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August 31, 2016

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The many roles of a health and safety professional



Jonathan Hughes, associate director, Capita Property and Infrastructure looks at all the hats the modern health and safety professional has to wear.

Over the years, the way businesses operate and interact with the wider world has changed. For them to remain competitive in a tough marketplace, the way their employees work has also had to change. Employees now need to be multi-skilled, frequently multi-task and face various pressures at work – from employers and colleagues to customers and contractors etc. The role of the safety and health professional has grown over the years to reflect this shift in business practice. Rarely now does the safety and health professional focus purely on those elements of their title. A glance through the job adverts in the industry will identify phrases such as SHEQ, QUENSH and even a SHEQ FM, which is not a newly launched radio station for our industry, but a Safety, Health, Environmental, Quality and Facilities Management role.

Long gone are the days where health and safety was primarily a hazard spotting role, producing policy documents, assessments, safe systems of work etc. If you imagine a cart wheel, I see the role of the modern safety and health professional as a hub in the middle of the wheel linking up a number of spokes, or departments, 360 degrees throughout an organisation. The role is crucial to business, and it sits within an ever changing business landscape. The modern safety professional is a pragmatic thinker, a decision maker, an advisor, a confidante, able to see the bigger picture, an enabler.

So what additional roles do modern safety and health professionals undertake? HR, risk management, financial risk, quality, security, facilities, business continuity, engagement, wellbeing, general risk, sustainability, ethical practice to name a few. At the heart of all of these roles is the immediate and long term physical and mental health safety and wellbeing of the people who engage with the organisation – staff, contractors’, clients’, members of the public etc.

The challenge of course is finding the time to complete the various roles and tasks that the profession now encompasses. Is it feasible for our SHEQ FM to slice 40 hours a week into safety, health, environmental, quality and facilities management with enough time allocated to enable each task to be completed adequately? Perhaps that is where delegation and a decentralised management process comes in. Rather than the SHEQ FM being the go-to person for all of these tasks, perhaps cascading information, upskilling managers, supervisors and teams across the business and bringing in external relevant expert advice where required may be a better process. This would help share the workload and improve the safety culture. Perhaps the ideal is that the business is largely self-sufficient. Managers are confident in completing their own risk assessments and safety inspections. Staff are well trained and truly understand health and safety and embed safe practices in their day to day work.

This would allow the safety professionals role to be one of an ambassador, a leader and someone who is able to provide high level advice where required. They would be able to review risk assessments and assist with more complex tasks, such as completing internal auditing, facilitating external contractors for audit and training and conducting asbestos surveys etc. These tasks add real value back in to the business and can be focused on by the safety and health professional, aided by effective delegation of business as usual tasks.

The end result of this is that rather than safety being wholly at the desk of one person and seen as a negative drain on the business, there is now an embedded safety culture with everybody taking responsibility. This should result in clear improvements in safety, health and wellbeing performance with absence rates improving. A more resilient, sustainable business is created where employees are greatly valued by their employer and colleagues while the hub in the middle of the cart wheel continues to provide the bedrock of stability for the organisation.


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7 years ago

All true – although I would argue strongly against any SP alignment with FM – that is SUCH a poor fit. However – where / how do safety rookies learn what the job is, or should be? What skills does it require – no – it’s not all about legislation! I have been on courses with newbies collecting the suite of NEBOSH Certificates and talked to them about job prospects – they believe they going out there to ‘do’ safety. All of it. I have managed and worked with many SPs and the divergence of abilities, views and delivery styles… Read more »