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September 30, 2021

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EHS Congress

‘COVID has not just blurred that boundary between work and home, it’s completely eliminated it’, SHP meets Andrew Sharman

Andrew Sharman, CEO of RMS Switzerland and Chair of EHS Congress 2021, talks to SHP about what attendees can expect from this year’s event, which takes place in Berlin from 9-10 November. 

Last year’s EHS Congress was a virtual event. First of all, how excited are you about getting back in front of a live audience? And how important is the return to face-to-face events? 

Andrew SharmanAndrew Sharman (AS): “Well, I’m super excited to get back to it, that’s for sure. We had an amazing event last year when we shifted at the last minute from live to virtual, were really amazed at how much commitment we had from the participants. We had almost a full house and virtually it was amazing to see the same level of interactivity or almost the same level of interactivity as we got through the live event.

“Of course, as we’ve all transitioned to virtual and remote working over the last year and a bit, I think we’re all probably missing some face-to-face contact and being in the same room as people, but we’ve got a standard to uphold and we have a responsibility at EHS Congress not to rush into things, so we’ve been deliberately waiting to see when it’s the right time to be able to go back to a live session. Now, as we’ve as we’ve got COVID passports and full vaccinations going on, it feels like a great time to do it.

“What we’re hearing from a number of delegates over the last few years, and also from our consulting business clients, is that people want to be back around other people, we want to feel that electricity in the room that you know. EHS Congress is known for putting speakers on the spot with challenging questions. We want to have debate panels where people are teasing out ideas and not necessarily agreeing and sharing different perspectives, so, we’ve got our controls in place.”

On that theme, what do you have in store for the delegates? What are you personally most looking forward to seeing?

(AS): “I think I’m most looking forward to the interaction EHS Congress has always been known for. It’s interactive between delegates and speakers, and it’s a really dynamic and inclusive event, so, I’m most looking forward to that. Of course, we have some amazing speakers this year, as we always do. Diane Chadwick-Jones, former Director of Human Performance at BP, is kicking off day one with a talk on workplace influences on human error. She will also be partaking in a panel later that day with Dom Cooper, John Green and Carsten Busch on the Safety Differently philosophy, which I’m sure will be extremely insightful. We’ve got a really nice mix of senior level practitioners, plus some really cool academics and deep thinkers.”

Looking at the agenda, there’s a big focus this year on health and wellbeing and on safety culture. How do you think have those two aspects of the role been affected most by the pandemic?

(AS): “I think the pandemic has influenced all of our health and wellbeing in some way, whether it’s destabilisation about the future of work, a disruption in the way that we normally work, finding ourselves working on kitchen tables, or or in our sheds or in the corner of our bedrooms. We’ve also noticed that work hours have changed, we’re working from home, we’ve got kids, pets, commitments, spouses, partners around us. So, all that stuff is kind of disrupting the way that we’ve normally created our work regime. We’re perhaps getting up earlier, doing a little bit of work, then sorting out the kids or the laundry and then doing something else, and then coming back to work for a few hours, so we have a completely disrupted or displaced daily work routine.

“I think something happened at the beginning of COVID that caused people to roll up their sleeves and say ‘what do we need to keep the show on the road?’ ‘What do I need to do to make sure my boss thinks I’m a good worker?’ I think that kind of can-do attitude has caused many people to feel quite tired, to feel quite worn out, when they’re answering emails at midnight or catching up on work stuff after they’ve dropped the kids at football practise. And I think that, we’ve been saying over the last few years that boundaries between work and home has blurred, I think COVID has not just blurred that boundary between work and home, it’s completely eliminated it. All of this is having an impact on our mental health and our physical wellbeing. That’s why we’ve got such a strong focus this year on those topics.

“The big focus this year on safety culture is also very deliberate, what we’re hearing, from large organisations around the globe, is a consistent message that COVID has allowed them to realise that looking after their people is the most important thing. There’s a significant desire from organisations to want to learn about safety culture and that’s why those two themes have been chosen this year.”

How vital is it that we learn from the last 18 month and use that to our advantage as a profession going forward?

(AS): “I wrote an article for SHP a little while ago called Brave New World, and I was inspired to write that after reading the classic story of the same name. I really think that we are entering into a brave new world now. Someone today, in a chat session with a client, called it the ‘New World Order’, but he went on to say, ‘we still don’t know what it looks like’. We’re not through COVID yet, we are starting to feel some sense of confidence, but not much stability. We’re trying to find the stability.”

How will the content over the two days in November help practitioners start looking forward as they enter into that ‘new normal’?

(AS): “EHS Congress has built its reputation from being provocative, for stirring a desire of curiosity amongst participants. People tell us in their feedback that, they leave Congress feeling constructively challenged to really re-think the way they’re doing what they’re doing. So, we will continue to be provocative. We will be pushing the needle forward and encouraging people to step out of their comfort zones and, to not just be inquisitive, but also to be participative, to share their experiences. We’re going to be doing a lot of work this year on networking, so it’s a great opportunity for people to just talk about what their reality has been like and what their hopes and fears might be for this brand new world that they’re going into.”

Hear more from Andrew Sharman at the 2021 EHS Congress this November 9-10. Click here for the full EHS Congress agenda, COVID guidelines and to register for a place at the event.

Click here for more from EHS Congress on SHP. 

Read more from Andrew Sharman’s New Rules of Safety series.

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