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December 15, 2006

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Safety giant’s lifetime honour

A professor who has dedicated his career to helping prevent accidents in some of the UK’s most high-risk workplaces was the recipient of this year’s IOSH/Sypol Lifetime Achievement Award.

Professor Trevor Kletz OBE was presented with the award at the Annual Dinner and Awards at the Midland Hotel in Manchester in November. He joins an eminent list of previous winners, including the late Lord Harold Walker, Professor Julian Peto, the late George Brumwell, and last year’s winner, Nancy Tait MBE.

Among Prof Kletz’s achievements has been discovering solutions to the causes of some of the worst industrial disasters of modern times — including the release of toxic vapour at Bhopal in India, which killed more than 2000 people, and the fire and explosion at Piper Alpha, which claimed 167 lives. He has also argued that nuclear power stations can be designed in a safer way that prevents meltdowns, using lessons learned from the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters.

Prof Kletz said: “I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without the help of a great deal of people. There’s a great deal of camaraderie, and I regularly shared information with other companies, like BP and Shell, as we all want to keep people safe.

“I feel greatly honoured to receive this award, and I thank IOSH for presenting me with it. It may seem something of a cliché to say this, but those of us who achieve things like I have, do so because we have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

Prof Kletz added: “It’s also worth mentioning that my experience shows how your career can grow in ways you don’t expect. I did a degree in chemistry, but I’ve never touched a test tube since I left university!”

Neil Budworth, immediate past president of IOSH, said: “Prof Kletz’s work has helped keep countless numbers of people safe in their workplaces. His appointment at ICI followed a number of serious fires and explosions, which made the company realise safety needed some expert input. Without his pioneering work, persistence and passion, many of these accidents could still be happening today, killing and maiming thousands of people each year.

“Prof Kletz is a great thinker whose approach to safety is way ahead of its time. He was calling for a ‘common sense’ approach to safety from very early on his career, and that’s something that the health and safety profession has only begun to adopt in the last few years. His influence on our profession over the years cannot be overstated.”

Lawrence Waterman, the chair of sponsors Sypol, added: “There can be little argument that Prof Kletz’s contribution over the years has been immense. His work helped many people understand that removing a hazard altogether is better than trying to control it. The real brilliance of his work is that it is so simple — and that’s what good health and safety ultimately is.

“One of his greatest achievements was helping ICI go two years with no fatalities. Sir John Harvey Jones, Trevor’s boss for many years at ICI, pointed out that safe operations are efficient operations, and he said, in his foreword to Trevor’s memoirs, that Trevor had a key role in making ICI both safe and efficient.”

Prof Kletz spent 38 years working for ICI before becoming industrial professor at Loughborough University in 1978. He is now a visiting professor at Loughborough and Texas A&M Universities. He has written 11 books and more than a hundred papers and was awarded the OBE in 1997.

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