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Byrne’s blog – Everyone zones out from time to time, right?

Sometime ago I was in a meeting, I recall there were no windows in the room it was late and we still had loads left on the agenda. I was listening to similar issues that I’m sure we all encounter wherever we work. I say that because they certainly seem to be reoccurring themes to me.

You see we were talking about a not great response rate to a health surveillance questionnaire, which had been sent out to ‘at risk’ employees for them to complete and return having had a briefing from their gaffer first. We were told what process had been used to get the questionnaires out, and what information the briefing contained – all standard stuff.

But one of my colleagues then made a cracking observation, all the time in the conversation words like ‘surveillance’, ‘fit to work’ and ‘not fit to work’ were being used and he wondered whether that might be the problem.

Spot on I thought!

While the law might jabber on about health surveillance and we might have ‘fit for work’ forms, it doesn’t mean we have to use the words. After all say ‘surveillance’ to me and I think people taking pictures from behind net curtains of what’s cracking off on the street below, or of someone tailing you and making notes on where you go and them using it against you.

It’s also like having safety policies and statements that say ‘you will do …’ to the reader, they think safety is being done to them and so don’t connect with it (or to use more fancy business speak, they don’t engage fully with safety). Whereas saying ‘we’ll do’ feels so much better and sounds like we’re all in it together.

I can’t help but feel we need to think far more as a profession about how we communicate about safety and health (HEALTH WARNING: the more traditional re-guard amongst us, will have a fit about what I’m going to say next), rewording stuff can make a massive difference and may help us achieve what we’re trying to achieve a bit quicker and less painfully.

Twenty minutes after the agenda item on health surveillance started and with the debate raging on, I was left with two clear themes in my mind:

1. Don’t call them health surveillance questionnaires. They’re health checks.
2. Sell the benefits: we want to make sure you’ll in good health and that we’re doing all we can for you, so that you can carry on enjoying your time outside of work.

I have to confess I’d zoned out at this point and was more concerned about where the cakes were that someone had brought in!

Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne has a first-class combined honours degree in ergonomics and health and safety management, along with 10 years’ broad health, safety and environmental experience. He is a chartered member of IOSH, a member of IIRSM and an associate member of IEMA.

Jamie Cliffe blog – African Adventures

When SMTS took the decision to spread its wings and develop the international aspect of our business, I knew that from time to time we might find ourselves in some of the world’s more spectacular destinations. So it proved to be, as previous blogs from various African nations attest to.

It was while we were building our presence in Nairobi, my business partner Chris Banbury and I would find ourselves in conversations with people working in other parts of the region. One location kept cropping-up as a place that sounded worthy of further investigation. We were told it was where the oil and gas industries were strong and active, where it was thought that there might be opportunities for our brand of quality health and safety training. We were told that it was a beautiful place to be. We were told to look at Dar es Salaam.

Through countless trips over the years, I have become familiar with the chaotic bustle of Lagos, the glorious buzz of Nairobi and more recently the genteel charms of Malawi. But in Dar es Salaam, the business centre and former capital of Tanzania, I was once again entranced, this time by the cosmopolitan vibrancy of its unique brand of Arabic, African, Western and Oriental cross-culturalism.

We had decided to take a closer look at the city, whose name means ‘harbour of peace,’ as the result of an exploratory NEBOSH course, which we had run. It had gone well and opened our eyes to the presence of the companies who were active in Dar, as the city is known. It was soon clear that not only was there a demand for high-quality training courses but active interest in forming a local partnership to provide them.

It seems that we made the right decision as the course we ran August was fully booked and the forthcoming course in November is already nearly full. So what is Dar like?

Over a number of trips there, I’ve tuned my eyes and ears to its charms. It has the wonderful vibrancy that many East African cities are famed for, the fusion of African and Muslim culture, the legacy of historic trade routes with India and further afield giving it a truly cosmopolitan air. From my hotel window, I can see huge boats from China in the picturesque harbour. I know that only a brief walk from the hotel lobby there are the modern high-rise marble and chrome office blocks, spectacular chaotic markets (not least the Kariakoo) selling everything from fruit and furniture, spices and steel cookware. Not for the feint-hearted perhaps, but well worth visiting for a true sense of Dar.

It’s so easy to find yourself insulated from the atmosphere of where you are staying when on business trips and a good way to overcome this and really get your feet in the ground is to catch a local bus. In Dar this takes on an air of genuine excitement as Tanzanians seem to relish speed over safety and rely more on the local phrase ‘Mungu akipenda, tutafika’, meaning “if God wants it, we shall arrive”, than the highway code. But the buses are an efficient and highly cost-effective way to see the city.

And then, just when you start to feel that you’ve got to know the place, you hear of something so unique, so extraordinary, that you realise there is still so much to learn about the place.

When one of our lead instructors returned from running a course in Dar he told a tale of being invited to the races by Dar resident Peter Gattercole. I imagined that he meant horse racing and instantly pictured an African Epsom perhaps, a Tanzanian Aintree. But no, he had been goat racing!! Not a few goats being chased down a dusty road either, but a crowd-pulling day of multiple races, raising money for charity with goat teams being cheered on by thousands of spectators, many in fancy dress.

It started just over a decade ago when Paul Joynson-Hicks brought the idea over from Uganda and since then, the annual Dar es Salaam Charity Goat Race has raised almost a quarter of a million pounds for local charities and attracted sponsorship from such multinationals as Coca Cola, British Airways and a plethora of East African businesses. It’s as joyously bonkers as you might imagine and for the doubting Thomases among you, you can see the evidence at

So Dar is a wonderful place, not only to do business in but also just to be. It also has something else. I can best describe it as having an acceptance of its international flavour and it knows it’s a good place to do business.
However, the atmosphere and ambience of Dar is best summed up by a phrase I heard, “It’s a pleasure that you’ve arrived,” and I realised that I had.

Jamie Cliffe

Jamie Cliffe has more than 20 years’ experience within the petroleum downstream environment, and is currently managing director of safety training provider SMTS.

Byrne’s blog – An ocean view

Ten years ago (this month, actually) I went on holiday to Kos with two of my muckers who I’d known on and off since junior school. Like any group of friends, one of my mates took more pleasure in acting the joker and let’s just say that he wasn’t particularly renowned for his insightful observations.

One day, while being dragged round some ruin in Kos Town, I was staring out to sea wondering whether I could escape this bloody tour we’d been talked into going on, when my mate, from nowhere, said: “Every seventh wave is the largest of the set – it’s all to do with the tides and the magnetic pull of the earth, you know.”

My other mate and I did a double take, thought to ourselves “more rubbish”, and set out to prove him wrong. But we couldn’t. Every seventh wave (our counting may have been a little inhibited by the alcohol still coursing through our veins from the night before) was indeed the largest of the previous six.

Now, whether it’s to do with the tide or magnetic pull of the earth, I have no idea, but every time I’m near the sea now I bore the people I’m with by making them count the waves and proving my friend’s point nearly every time.

I’ve had similar experiences at work, when a few people who I’ve always thought come out with tripe have, at times, made me reconsider things by coming up with various gems – whether it’s defining a complex issue in a really simple way, or coming up with the solution to a tough problem.

What I’m trying to get across is that listening is just as important as talking, though not something you often see on job descriptions. For safety professionals, listening to people who you don’t come into contact with on a daily basis is especially important – sometimes you only get one chance to visit a site, or talk to people on a production line, so it’s important that you really make the most of the opportunity.

When I agreed to go to Kos, the ‘brochure’ didn’t include counting waves; and yet, a decade later, I can remember the wave counting more than any of the other stuff that happened during that fortnight!

It goes to show something, I’m not sure what though!

Richard Byrne


Richard Byrne has a first-class combined honours degree in ergonomics and health and safety management, along with 10 years’ broad health, safety and environmental experience. He is a chartered member of IOSH, a member of IIRSM and an associate member of IEMA.

Byrne’s blog – The wife is right

I wanted to go abroad this year on holiday but my wife put her foot down as apparently four hours one way on a plane wasn’t fair on our two little girls. It was with some amusement (not that I let the missus see it) that I listened to some of our friends point out that four hours in the car to the Isle of Wight might be worse, at least on a plane the girls can move around a little more freely. Anyway when the weather was as good as we got on the ‘island’ I have to say there is nowhere quite like Blighty.

It was Cowes week when we were there and while we aren’t a nautical family we did go and have a walk round the stalls on the quay and watch some of the boat racing.  The bargain hunter in me honed in on the Daily Telegraph’s stall, which was selling a copy of paper, a bag for life type shopping bag and a sports watch all for £1.20!  I bagged the paper, the wife had the bag and the girls fought over the watch until we all realised that it was useless and we should have had the big slab of chocolate, which was on offer as an alternative.

Reading the paper that evening my interest was aroused by a story about one of my two favourite places, the Peak District in Derbyshire (the other for those of you interested is the Yorkshire Dales). Turns out there is an old lime quarry somewhere near Buxton that over the years had all sorts of rubbish dumped in it. This includes dead animals and cars, creating what is described as a ‘toxic soup nearly as strong as bleach’. Ironically this mixture coupled with the lime gives the water a lovely tropical blue hue.

Somebody, presumably the quarry owner, has put up signs to the effect of ‘Do not go in the pool, the water is polluted’. The paper claimed that despite this warning lots of people travel from all over to swim in it.

The pictures that accompanied the piece were strange and something you’d expect to see from a developing country. One showed a girl, who was about 10, swimming in the pool, the other showed the edge of the pool with all the debris floating in it.

So what’s my point?

Firstly sometimes you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.  I bet if there were no signs someone would swim in the pool and end up being seriously ill. Their family would then be featured in the paper saying what a disgrace it was that people where allowed to swim in it. I guess this is something similar to what safety professionals suffer from all the time. We shouldn’t give up though, we just need to make sure we aren’t one of those clipboard and cagoule types that should be kicked out of the profession.

And secondly, the wife is always right. For those of you that live on the ‘island’ there is nothing wrong with the place, in fact we really enjoyed it, but we are going aboard next year – the missus has decided.

Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne has a first-class combined honours degree in ergonomics and health and safety management, along with 10 years’ broad health, safety and environmental experience. He is a chartered member of IOSH, a member of IIRSM and an associate member of IEMA.

Byrne’s blog – I’m saving up for a telescope

“Oh I remember you”, was what I was thinking as I flicked through some back issues of an old employers company magazine I found in the loft recently when I happened across a picture of an ex-colleague.

I should have know from my first encounter with him what our relationship was going to be like when he told me, in front of his team, that he’d had the best safety training money could buy and that he could do my job easily. Oh really I thought?

Turns out his training had ‘maxed out’ at Managing Safely and, I know I probably shouldn’t have done it but I couldn’t help myself and he soon shut up when I pointed out to him that I was delivering those courses when I first graduated many years ago.

Our paths didn’t cross much after that until he, along with his entire peer group, where at a senior operations meeting. We’d just launched a new safety device and, in front of all his colleagues, his boss and his boss’ boss he preceded to tell me that it was dangerous because it increased the risk to the person in certain situations.

Not being the brightest star in the sky he’d failed to read the instructions that went with the new kit and in big bold letters it clearly said: ‘DO NOT USE in these situations …’

It was one of those moments when I knew I could wipe the floor with him or say nothing and let the actions of his peers get the message through. I bit my lip. His colleagues all looked at the table and muttered (almost in unison) ‘I can’t believe he said that’. After we clarified his confusion we moved on.

Some weeks later the same bloke was in another meeting and took exception to something his boss had said. Instead of pushing back gently to test the water and either deciding to let it go, or have a chat in private, he went straight for the jugular. After he’d finished his rant, his boss calmly said those words that send a chill up every ones spine: ‘We’ll take this off line’ which is code for ‘you’re going to get a good verbal kicking for that, punk’.

Needless to say he carried out the rest of his time with our employer in much the same fashion and he eventually parted company. But in this little story lives some very good lessons that I’ve never forgotten.

Sometimes not wiping the floor with people gets you more respect in the eyes of those watching you, and helps you get more favours especially when they realise you could clean the park with them.

Never argue with your boss in public, only disagree in private. In public there will only ever be one winner and it’s not going to be you.

And the final and most important lesson, as the ‘Safety Guru’ Tony Higgins used to say: sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let the world think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Why am I saving up for a telescope? To see what planet some of these people are on!

Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne has a first-class combined honours degree in ergonomics and health and safety management, along with 10 years’ broad health, safety and environmental experience. He is a chartered member of IOSH, a member of IIRSM and an associate member of IEMA.

Byrne’s blog – It’s only as hard as you make it

I remember it well it was dark in that room in Bradford about 18 months ago when I actually thought I was going to get shot. The person at the other end of the table had twisted their face so that I couldn’t recognise their features, and they were reaching inside their bag…I’d overstepped the mark.

All I said was: “doing a risk assessment isn’t actually that important”. But that was too much to take for the newly qualified safety professional, who I was having my monthly catch up with.

They pulled from their bag not a Heckler and Koch but a laptop. They were going to write to IOSH and the IIRSM to get me ‘de-barred’. But I don’t think they’d heard all of what I’d said!

I actually said: “Doing a risk assessment isn’t actually that important. What is more important is the conversation between the manager and their team about working safely, along with them checking they have the right kit and training to do the job.”

And I stand by that. If the manager gets that right there won’t be an accident, but sometimes the process of writing a risk assessment takes over from this principle.

The conversation that lead to this near death experience all started because we were talking about a training course they were putting together on risk assessment, and the unbelievable lengths people go to get managers to fill the assessment forms in correctly to pass an audit.

Now before you start writing to IOSH and the IIRSM, I agree there is a place for risk assessment in modern health and safety management. I don’t know about you but I get really frustrated when people (and there are a lot of them) think the piece of paper the assessment is written on is the ‘be all and end all’.

In fact I’ve never heard of an accident being stopped by a piece of paper. It’s a bit like some EHO’s obsession with having a policy statement clearly displayed, and the date changed every year.

Even after ten minutes and a large black coffee to calm their nerves, they still weren’t too sure. So we agreed on a plan that involved them trusting me, and me trusting them to deliver.

The plan was simple, the next time they went to a site and coached the manager through the ‘risk assessment pack’ they wouldn’t refer to the pack until the very end. Instead they’d talk to the manager about:

• How often they talk to their people about doing the job right, and what sort of things they say when they do that;

• How do they know if they have the right kit and that is serviceable;

• How many times do they watch them work and say either ‘well done’ or ‘good job’ when they do it safely or challenge anything unsafe.

The day of reckoning came, and they went out to a location in East Anglia. I was like a parent watching their kid in the school Christmas show, heart in my throat for the whole day, until I got the call… they’d done it!

They had spent two hours having a general chat with the manager around the bits I’d suggested. They then gave them some feedback on what they’d seen and heard while on site.

Turns out the manager actually understood risk assessments before they got round to talking about it – how do I know this? Because I popped in when I was passing a few weeks later. His words were: “I never realised health and safety was that easy”.

Chuffed, I called my colleague and offered my congratulations, and as far as I know I’m still a member of IOSH and the IIRSM! Now I wonder how you go about becoming a Fellow.

EurOSHM Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne has a first-class combined honours degree in ergonomics and health and safety management, along with 10 years’ broad health, safety and environmental experience. He is a chartered member of IOSH, a member of IIRSM and an associate member of IEMA, and also holds EurOSHM status.

Diary of a recruitment consultant – April 2012

David Whittle recounts recent events in the world of the Health & Safety recruitment group at Allen & York.

Week 1 – New year, new start

The new year arrived and with it came a fantastic opportunity for me to join the Allen & York Health & Safety Group. The focus of my first week consisted of extensive training, learning about the company’s recruitment process, as well as the health and safety marketplace.

Every morning we have a brief team meeting to discuss live vacancies, new candidates and the latest health and safety news and trends. At one meeting we discussed the evolving role of the health and safety manager in global corporations. I have already noted how the role of health and safety manager has shifted away from a reactive ‘fire-fighting’ role to a more educational and preventative role.

Consequently, my first week is spent discussing skills sets and experience with professionals on our candidate database, and making a note of those who have a strong ability to engage workforces and stakeholders. This process will help us fill a number of positions for clients who are seeking to achieve improvements in safety performance and culture throughout their organisations.

Week 2 – Strong track record

My second week starts with an early morning company meeting, which outlined our wider business strategy for the year. Trends for growth are looking positive throughout all our locations, particularly Australia and the Middle East, but there is a sense that 2012 could also be a strong year for health and safety in the UK.

Back at my desk, I get to work on trying to fill a role for one of the company’s long-standing clients in the manufacturing industry. The client is keen to recruit someone who has a proven track record of operating at a senior level across a global business in a strong corporate environment. Naturally, I’m keen to source the best candidates to put forward for interview, and those who can communicate effectively with both technical and board-level employees immediately stand out to me.

Week 3 – Transferable skills

My week begins with an opportunity to meet a potential new client – my first face-to-face meeting at Allen & York.

Our Renewable Energy team is already receiving a number of vacancies from this client, so we are keen to present a range of health and safety professionals who are currently job hunting. In particular, we’re keen to inform the company about all our candidates who have previously worked in the oil and gas and engineering industries, as these individuals have transferable skills that are well suited to the offshore renewable energy market. I make a note to myself to remind candidates to really promote these transferable skills on their CVs, once I’m back on the phones in the office.

Week 4 – Natural selection

The interview that took place at the start of the month was successful and my candidate is invited back for the second stage of the interview.

I inform my candidate to analyse their first interview and be aware of those areas on which they may be asked to provide more information. I also make him aware of some online personality profiling that will take place and talk him through what will be required, as this is the first time he has done this via the Web. I also stress the importance of coming across as natural as possible during the interview, which is often just as important as technical ability when it comes to clients making their decision.

I am confident as I await the feedback from both my candidate and, in due course, the client. Having had positive feedback so far, I remind my candidate to stay patient and be flexible and open to a possible offer, or further interview.