Editor, UBM

December 1, 2016

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

“Choose a career that motivates you” Kären Clayton HSE

karen-claytonKären Clayton is deputy director of the chemicals regulation division at the Health and Safety Executive – a role which encompasses policy responsibility for a broad range of issues including occupational diseases including cancers, respiratory diseases, asbestos, lead and other chemicals. In an interview with SHP, Kären discusses the HSE’s strategy on health, how to engage SMEs and the impact of the sentencing guidelines. 

Currently deputy director of the HSE’s Chemicals Regulation Division, you’ve previously held roles within the HSE’s Long Latency Health Risks Division. Health is an issue that is getting more and more publicity, do you feel that people have a better understanding of issues such as asbestos-related cancers and silica dust?

There is a lot more discussion, and also action being taken, on long latency health issues – and I’m really pleased to see that HSE’s activities to catalyse that over the last four or five years is paying off.

But there’s much more we need to do collectively to make sure those currently most at risk are protected. We need to keep working with others in the health and safety system to sustain and build on the interest and action that’s happening.

We must also not forget the people who are new to the workforce, at the beginning of their working life, and those who work in small businesses or are self-employed. It’s a real challenge helping those people to understand the potential health implications of their work with asbestos, silica, welding fumes, DEEEs etc, especially because of the long latency of the health effects.

It is now six months on from the launch of the strategy about Helping GB Work Well – how is it going?

It’s still early days, but there has been a good response following the launch; there are lots of discussions on social media which helps to maintain the profile and raise awareness of the strategy.

We’re continuing to communicate what the strategy is about. HSE’s role within that is to ensure health and safety standards are maintained, and to continue to support the health and safety system by:

  • maintaining the regulatory framework;
  • acting as a catalyst for improvements; and
  • enforcing the law where required.

One focus of the strategy is on tackling ill health, part of which includes the costs and societal problems related to long-latency diseases. Do you feel there has been engagement on the side of this?

Yes, we’ve been working with a range of organisations who ‘get it’ and who realise the size and scale of the problems – and we have lots of examples of others doing their bit.

The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) have been running their “Breathe Freely” initiative focusing on construction dust and respiratory diseases, and the next phase will focus on the manufacturing sector .

Safety Groups UK (SGUK) have the “Health Risks, do you know yours?” package and they’ve teamed up with 3M to promote this via the ‘Safe Tea’ toolbox talk initiative. SGUK have also been piloting the LOCHER project in colleges with apprentices.

The Quarries Partnership has recognised the connections between good housekeeping and maintenance of equipment with good control of exposure of hazardous materials to workers.  They’ve recognised the business benefits of good housekeeping and maintenance mean machinery and equipment last longer and that the benefit for workers’ health will be protected in the long term too.

Additionally, IOSH has its ‘No time to Lose’ campaign on tackling occupational cancers.

All of these are just a snapshot of the great work being done to tackle long latency ill health issues.

A big problem for health and safety is the engagement of SMEs – with costs often leading to corners being cut, therefore putting people at risk of exposure to ill health and poor hygiene. What’s the answer in engaging smaller companies?

HSE recognises this is a significant challenge, not just for us but for anyone trying to reach out to small businesses.  This is where our new insight team can help us develop innovative approaches in future.

Since July 2015 we’ve been working with HRMC colleagues to host monthly webinars for small businesses to help them better understand what they need to do to grow their business taking health and safety into account and also some webinars for construction SMEs specifically, including providing links to our ‘Busy Builder’ leaflets.  These have been really popular.  We’ve reached over 7,000 businesses in the last 12 months.

We are looking at agriculture, then hair and beauty next, and will continue with construction as that’s where we think we can help SMEs get the basics right.

What can we do to educate more people about the dangers of illness and poor health rather than the more immediate issues of safety and accidents?

This is another area where we need to encourage others to do their bit, and the LOCHER project I mentioned before is one example that looks really promising, following the pilot.

HSE has, in the past, developed educational resources, for example on asbestos for colleges – part of the Hidden Killer campaign. We’ve also made videos for welders, stoneworkers and those working in motor vehicle repair (MVR). We have organised safety and health awareness days in particular sectors to bring workers in one place to educate them about the risks and how to best control them.

For example, in MVR we held Safety & Health Awareness Days and we used a technique involving biological monitoring to show workers the impact of exposure on their bodies.

This involves taking urine samples and testing them for the metabolites from isocyanates that are used in paints for motor vehicle paint spraying, and showing them how breathing that stuff in can have an impact on your body and you can measure it in your urine.

The industry has really taken to this approach, because we’ve shown that through educating the workforce, the amount of metabolites in the urine has decreased, and we offer that as a service now for the MVR industry.

We’re also working on a technique to measure silica in exhaled breath.

As well as this, we’re using real time videos showing exposure measurements of when workers are carrying out their day to day activities, like flour dust, kerb cutting, poultry farming.

We have also used case study videos of people who have unfortunately been made ill by their work. One we put on quite recently was about Terry the stoneworker who developed silicosis following his work.

We are working with the CCG and LA in Liverpool on a pilot programme called ‘Healthy Liverpool’ aimed at engaging GPs and other medical practitioners e.g. asthma nurses in primary care, to help educate patients about respiratory health risks associated with their work.

The introduction of the sentencing guidelines is seeing an increase in the fines being handed out to companies being sentenced for health and safety offences. Do you think this will work in acting as a deterrent for companies when employing health and safety systems? Do you think it will have an impact in reducing accidents and ill health?

HSE is committed to the proportionate and consistent use of enforcement action to improve standards of health and safety in the workplace and to hold duty holders to account when they fail to manage health and safety.  Appropriate and consistent sentencing by the courts in England and Wales is a key part of making that enforcement action effective.

HSE welcomed the introduction of a definitive guideline for sentencing health and safety cases to enable the courts to deal consistently with such offences. The guidelines have not changed our policy or approach to the cases which we prosecute.

HSE maintains the view that those who sensibly and proportionately manage their risks will not need to change their approach and are unlikely to face prosecution anyway.

What advice would you give to younger women looking to begin a career in male dominated industries?

  1. First and foremost, choose a career that motivates you. You are at work for a long time, so it’s important to enjoy it!
  2. Develop a network of peers and senior colleagues for support – rather than learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t – learn from successful women. Identify one or two who can advise you.  By observing others you can learn a lot about different styles and approaches to get the best results.
  3. Develop your self-awareness and emotional resilience.
    • Understand your strengths and development needs and work on them
    • Be confident and show it – confident people, no matter what gender, tend to get noticed (but remember there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance).
  4. Follow your instincts and be consistent / and true to yourself.
    • It can be challenging if you’re the only woman in the room.
    • Find your USP – this is what sets you apart – don’t think you have to conform to others’ preformed views about women – give it your all and make your mark!

Kären Clayton and the HSE will be running a Women in Health and Safety event on 1 February 2017 in Liverpool. 

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments