‘The problem with Health & Safety’

Continuing SHP’s theme for the month, 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 LudhraSubash 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.”


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ThomasJosy JohnNigel DupreePaul CooksonNeil Beacock Recent comment authors
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This is a very thought provoking article, as a chartered member, and similarly a self employed consultant contractor, who projects pay for their experience and knowledge it astounds me how much lack of respect is given to the Safety industry, which is seen as a commercial tick box. Most projects I have been part of preach that Safety is paramount as long as it doesn’t impact on the smooth running or implicate the project, basically toe the commercial line. “Safety is easy to say but harder to do” the sooner Safety professionals get the respect they deserve and input in… Read more »

Neil Beacock
Neil Beacock

This article had me glued and is so true that it seems strange nobody has noticed it before. Even though we can prove and quantify that good practice does make the workplace safer and people have less accidents, nobody seems to notice it until something bad happens often through a short cut being taken, then people come out with Ohh I see why we did that now….. Always portrayed as the bad man that puts hurdles in the way rather than actually a good mad and it is a barrier not a hurdle so don’t try and jump over it.

Paul Cookson
Paul Cookson

Yes, a good article. Always easier for people to justify expenditure when you can see a reward or outcome. There is never a reward or outcome unless you can prove you prevented something happening which can be difficult for others to get their head round, but obviously no accidents would suggest you were worth the investment, but all you will get is, why did we spend that money when we had no accidents!! Never, we had no accidents because we spent the money.

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree

I get the feeling that Elf-an-safety is perceived as another SS (Social Services) or, like Ofsted in schools a pedantic bunch of do-good’ers full of ‘approval deprivation’ and pointing out how inadequate you are at righting your own wrongs that only, as suggested, are called after the fact. Just maybe the nudge campaign of “working toward”, for example ISO 45001 validation, would make more sense in terms of engaging participation in the process. Mind you was gobsmacked at devils advocate article suggesting wellbeing and risk assessing basic “given conditions” mitigating the risks of RSI injuries, presenting in anything other than… Read more »

Josy John
Josy John

Could not agree with you any more, we need to get the society at large to view the safety professional as the ones who are into saving lives. However the medical profession is accepted as the ones who saves lives. Do they really since medical intervention is needed only when there is a problem which needs to be fixed. On the other hand safety advice is what has to be done to prevent medical attention post an accident or an exposure which has an impact on the health of a person. The old adage is forgotten these days ” Prevention… Read more »


The article is so crisp and spot on – honestly to me it’s as if you just wrote of the dilemma which majority of safety professionals go through – “ True Value Of HSE practitioners”..

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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.

May 21, 2018

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