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March 23, 2006

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No laurel-resting here

Immediate past president Lawrence Waterman points out that this is not the time for IOSH, and the profession, to stand still, it’s time to keep on changing to create a better image of health and safety.

It is always pleasant to hear compliments — and one of them received by the UK recently is that an international survey found that the UK is the ‘preferred country’ for people to live in.

Apparently this is because we have a vibrant cultural life, a good economy and operate as a fairly open society. Another reason could be that we seem to live in a pretty ‘safe’ society as well — whether it’s the security of water and non-poisonous food, the reliability (most of the time) of our transport arrangements or the working conditions for most people. Compared with much of the world, we’re not doing too badly.

So what sort of effort should IOSH be making, or we as individual practitioners? If everything is OK, it looks like an opportunity to rest on our laurels.

For IOSH there are some pretty big challenges. We’re still seen by many, members as well as the outside world, as a ‘stuffy’ organisation. Although our arrangements, structures and ways of doing business have served us well for our first 60 years, we need to modernise to stay relevant to practitioners in the 21st Century.

This means refreshing, redesigning and invigorating everything from local branch meetings to our website. Just as the annual conference is a ‘must attend’ event with new features such as the public debate, so we must challenge existing ways of doing things rather than just take them for granted.

For practitioners, this challenge extends to dealing with our public image at a personal level. Be honest, have you ever attended one of those death by PowerPoint training courses all about regulations? Have you ever seen an adviser provide the kind of advice that would bring good organisations to a ‘more than my jobs worth’ grinding halt?

We should be self confident and clear about the benefits that sensible health and safety brings to organisations and people. All those aphorisms such as ‘think safety is expensive, try an accident’ are valid, but only if the safety arrangements we are talking about are based on a proportionate approach to the risks. Above all, we shouldn’t become any sort of obstacle to innovation and learning, we should facilitate them.

During my busy and very exciting year as President, I spoke up for IOSH and for individual practitioners at every opportunity. I took my responsibility, and the privilege of being IOSH’s ambassador at large very seriously — in print, at conferences and meetings, on TV and radio.

But this shouldn’t have to extend to defending the indefensible. We need a modern organisation with a modern membership — and this requires some honesty. Not all the bonkers’ conkers stories are media creations, and not all of them developed without an adviser missing the point.

IOSH has a vision of a safe and healthy world of work, but that also implies a competitive, efficient and effective world. In a globalised economy, we need to ensure that health and safety forms a key part of how we do business, and do it well.

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