Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

June 13, 2016

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In conversation with Neal Hill


Neal Hill, Product Manager at Casella, chats to SHP about how he got started in health and safety and where he sees the profession moving forwards as a whole.

What are your thoughts on the HSE’s new strategy, and particularly the focus on tackling ill health?

The foundation of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974 and the HSE itself in 1976 coincides with me metaphorically entering the world of industry as an apprentice and literally entering a noisy factory for the first time respectively.  I vividly remember feeling the ground-borne vibration from the high speed press shop and the wall of noise coming through the roller shutter, the Supervisor saying “don’t worry son (I was about 18-years-old), you’ll get used to it”.

I’ve since of course learned about noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) although thankfully I haven’t suffered any lasting ill health effects.  From the customer visits I make today it is clear that things have moved on tremendously in the intervening 40 years in terms of attitudes and behaviours of employers and employees alike. Likewise the HSE, who still retain an all-important enforcement role but who can be seen as working in partnership. And whilst NIHL remains the number one occupational disease globally, potentially fatal respiratory diseases are very much in the spotlight through the various campaigns including those being run by the BOHS and IOSH supported by the HSE.

The construction industry recently held a summit to discuss the importance of health in health and safety. Do you think people are finally getting on board with the importance of preventing work related ill health?

I have attended several construction seminars where health, like safety, has been a key message.  ConIAC is one such forum where the HSE and construction sector stakeholders come together, working on initiatives to promote and treat health like safety. Construction Clients themselves are particularly taking a top down lead and the major contractors’ actions, for their part, are definitely speaking louder than words. However,  getting the message to SMEs is going to be a challenge, one that the HSE recognise in their strategy themes for 2016 and beyond.

The safety differently concept looks at the positive side of safety and the ethical responsibility we have to keep people safe. What are your thoughts on the movement and do you see companies taking this approach?

It takes visionaries like John Green of Laing O’Rourke and Lawrence Waterman former head of H&S on the Olympic Park development to bring about the paradigm shifts that mean organisations will go beyond mere compliance.  A common denominator here is that it is the Construction Sector who are seemingly taking the lead, where the Oil & Gas sector have traditionally been at the forefront. But like most new thinking there is an adoption model which predicts that over time there will be innovators (like John and Lawrence), early adopters who get it and see the benefits, an early and a late majority and then the laggards who will never accept change.

How do you think the profession is moving forwards as a whole, and what do you think the future has in store in terms of safety and health at work?

Health and Safety is rightly represented on Senior Management Teams and is now seen as an investment with a ROI rather than a cost. I feel that technology will have an ever increasing part to play whether it be in the form of smart PPE, wearable monitoring technology, mobile apps or enterprise software or indeed a combination of all these.

Overcoming the technical integration will be challenging as will figuring out the compelling use cases, the supplier business model and a business case for customers.  A lot has changed in 40 years and it’s hard to imagine what the next 40 will bring!

Neal has spent 34 years in sales, marketing and latterly product management roles developing award winning, patent pending instrumentation solutions aimed at the H&S market as well as patented combined hearing protection and communication headsets for military applications, which resulted in Queens Awards for both Exports and Enterprise in Innovation.   He is currently a Product Manager at Casella where he is passionate about exploring technology to assist in the reduction of noise induced hearing loss and dust exposures which can lead to respiratory diseases.

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