Rob Strange is Chief Executive of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and a recent recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to health and safety. In this interview, Strange explains the changes that have taken place within IOSH since he assumed the Chief Executive position in 2001, and he outlines IOSH’s plans and goals for this next year.
Please provide a brief description of your professional background and of your responsibilities as Chief Executive of IOSH.
I became Chief Executive of IOSH on January 1, 2001. I joined the Institution in August 1997 as Deputy Chief Executive with specific responsibility for developing the range of commercial health and safety training courses and products, as well as for the secretariat and financial functions, before becoming Chief Executive (designate) in February 2000. I became an IOSH Trustee in November 2005 and until recently was also a Trustee of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and also a Chartered Director. I was made an IOSH Honorary Fellow in recognition of my contribution to occupational safety and health and the granting to IOSH of a Royal Charter in 2005. I have spent many years in senior management positions in the banking and financial services sector, predominantly with Alliance & Leicester plc, and have headed finance, sales, branches, legal and secretariat functions.
As IOSH Chief Executive, my responsibilities include convincing stakeholders that health and safety can positively impact society and business as well as overseeing the daily management of an organization with more than 125 staff and 33,000 members worldwide. I have chaired parliamentary dinners and conferences and have spoken on many topics, including governance, outsourcing and membership development. I have also served on the Brooke Commission on Corporate Governance and have been a member of the professional standards committee of acevo, the UK professional body for chief executives of voluntary organizations.
You recently received the OBE for your services to health and safety. What is the OBE and how did you qualify for this honor?
The OBE is awarded to people from across the UK (and beyond) who are recognized as having carried out either a distinguished regional or countrywide role in any field through achievement of service to the community or by being a notable practitioner known nationally. The UK Honours are handed out twice a year (New Year’s and on the Queen’s birthday). People are nominated for honors, often by government departments, although you never actually find out who nominates you—although I do have my suspicions! The investiture takes place at Buckingham Palace and is carried out by Her Majesty The Queen.
Will the OBE affect your work with IOSH in any way?
The OBE will not actually affect my work. It recognizes IOSH’s work as a whole, both the staff and our members, and that should not be forgotten—I do not see it as an individual accolade, even if it is my name on the award. I hope it will help enhance my and IOSH’s status both within the health and safety community and beyond. However, it is not something that will bring with it any noticeable change in IOSH, or even in me, apart from the letters “OBE” after my name!
Since you became Chief Executive of IOSH in 2001, the organization has seen considerable membership growth, improved financial performance, individual Chartered membership and a new corporate governance structure. How did you contribute to these achievements?
I believe my contribution was to help lead the organization and to ensure that we stay on sound financial footing while also offering, where practical, what members want in terms of services and member benefits. I also hope that I have played my part in helping create a winning team that will continue to help IOSH flourish, both now and in the future.
In 2007, 241 workplace fatalities and 300,000 workplace injuries occurred in the United Kingdom. How does IOSH plan to help reduce occupational injuries and fatalities in the United Kingdom over the course of the next year?
We must continue to press on the political front, both in the UK and in Europe, to get health and safety higher up on the government’s agenda. We finally have the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide law, which will eventually provide more meaningful punishment to corporate killers, but we still want specific directors’ duties on health and safety to really make further progress.
One of the biggest challenges we face in the UK is what we term the “conkers bonkers” effect, where health and safety is used to “ban” seemingly trivial activities such as playing conkers, a game where two players attach the nut of an oak tree to string and attempt to smash each other’s nut or put up hanging baskets.
This also leads to heavy and ongoing criticism of “elf ‘n’ safety,” a phrase used by the British people and media. Some in the UK pronounce the word “health” incorrectly by dropping the letter “h” and saying “th” like “f,” so “health” becomes “elf.” The media often use “elf ‘n’ safety” to show contempt of health and safety. It is a common way many tabloid British media outlets present health and safety, rather than using the full title, in the UK media. We are fighting back against these negative perceptions and reminding people that health and safety protect them from serious hazards while ensuring that people can still go about their daily lives.
We will also work with partner organizations in health-related fields because too often we forget about the “health” in health and safety practitioner. Fatalities are always the headline figure, but when more than two million people suffer work-related illnesses and thousands die from diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis, then we must do something to improve health. The UK government supports this, and IOSH is making a key contribution.
We will also continue talking and sharing best practices with partner organizations worldwide, such as ASSE. We hope to continue developing our influence internationally, particularly in Ireland, Hong Kong, the Caribbean and Middle East where we have branches, and within the European Union as it continues to extend its reach.
IOSH funds research and development (R&D) projects in occupational safety and health and actively supports other organizations’ R&D efforts. What R&D projects is IOSH currently funding or supporting, and what is their status thus far?
IOSH’s R&D fund is still in its early stages. So far, we have funded ten research projects, mostly from UK-based universities, in many subjects ranging from the impact of competent health and safety advice to the impact of health and safety training to the effects of workplace violence and working temperatures. We also hand out smaller “development fund” grants to IOSH members or groups of members to carry out initiatives that will benefit IOSH and health and safety in general. This has included funding for a health and safety newsletter and conference for Parliament, funding for a workplace hazard awareness course for people under age 16 and funding for an occupational health toolkit.
IOSH’s campaigns for 2007-2008 include:
• Get the best
• Putting young workers first
• Back to health, back to work
• Stop taking the myth!
• Corporate manslaughter
Please provide a brief description of each and also explain IOSH’s plans for these campaigns during the next year.
Get the best—This campaign promotes professional standards among the profession and highlights to business and recruiters the need for competent health and safety advice. It is about telling our members what they need to do to “be the best” and about telling businesses and recruiters why they must “get the best” health and safety professional for the job—and that does not necessarily mean a Chartered Member all of the time.
Putting young workers first—This campaign highlights the dangers young workers face when they first enter the workplace. In a decade, 64 workers under age 19 were killed in UK workplaces, and more than 15,000 were seriously hurt. This campaign includes the Workplace Hazard Awareness Course (WHAC), which we are introducing to schools across the UK to educate young people about health and safety before they enter the workplace. This project will go on for a long time, and we are continuing to lobby government to make WHAC a mandatory part of the national curriculum in the UK.
Back to health, back to work—This campaign is based on the Occupational Health Toolkit and aims to encourage health and safety practitioners to get more involved in tackling ill health in the workplace. We are currently piloting a scheme, jointly funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and IOSH, for health and safety professionals to train them in occupational health issues so they can play a greater role in rehabilitating people back into the workplace.
Stop taking the myth!—This is IOSH hitting back at the negative image of health and safety in the UK. We are continuing the campaign this year with a new focus called “This Is My Life,” which involves a picture competition in which people are asked to submit pictures of themselves doing something they love and then explaining how health and safety helps them live their life. Stop taking the myth will still continue with regular rebuttals to crazy media stories and participation at the World Conker Championships!
Corporate manslaughter—Since this is now law, we will look more toward getting directors’ duties added into the mix and ensuring that the new law is working properly so that organizations that kill are punished accordingly.
What campaigns are in development for 2008-2009?
Our campaigns are based on our presidents’ interests and the key issues affecting health and safety in the UK workforce. However, in 2008-2009, we will have plenty to do in our existing campaigns, so it will largely be a continuation of what is current and finding new ways of presenting these messages.
What is the UK’s overall view of occupational safety and health and of non-profit organizations such as IOSH? Do such organizations ever encounter any resistance from employers or employees?
The UK generally has a positive view of occupational safety and health, and government values the input of non-profit organizations like IOSH. But it is far from perfect—we still have much to learn, even though we have one of the best health and safety records in the world. At the moment, a significant anti-health and safety drive exists in the UK media, which is a threat, and the worldwide economic slowdown is of concern because firms might be prepared to cut corners on health and safety. We also have a large group of migrant workers in the UK, and a culture of long working hours. So while safety is not too bad, the nation’s health is not so good. The government brought in “Gangmaster Licensing” to hopefully provide protection to migrant workers, particularly driven by the 2004 Morecambe Bay tragedy in which 21 Chinese cockle pickers drowned.
We still do not record work-related road accidents, which we estimate could add another 800-1,000 fatalities per year to our accident figures. The UK has always been one of the world leaders when it comes to health and safety, and we want to continue to be.
What occupational safety and health issues are currently of greatest importance to IOSH’s membership? How are members addressing them?
Health is very much the growing agenda for IOSH members. We want to play a greater role in helping prevent work-related illnesses. IOSH members are well-placed to champion health initiatives in the workplace because if we can get a healthier workplace, we cut absences, reduce the number of people out of work and in turn cut the cost of ill health to the UK economy. As outlined earlier, members are beginning to play their part in this and taking part in a pilot scheme to become trained in rehabilitation and well-being issues.
Professional status and the health and safety of young workers also continue to be important to members. Members want to see their standing and influence in the workplace, as well as their salary levels, increase, especially since we obtained individual Chartered Status.
What are IOSH’s plans and goals for 2009?
We intend to continue developing our influence in the UK and working with partners across the globe to raise the profile of occupational safety and health and to encourage best practice.
Rob Strange became Chief Executive (CE) of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) on January 1, 2001. He joined the Institution in August 1997 as Deputy Chief Executive with specific responsibility for developing the range of commercial health and safety training courses and products, as well as for the secretariat and financial functions, before becoming CE (designate) in February 2000. He became an IOSH Trustee in November 2005 and until recently was also a Trustee of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Strange is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and a Chartered Director. He has also been made an Honorary Fellow of IOSH in recognition of his contribution to occupational safety and health and the granting to IOSH of a Royal Charter.
He spent many years in senior management positions in the banking and financial services sector, predominantly with Alliance & Leicester plc, and he has headed finance, sales, branches, legal and secretariat functions. He has led project management teams through two large mergers and a major acquisition, and he was part of a strategic team responsible for developing and implementing organizational change management processes.
As IOSH CE, Strange has overseen seven years of membership growth and financial performance, the achievement of two strategic plans, two extensions to the head office, a new IT system, the introduction of individual Chartered membership and the development and implementation of a new corporate governance structure. He has chaired events and has spoken on such topics as governance, outsourcing and membership development. Strange also served on the Brooke Commission and is a member of the professional standards board of acevo, the professional body for chief executives of voluntary organizations.