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‘The problem with Health & Safety’
Subash Ludhra, Managing Director at Anntara Management Ltd, discusses the remit of health & safety professionals, their perception to the public and whether there is a need for an overhaul in job titles and descriptions.
Subash Ludhra is a fomer President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and a past Trustee of IOSH. As a chartered fellow of IOSH he has a wealth of experience in risk management, having worked across most sectors and disciplines in a truly diverse 30-year career to date. Qualified as an Occupational Hygienist, Subash now specialises in Risk Management and Loss Control.
“For over 28 years, I have been pondering why SHE professionals get so much stick for doing a job preventing accidents and ill health in the workplace, yet their status is still relatively low for such an invaluable role.
“I have spent years traveling, reading history and religion and one of the things that has stood out time and time again is the respect and reverence humans, for thousands of years, have placed on individuals who have cured or healed the ill, sick or dying.
“The key point being individuals who have fixed things that are broken or healed or cured are given high status. Think about our doctors and surgeons today. It is often said they ‘save lives’, but generally what they are doing is helping individuals who are already injured, sick, ill or dying, stay alive. A limited amount of their time is spent preventing these things from happening and even when governments or medical experts try to promote healthy living or eating which aims to prevent illness, it often falls on deaf ears.
“Even within religion, curing and healing are given the highest status and the word ‘miracle’ is often used. The word ‘prevention’ does not figure strongly within religion.
“When people ask me what I do for a living, I sometimes say ‘I save lives’. This always provokes a reaction and they assume I am in the medical profession, when I actually explain what I do, it is often a disappointment for them. The perception is still that the medical profession save lives, whereas we are in the business of preventing things from happening in the first place.
“In 1994 I was offered a UK-wide role for an international company to look after health & safety within their factories and workplaces. They were keen to get someone on board and I was offered the job following the most rigorous selection process I had ever experienced. Once I had joined the company it transpired that they had recently had a significant accident within one of their plants and the HSE had been involved, the whole event had cost them a significant amount of money and they wanted me to come in and fix their problems. I reported directly into the operations director and attended all of his meetings with his operations plant managers. Health & safety was given a high priority and I was given high status due to the short term business needs (as health & safety was broken and needed fixing) and this was evident in the way I was treated within the company. However, as things improved and the memory of the major incident faded, the focus began to wane and priorities changed to other things that needed fixing.
“In my current consultancy role, we are only really called in by clients when they have a problem and they want us to help them fix it. We are rarely called in to assist with prevention matters.
“In business it’s often the turnaround ‘experts’ who save a failing company that get the praise and make the headlines, not the executives who keep their heads down and do a great job year in year out keeping the company going.
“I am not a psychologist and I do not claim to have any specialist knowledge in this area, I merely comment on observations and submit that the human brain may have been conditioned over thousands of years by the way our ancestors perceived the status of preventing something from happening (which is not always visible or tangible) against healing and curing which is.
“If this is the case, then how long will it take for society to change their opinion and what can we do to accelerate that process. There is currently debate about the role and titles of people in the health & safety profession, perhaps what we do should be better reflected in our job titles and job descriptions.”