Director, Acre Frameworks

Author Bio ▼

With over 12 years’ experience recruiting senior Health and Safety professionals across the globe, Anna has recently partnered with Acre in support of their strategy to add value to their clients and the wider Health and Safety profession.

Focussing on the assessment and development of behavioural competencies in the profession, Anna has conducted a series of in-depth interviews with industry leaders to define the competencies critical for success and create the Acre Frameworks Competency Framework.

This framework is the foundation for a range of assessment and development offerings aimed at assisting individuals and teams to improve their performance. In addition to having extensive recruitment experience, Anna is also an accredited psychometric assessor and trained competency interviewer.

June 10, 2016

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Health and safety needs a re-brand

By Anna Keen, Founder of Acre Frameworks.

A little over a month ago I hit the streets of London to understand what the Great British Public’s perception of Health and Safety was; this was the result:

Acre Frameworks: Health & Safety Stereotypes and Perceptions

Not very complimentary is it?  But if we are all honest is it that unfair? How many of you have interviewed or met people that fuel this stereotype?

When I first started recruiting in Health and Safety it was all about compliance, enforcement and rule following. The roles attracted many individuals whose personality preferences aligned to this. They enjoyed following rules, telling people what to do and they didn’t trust people to do the right thing.

I hope most of us would agree that if we aspire to achieve compliance alone it won’t get people home safe at the end of the day. We need to empower those in our workplaces and change not just their behaviours but their beliefs; we need to do Health and Safety differently.

Having worked closely with John Green and Safety Differently we know there is momentum within the profession to change. If we are to deliver this change through recognising people as the solution, removing the bureaucracy and focusing on the positives we need to accept that the skill-set of those in the profession needs to change. We need to re-focus development and we need to stop fuelling the stereotype.

What does this skill-set look like? I am privileged to work with some of the most passionate, innovative and engaging individuals who are driving change in their organisations and across the industry.  I wanted to define what makes these people different. What makes them effective and ultimately successful?

So I did something really innovative, I asked them!  I have spent the last six months working with senior leaders to understand and define which non-technical competencies were critical for success.

IMG_7692 (2)The purpose of this was to promote the idea that although qualifications may make you competent, by themselves they won’t make you effective and its effective people we need to drive change in the profession.

Through the use of the assessment tool we have started to understand the personality preferences of leaders in Health and Safety.  We have profiled leaders from Crossrail, Laing O’Rourke, Vodafone, Royal Mail and ISS to name but a few. I want to share with you some of the findings that were particularly interesting which definitely challenge the stereotype:

70% are more likely to consult with others

75% are interested in other people’s motivates and behaviours

85% preferred new approaches over conventional methods

70% are more likely to look for the positive

80% aren’t restricted by rules and procedures

In order to be successful you have to actually demonstrate behaviours that are quite the opposite of the stereotype. You need to want to understand others, challenge past approaches and look for the positives. The role has changed but the brand hasn’t.

What if every person in the profession dedicated as much time to developing critical behaviours as they do developing their technical knowledge? What if the ability to demonstrate these competencies carried as much weight as qualifications? Would it allow us to drive positive change in organisations and would it allow us to attract talent into the profession? Would it allow a Health and Safety leader to be considered with the same credibility for a promotion to COO as their peers? Would it allow us to rebrand?

How do we do this? Let’s start by understanding where we are:

  • We need to understand at an individual and team level how personalities impact people’s effectiveness.
  • Heads of functions need to understand their team dynamic, key strengths and development areas.
  • Individuals need feedback on how they can change their behaviour in order to become more effective.
  • All professionals need to develop their skills beyond technical knowledge, not in pursuit of initials after their name, but to allow them to make a real impact and to get people home safely at the end of the day.

It is my hope that if we do this we can make small changes at the individual and organisational levels that can make a big impact across the profession as a whole.

I ask you to take some time to reflect on this. Whether it’s through utilising the Acre Frameworks tool or by good old fashioned reflection, take a long hard look at the impact you and your teams are having and ask yourself what am I doing to Re-brand Health and Safety?

anna keen

Anna Keen is founder of Acre Frameworks. 


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Ray RappDavid SkeggJohn BartlettBarrie JonesKeith Lyall Recent comment authors
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Keith Lyall
Keith Lyall

Nice to see how a “survey” of some people in London is representative of the UK’s view of H&S, were any safety professionals, injured persons or families of those injured interviewed? Or even the directors of organisations found guilty of breaking the law in terms of H&S asked for their opinion, and if any of these individuals thought it was all “red tape” and stopping people having “fun”. “But if we are all honest is it that unfair?”: yes this is an unfair representation and massive generalisation of a highly professional and dedicated industry, we are not “killjoys” who according… Read more »

Vincent Theobald-Vega
Vincent Theobald-Vega

Anna, YES – some of us have been saying this for a long time. The problem with re-branding is that you have to address the sterotype from both ends at once. We have to change as professionals (some of us did that a long time ago), AND we have to get the media to change as well. Whilst the Daily Mail and others continue to pump out anti-health and safety messages we will not change the image of our profession. This is why it is so important to challenge the lies and untruths EVERY time we encounter them. Only when… Read more »

Rod Stephens
Rod Stephens

As ever, people with virtually no H&S risk (interviewed in Central London’s busy office centre) are asked their opinions on matters that hardly touch them, if you asked the same questions anywhere on a building site, heavy industry, recycling plant or transport operation you would get less articulate but more relevant answers. The reality is that H&S does need rebranding because many of the practitioners are encouraged to over-specify and overkill all the risks – not in an attempt to make the work safer, but ensure that the job cannot be completed without breaking those rules. The effect is that… Read more »

Dave Keepings
Dave Keepings

What utter rubbish from the two other commentators. The point of the video, I think, was to ask people NOT INVOLVED in H&S what they thought of Health & Safety. And they got it right. Our industry is stuck in the past and has a really bad public image! Surely if the likes of Crossrail, LOR, Vodafone, Royal Mail etc etc are using this tool to move things forward, surely we need to be seriously considering this?

Keith Lyall
Keith Lyall

I appreciate that this issue will stimulate debate, but it is one we need to have, not “utter rubbish”. Successive governments own commissioned reports have not backed up this theory that we are drowning in red tape and we need to understand the motivations behind them.
Acceptance and use of terms like “burdens” and red tape are unhelpful, the move by J. Hackitt to the EEF shows the lack of interest the HSE has and the influence business has on the current way H&S is treated and the agendas in place.


Anna said at her launch, that it is a shame that a profession which is all about saving lives should be viewed so negatively. I agree with this – I am tired of defending a profession which does such a lot of good, to people who have swallowed the Daily Mail line. Yet we do have the opportunity to look at how we drive change in perception. Please enter the debate here – or for live debate come to Safety and Health Expo where John Green is delivering a keynote address about Safety Differently, and Anna Keen is involved in… Read more »

Karl T
Karl T

To be honest all this article and the personality test is picking up on the latest recruitment techniques to weed out the safety policeman to the safety personality. As a safety professional these days you have to wear many different hats and personalities to win people over and to convince them to follow your lead. Culture based safety was the buzzword ten years ago and it was rule based compliance before that. God knows what the future holds for the safety professional you now have to be qualified on four fronts (health, safety, environmental and quality) what next personality qualification… Read more »


As a Trades Union Health and Safety Rep. and a NEBOSH qualified H&S practitioner I find that the ‘publics’ perception is driven by the press miss-reporting the misuse of H&S, often by lazy managers who use the H&S tag to ban something, which if they hadn’t used the H&S tag would simply be laughed at as ridiculous. In doing this the press seem to have an agenda, far too similar the current governments agenda, which seeks to rubbish and reduce ‘Health and Safety’ at every opportunity. Yes for some organisations H&S is little more than a tickbox exercise, and lazy… Read more »

Phil Pinnington
Phil Pinnington

Really good article, but the findings are not a surprise. It’s possibly not re-branding that needs to happen rather that people need to know what is now described as ‘Blue Tape’ . Requirements set out by insurers are big companies in an effort to protect their interests. H&S practioners for years have been the butt of jokes and many I’ve seen do fit into the stereotype but certainly not all. Those of us who have embraced the risk management ethos as opposed to risk averse need to be sharing that message with colleagues and empowering them. We’re surely in the… Read more »

Barrie Jones
Barrie Jones

Wonderful, I have been subject to the stupidity of health and safety officers and frequently see examples on TV.but the same problem occurs elsewhere and I think we should apply this logic to many other professional groups Accounting and Law Enforcement are two that jump to mind. (I am an ex Company Accountant)

John Bartlett
John Bartlett

I agree we have a bad press and rightly so. Many of us have been saying for a long time that the route to becoming a safety professional is not fit for purpose. Unless you get NEBOSH & IOSH on the bus it will never change!

David Skegg
David Skegg

Apart from the fact that I sometimes despair when I see rules such as “All employees must wear safety glasses when using the coffee machine in the head office city building” – aa line in a lecture called “Simply Silly Safety”, I do have hope that the work of Pam Pryor and the accreditation and certification processes in Australia will take hold. Safety professionals need to have a working knowledge of science, engineering, cognition, management planning, investigation, literacy and numeracy to be recognised as contributors. The “hats and boots” compliance role of safety has a place, but not for someone… Read more »

Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp

Some really interesting comments and observations made by readers. First, the article is promoting something (Acre Fameworks) but I’m not sure what. Today is all about ‘change’ it seems, previous perceptions were all wrong! The reality is nothing is ever perfect, there is always room for improvement. Whether the author has judged the climate right or just seling their wares is a matter for conjecture. I agree the compliance ethos needs to be selective. As a h&s practitioner I would rather focus on organisations protecting people for altruistic reasons rather than just simply compliance. In the real world, however, organisations… Read more »