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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
May 29, 2007

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Keeping the big picture in focus

Immediate past president Neil Budworth says the profession often finds itself faced with an interesting dilemma when dealing with the media. The key is to find the right balance.

The Cumbria rail crash in February was just one of those dilemmas. It was a tragedy involving loss of life that could have been prevented with good systematic management. At the same time, there was also the positive angle to the story: by building in safety at the design stage, the carriages stood up to the 90mph impact.

This is the kind of occurrence where many IOSH members want the profession’s voice heard. But we need to be careful — we don’t want IOSH to be seen as a ghoulish, ambulance-chasing organisation.

This story developed another potential safety angle when Sir Richard Branson appeared on television at the scene of the crash, but without the proper personal protective equipment. One of our members asked me about whether we should have made a public statement about this.

To be fair, Sir Richard should have been wearing the PPE, and it is the sort of thing I would have challenged without hesitation had I been on site.

But we have to remember the bigger picture. This was a major incident in which there was a fatality. What would the media have said if IOSH had publicly criticised Sir Richard for not wearing a hi-vis jacket? The press would have questioned why that small detail bothered us rather than issues around preventing the train derailing in the first place!

Finding the right balance is tricky. We want to be seen as technically accurate, but we should also communicate in a way that the general public understand. Those are two things that don’t always go well together unfortunately — you’ve often only got 50 words when you’d like to say 5000.

In our media relations, we have to focus on the issues in the public eye, otherwise we risk alienating our profession from the wider world. We need to show that what we do well is the norm, and not the exception to the rule.

That means getting positive messages out into the public domain, and that’s what IOSH’s ‘Get the Best’ campaign is about. It’s about making real — to the wider world — what we already know: that we add value to business.

The launch of our occupational health toolkit, and its development in future, is another example of the good we do. It’s another opportunity to show we are a force for good. So I urge you all to take a look and start using the toolkit if you can — visit: www.ohtoolkit.co.uk

If we can help tackle ill-health at work, we will not only benefit our employers financially, but also show our profession cares about people primarily — not just rules and regulations.

It’s only by showing we care, and keeping our eye on the big picture, that we’ll have credibility with the public at large. We have to remember that being technically right is not always right to untechnical eyes.

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