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November 24, 2005

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Focused on gaining recognition

New IOSH president Neil Budworth sets out his stall for the coming year at the helm of the Institution.

As I enter my year of office, I am honoured to be elected president at such an historic time for IOSH, and energised by the progress that has been made in the last few years and the possibilities that lie ahead.

I am the first president who is a chartered safety and health practitioner and the first president to address fellow chartered professionals. While this illustrates how far we have come, we still have some way left to go.

I have two quite simple themes for my term of office: focus, and continuity of purpose. I believe we are at our strongest when we consistently pursue longer-term objectives because this is how people will come to understand our views and aims.

First of all, I want to seek greater recognition for the vital role that the competent health and safety practitioner plays. We know that our efforts significantly reduce the toll of accidents and work-related ill health on employees. We also know that we improve business efficiency. It’s also abundantly clear that incompetent advice can leave employees at risk and can mean organisations spend large sums of money for little additional protection.

That’s why our role demands and deserves more formal recognition.

Secondly, I want to increase the will of management, because no matter how good the advice is that we provide, if managers are not interested, the impact will be limited.

Taking action

My aims lead me on to two issues where I feel it is imperative that safety and health practitioners develop their skills.

One is our ability to communicate with, persuade and convince senior management of the importance of health and safety in modern business. The difference between a competent health and safety technician and a truly effective senior health and safety advisor usually does not relate to their technical knowledge or skills. In most cases, the difference relates to their ability to influence and persuade.

Effective communication skills do not normally form part of the initial training of a safety and health practitioner, but it is an issue that we cannot afford to ignore, which is why we’ve devoted a whole stream to this subject in the IOSH 06 conference programme.

The second issue is the quality of leadership shown by the management of an organisation. The vital role that strong leadership plays in developing high standards of health and safety practice is patently obvious. Clear, unambiguous statements about the importance of safety, backed up by visible management commitment and company systems emphasising health and safety as a core business principle, deliver real results. IOSH will continue to lobby hard for an approved code of practice on directors’ duties to help with this.

It’s the combination of competent advice and strong leadership the creates excellent health and safety management.

Where else can we have an impact?

We know that we must embrace the health agenda — stress and musculoskeletal disorders are the curse of our age and we must play our part in preventing them. We must become actively involved in the rehabilitation agenda, as this is a key government priority and it is an area where we have the skills and knowledge to play an important part.

On occupational health issues we have a choice. We can either become more involved in the debate and play an active role, or watch as opportunities pass us by and more people are condemned to the scrapheap.

In short, I feel we need to:

* gain recognition of the importance of competent health and safety advice;

* develop our communication skills;

* develop understanding of how strong leadership influences excellent health and safety; and

* engage fully in the health agenda.

In my first sentence I said I was “energised” and that’s because never in the history of IOSH have we been better positioned to achieve these things. Chartered status has brought with it a new air of self-confidence. There is palpable excitement among members as the profession shifts into a higher gear. If we are all committed to the cause, the possibilities are endless. I promise to pursue these with all my energy and ability over the next year.

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