Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Charlotte Geoghegan is Event Manager for Safety & Health Expo and SHP at Informa Markets. She is responsible for content, strategy and sales of physical events and digital products. She is also an active member of the Women in Health and Safety committee.Before Charlotte went into this role she was Head of Content for the Safety & Health Expo, SHP, IFSEC, FIREX and the Facilities Show. She joined Informa (previously UBM) in 2015.Charlotte has spent 10 years in media & events and her academic background is in modern foreign languages. You can find her on LinkedIn here
June 23, 2023

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Diplomacy and danger – A global approach to risk management

Jay Sutherland-Pownall, Head of Safety at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) recently presented at Safety & Health Expo in London, discussing the vast global reach of the FCDO and its implications for staff safety and health.

Jay has 10 years’ experience leading departments in both the public and private sector, in sectors ranging from civil nuclear, construction and defence. As a first-career safety professional and advocate for social mobility, he regularly mentors new entrants to the OSH profession and conducts outreach activities across a range of settings. Jay is a Fellow of both IOSH and IIRSM, and an IOSH Vice President.

Jay Sutherland-Pownall, Head of Safety at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Risk is very much accepted as part of the job at the FCDO. With a workforce of over 17,000 across 160 countries and 280 postings, the FCDO’s employees have to navigate fragile states and respond to humanitarian crises like drought and famine in sub-Saharan Africa, natural disasters like Cyclone Mocha in Bangladesh, and the management of state and royal events. Given the concurrent nature of these events, planning and resilience are crucial, and risk is an accepted part of the job.

The FCDO’s reach spans from large operations like the British Embassy in Washington DC to smaller, more isolated postings such as Fiji, and the Falkland Islands. Their presence is global, with embassies, high commissions, consulates, and permanent missions in every corner of the world. This vast network presents numerous logistical challenges, such as providing medical assistance in remote territories like Tristan da Cunha, where a ferry to the mainland is required for hospital care.

In addition to logistical hurdles, the FCDO must also ensure its operations and workforce comply with local laws. Jay emphasises that local law takes precedence globally, and whilst diplomatic officers hold host-country immunity; this can be waived if circumstances dictate they have acted unlawfully and not in keeping with expected standards.

While local law is the primary authority, the FCDO proactively addresses varying local standards, by imposing their own high standards where necessary. This approach has been implemented across Africa and Latin America, where standards fall a little short of UK-based expectations; compared with counties like the US or Japan; where standards are equal if not greater than those found in the UK.

“Re-empowerment of employees”

The nature of the diplomatic work requires constant reinvention and resetting of resilience, as staff are often rotated between postings. This necessitates a rapid process of re-engagement with leaders and re-empowerment of employees to maintain strong safety performance. To support this, the FCDO has developed a “simple vision” of health and safety principles, focusing on ownership, empowerment, and learning.

The organisation takes ownership of health and safety for themselves and others, empowering everyone to make effective risk decisions and promotes good safety behaviours. They also listen, learn, and improve following incidents, near misses, and observations, proactively anticipating health and safety changes. Some key measures supporting this vision include local law taking primacy holding heads of mission accountable for Embassy safety, allowing for post-led investigations, and having a nominated health and safety contact at every location.

To facilitate efficient investigation and resolution of issues, FCDO staff can quickly report incidents or ill health events, record risk assessments, and access health and safety resources through an intuitive system that requires just a few clicks or a scan of a QR code.

The FCDO’s approach to health and safety deliberately avoids phrases like “safety culture,” which may not be widely recognised by staff, and keeps policies concise. They value health as much as safety, encompassing mental and physical well-being, and implementing preventative and proactive measures to ensure staff welfare. Lastly, the organisation acknowledges that even the best-laid plans can go wrong, reflecting their inherent acceptance of risk and the need for adaptability in the face of ever-changing global challenges

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