July 14, 2021

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‘The future of safety is very much behavioural safety focused’

SHP speaks to Sam Watts, PepsiCo EHS Specialist, who was named SHP’s Award for Rising Star in Manufacturing, back in December.

Sam WattsSam Watts ‘fell’ into safety six years ago, after starting an EHS temporary admin role whilst waiting to join the police force, but quickly realising her passion for all things health and safety. “I studied criminology at uni, with a focus on sexual domestic violence, with every intention of joining the police, even to the point where I went through a policing qualification. I successfully applied for police force in the Derbyshire force, but unfortunately there was an 18 month wait until my start date.”

In a little bit of limbo, Sam did a few admin jobs and worked in recruitment for a while, before joining Marks & Spencer, where she worked in automated distribution for five years. It was here where she had the opportunity to learn and complete professional qualifications and then made the leap into manufacturing in 2020, working for Walkers Crisps, PepsiCo.

“It was in the Health and Safety Department at Marks & Spencer, as the administrator, where I realised there were a lot of similarities to my degree, and thought, I’m quite into this.” When the letter came through from the police, that they were ready for Sam to join, she turned it down and remained at Marks & Spencer.

Scroll to the bottom of this page, to listen to this interview in full.

Sam works at Walkers Crisps Manufacturing and is responsible for implementing digital solutions to record, investigate and analyse incidents in order to ‘work smarter’, improve stakeholder visibility and effectively manage actions. A key focus within this is to ensure that she brings the workforce along with her, specifically the management population who would be the end users. This has been done through interactive training sessions that heavily focused on the moral reasons we investigate and their role in preventing incidents, in addition to root cause analysis coaching and how to use the system itself.

“It was a big change to M&S, which was an automated distribution centre, here it is manufacturing. So, it was a real sidestep, quite intentional, to learn something completely new. My role involves advising on all safety matters, which is quite a vast remit when you consider the size of the facility here. We manufacture crisps, mostly, so it ranges from training and coaching managers on how to conduct investigations, complete ergonomic assessments, advising on exposure limits and machine safety.

“We’re also growing quite rapidly; we’ve got a lot of ongoing investment going on. So, a lot of the focus currently is as a safety advisor for projects, from design to install.”

Rising Star

Sam WattsIt was Sam’s response to COVID-19 which stood out to the SHP Awards judging panel, as she helped implement additional controls to ensure the safety of not only staff, but also their families. This included sourcing and implementing additional rest facilities, setting and maintaining social distancing standards and completing the site COVID Risk Assessment. This has been imperative as she works within an exceptionally busy food manufacturing facility which has continued to run safely throughout, despite being inside increased localist restrictions at times, in Leicester.

The panel also highlighted how Sam is not only new to her role but has only been in manufacturing for six months. However, she is already bringing way of thinking to an established organisation through challenging the status quo. This has included challenging metrics and streamlining processes to ensure that the team focus on the right priorities in challenging times. Judges also highlighted her leadership skills, setting direction and coaching others to progress themselves and were impressed at the impact she has had in such a large organisation, in such a short space of time – especially when considering that she joined amid the pandemic.

Sam admitted to being ‘very surprised’ to even being nominated for the award. On hearing the news, she told SHP: “I am truly grateful to have been selected as the winner for the award, especially against some excellent nominees, whose bio’s I enjoyed reading.

“It is always a privilege to be recognised externally to my workplace, but in addition to this, I have been blown away from the support I have received since the announcement from current and previous colleagues – it means so much to me to hear that they see the award as well deserved!”

Interactive training

During her first year in the role, Sam has introduced a series of interactive training sessions, utilising her criminology background, and looking at the moral reasons for investigations and their role in preventing accidents.

“I’m a strong believer in the importance of bringing people along on the journey with you. Very quickly after joining Pepsi, I identified room for improvement in the way we investigate incidents on site. We had a digital platform, which we weren’t utilising. I saw moving to digital as an opportunity to develop and deliver training to managers on site around the new procedures I was putting in place, the visual system but also, more importantly, why we investigate, including the moral reasons.

“Zoom, as we know, has been great in terms of keeping people connected, but I felt it limited engagement quite a lot. So, when you talk in our discussions or while investigating, or the more reason, I wanted to get people in the room. It took a bit of time to kind of align that make sure we could do that in a COVID-secure way, but it really led to some open discussions around the manager’s role in investigations, but also the impact it has if things don’t go well.”


“I was really nervous stepping away from M&S after five years. I knew the company well, I knew my role, I knew the people, but I do like a challenge. Thankfully PepsiCo really welcomes change and improvements, so I was fortunate coming in with new ideas and perspective, that I was welcomed with open arms. There were no walls that went up, everyone really wanted to hear my thoughts on things. That’s really helped.

“The culture is very much to act as the owner and get things done. It’s accepted that you might get things wrong, but you’re expected to learn from it. The culture is very much geared towards implementing changes and any suggestions and changes I make; the team has been very open to them.”

Future of health & safety

“I believe the future of safety is very much behavioural safety focused. Gone are the days of ‘here’s the safety textbook, follow the rules, because I said so.’ I think we’re much more focused on getting people on board.

“That’s how I like to work. I’m quite clued up in areas of legislation, but I’ve always got room for improvement, but it’s much more important how you engage with people. I can go and look up a textbook afterwards and seek some guidance around some of the legislation, but them important bit is how I engage with them.

“In terms of the pandemic, I think it’s really changed the focus on health. We’ve all gone through this together, it’s been very different. And we all had our own challenges around how we’re going to cope with, isolations, staying at home, not wanting to go to the office, and I think safety is really focused again on that mental wellbeing, mental health first aiders and how we talk to the workforce.”

Safety & Health Podcast

Hear the full interview with Sam, along with features on his fellow Rising Stars, below.

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