a leadership based on teamwork and cooperation.

During the past three months he has been meeting with members of the British Safety Council and industry experts, listening and getting knowledge that will help him to set his vision and style for the time to come.

What attracted you to the post of chief executive of the British Safety Council?
The British Safety Council has an unbelievably powerful vision – “no one should be injured or made ill at work”. It is a vision that people can believe in. In fact, how can anyone disagree with it? Furthermore, it is a vision that I see people working in the British Safety Council and in member organisations, believe in too. This matters.

In a previous role, as chief executive of the Government’s National Hydrographic Office, (Maritime Products & Services) I was focusing on safety of life at sea. In those five years, the whole of the organisation was focused on safety at sea, trying to reduce the number of mariners killed and I gained an understanding of the inherent connection between commercial activities and health and safety. I got a good feeling when I walked onto a vessel and there on the chart table was a chart with my name on the bottom of it, issued on behalf of the UK government - you get a good feeling that something you are doing adds value, specifically helping to keep mariners safe from harm.

How do you perceive the health and safety landscape in the UK. What are the main challenges?
Having been involved in discussions from pretty much day one with members and a number of key decision-makers and thought leaders engaged in health and safety in this country, my view is that it is a complex area with a number of tensions within it. Fundamentally, I don’t see anyone disagreeing with the principle that health and safety is important to business. The issue is rather how health and safety is positioned – to what extent is it part of the wider risk management agenda, an intrinsic part of all business; or to what extent is it an independent component, set aside as technical specialism. We see many members of the British Safety Council trying to integrate their health and safety with environment, quality and now even security. But it doesn’t appear that this is the approach adopted by every organisation, one that may be influenced by the understanding of the material risk to the business and an inherent need for safety to remain in focus.

Another clear challenge facing us as an industry is around that of ‘health’. We know that ‘safety’ has dominated the conversation for decades, and we are all now looking at what it means in terms of health, given that we speak of ‘health and safety’. Is it occupational health, is it health and wellbeing? The question remains how do we encourage health, what opportunities are there to learn lessons from the safety culture to help build a health culture. We also know that mental health is a particular facet of this and we have so much to do in terms of addressing just this aspect of health in a more coherent way.

How do you see the role of the British Safety Council both here in the UK and internationally?
I am passionate about leading an organisation that has a proud legacy created by James Tye almost 60 years ago. I see what we need to do, and are doing, being in line with the five steps that are laid out in our manifesto ‘Working Well’. Our role is clear – as a society we have the expertise to help prevent injury and illness.

We know the global challenge is immense as still some 2.2m workers are estimated to die every year from work-related disease and injuries all of which are preventable. This is the challenge that we face – working to change business and public attitudes to health and safety and building competence so that the risks can be better managed.

The first step in this journey is promoting the importance of health and safety. Back in 2013, the British Safety Council produced a review of the extensive literature exploring the business case for good health and safety. When you read that review you recognise that it is mostly about the management of safety. For that reason we are working to produce a more up-to-date edition that articulates the business case for health, given this is what so many are trying to understand and address.

The British Safety Council is a diverse organisation – a charity, a membership organisation – and operates commercially across a number of business areas. What are the priorities going forward?
What I am seeing and hearing is that there is much value placed on the fact that we have a complete offer, which is available to our members as well as to non-members. We know that to some we are important because we deliver e-learning platforms and can do so for their multi-site operations. For others it may be that we are able to support them in relation to audit and consultancy or that we can provide access to information, networks and good practice through our publications or events. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this offering is not only unique but also our strength.

To look at it another way, health and safety can be quite complicated. But looked at from the perspective of business, as we do, we appreciate that it is about identifying and controlling risk, understanding what is proportionate and sensible to your operation. It is by the very nature of our breadth of membership across industry sectors and the range of products and services which allow us such insight. This is an inherent value underpinning good practice, one which appreciates that there is a need and demand for continuous improvement.

What is your message to the members of British Safety Council?
Members have always been at the core of what the British Safety Council does. As far as I and our trustees are concerned, it will remain that way. Within the manifesto we recognise the value and importance of our members sharing their knowledge and expertise. And this insight also drives our policy positions, as much as the provision of products and services. I appreciate the contribution of all of the organisations that are our members whether recently joined or ones that have been members over the course of many, many years. This cannot be underestimated. The way I see it, an important part of my role is taking the opportunity to interact with members and I aim to apportion my time accordingly.

Where do you see the British Safety Council in 10 years’ time?
In some respects it is a bit too early to ask me this question. What I do believe at this stage is that the British Safety Council is a valuable platform for business in the UK to promote its awareness, understanding and management of health and safety risks. Our track record is as one of the safest countries in the world. I believe the international market and international membership will be an important component of growing our business, even more so looking forward 10 years, since we operate in a global market.

I fully appreciate the challenges facing the industry and us as an organisation and I am enthused by what I have seen as being core to achieving great things, and working with those already committed to bringing the benefits of good health and safety to a wider audience.
In this vein I am fully committed to promoting our campaign aimed at young people at work ‘Speak Up Stay Safe’. I recognise the importance of achieving a balance between supporting the needs of organisations today while looking to support the individuals who will be leading and managing organisations tomorrow.

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