Adam Worth, trainer and consultant at SSG Training & Consultancy, has dedicated his professional career to health and safety, working with organisations of all sizes to create a culture of good practice and ensure it is embedded across all areas of the business.
Adam discusses why we must focus on the huge physical, mental and long-term benefits of correct health and safety, as opposed to the negative consequences of getting it wrong. He also delves into how the Covid-19 pandemic and the Grenfell Tower fire incident of 2017 have emphasised the importance of good health and safety.
“Good health and safety is more efficient for all- it leads to increased productivity, less downtime, better skills, better physical and mental wellbeing and a reduction in sickness and staff turnover.”
What led you to a career in health and safety?
I began my career as a production chemist manufacturing and developing catalytic gas sensors for the breath alcohol industry. This was very much lab-based and soon I realised I am more of a people-focused person. I ultimately found that I wanted to do something where I felt like I was making a difference.
Following this, I was given the opportunity to work in the chemical industry in a range of different safety roles; these developed to include a diverse range of health and safety tasks and projects including providing technical safety support and emergency planning. I then moved into a textile company which moved the focus onto cultural change, implementing a management system following the HSG65 approach. This opportunity enabled me to really make a difference and let my passion for health and safety take off.
Why is health and safety so important?
There are three lenses through which I frame why health and safety is so important – moral, legal and financial.
On moral grounds, when we get health and safety wrong people die or their health and wellbeing is affected. From a legal point of view, businesses have to comply with the law or else the organisation will be prosecuted. In terms of financial aspects, when health and safety goes wrong there will ultimately be negative financial impact for those involved.
However, there are huge benefits to getting it right which is why I believe companies shouldn’t be focusing on what could go wrong, but what will happen if they get health and safety right. Good health and safety is more efficient for all – it leads to increased productivity, less downtime, better skills, better physical and mental wellbeing, and a reduction in sickness and staff turnover. These are all powerful drivers, and it is important that we focus on the benefits of investing and ensuring that we get health and safety right.
You recently led a senior leadership training course at AMP. How important is it that health and safety is led from the top?
In my role as training manager at SSG Training & Consultancy I meet a variety of different people and work with a wide range of different businesses and organisations. I love that aspect of the role, but it also opens my eyes to the perception of health and safety at different levels within a company.
Senior leaders have a role in establishing what the culture within the company will be by setting a clear policy with clear objectives. This vision from the senior leadership team filters down and good leaders have to ensure resources are available to all as well as leading by example. For instance, if senior leaders don’t believe health and safety is important, neither will their team.
When I delivered the IOSH Safety for Executives and Directors Course for AMP, the CEO led from the top, requesting delegates refrain from using their mobile phones during the day-long course. To see a CEO understands the importance of good health and safety and ensuring his staff are engaging is a very powerful thing. It was also very pleasing for me that AMP decided to create some new health and safety objectives as a result of the course.
Have employers’ attitudes to health and safety changed over the last ten years or so?
I would take it back to societal attitudes to health and safety because they have definitely changed over the years. Ten years ago, there was a massive attack on health and safety with accusations about ‘health and safety gone mad’. A few things have changed people’s perceptions in recent years, including Covid-19 and the Grenfell Tower fire.
We also see a growing focus on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace too and the impact this has in terms of the role of the health and safety practitioner.
Covid-19 has seen safety departments step up in managing their safety responses and highlighted the importance of good forward planning and business continuity. With Grenfell, questions have been raised about why there isn’t more legislation to protect people. Conversations are changing and perceptions are shifting to realise how integral health, safety and welfare is. As a result, businesses are reacting to those greater societal pressures.
Increasing fines have also had a big impact on business. Ten years ago, a business prosecuted because of a known dangerous situation at work, where no one was hurt but could have died, would historically face a maximum fine of around £20K. Now, guidelines from the Sentencing Council state a firm with a turnover greater than £50M could face a fine that starts at about £4M for a similar incident.
What does good health and safety look like?
There is no set picture, it’s all about culture and mindset. Health and safety is not just about putting up signs or telling people off for not wearing hi-vis jackets. It’s about integrating safety into absolutely everything we do. Safety is a core business function – it’s about planning, having the right people in the right place with the right equipment. That’s not just good health and safety, that’s good business sense. We don’t do health and safety at the end of the process, we embed it into every single aspect; planning, objective setting and purchasing.
Your work life is obviously very full but what do you like to do in your free time?
I’m the vice chair of IOSH’s South West committee which puts on events for local businesses and provides training opportunities. IOSH is the chartered body and leading membership organisation for safety and health professionals.
As well as this I volunteer for a mental health charity called Andy’s Man Club where I facilitate men talking about their mental health. I think how mental health fits into health and safety is key, and it’s a subject I cover in every single course I lead. Post Covid-19, we will be seeing people return to offices after possibly a whole year at home, some even may have been shielding. There are big implications for people reintegrating, along with the anxieties and stresses surrounding that. There is a growing and welcome focus on mental health in the workplace which has been amplified by Covid-19.