The H&S (Swiss Army Knife) Manager

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swiss army knife

In the heat of the summer of 2018, we discussed how technology could become the rallying call to attract younger people into the health and safety profession. Eighteen months on we revisit the subject, but more broadly with the remit of exploring the changing role of the Health and Safety Manager.

The original post coincided with SHP’s launch of New Safety and Health which has since been complemented by the IOSH Future Leaders Community conference aimed at “getting early career professionals working in safety and health”.

The last SHP State of the Industry Survey (admittedly from 2016) showed that:

  • 91% of respondents were of white ethnicity,
  • 70% were male,
  • the average age was just over 48,
  • over 70% stated that health and safety was not their first career.

Doubtless these demographics contributed to the initiatives mentioned above, not simply from a call for “greater diversity”, but equally, if not more so, from encouraging the flow of new blood (early career professionals) into the health and safety industry and in recognising the changing role of the health and safety professional.

The historical role of the health and safety professional was one of ensuring compliance and making sure boxes were ticked in an effort to keep workers safe. The role today has already shifted dramatically (for example, to being more of a strategist) and will continue to shift on an accelerating basis.

Here are five roles that the Health and Safety Manager of the future will have to master in order to continue being successful and, even, protect their own existence. There are doubtless others but these five provide a flavour for the mountain to be climbed as well as providing an insight into the degree qualifications of those the industry is seeking to attract.

Data Scientist

As we covered at the beginning of the year, the increased use of data provides an opportunity to break through the statistical barrier that is the flatlining of UK worker fatalities around 0.5 per 100,000 workers.

Not that H&S Manager needs to be able to ‘drive’ the data analysis tools, but they absolutely need to be able to understand what data to collect, the science underpinning the data analysis, and then how to interpret the results. Without bias, or the introduction of bias. Let the data speak for itself as opposed to confining it through interrogation (leave a comment below if this needs explanation).


The cost of poor mental health to the UK economy is estimated to be an annual figure somewhere between £74 and £98Bn. Absenteeism and presenteeism (people at work but functioning below normal capacity) owing to poor mental health already dwarf the costs arising from ‘safety’ incidents and other ill-health issues (currently around £15Bn annually).

This wellness side of the ledger already dwarfs the safety side and many professionals are already taking a holistic approach to mental and physical wellbeing. This will continue but with increased emphasis on the psychology skills of the health and safety professional.

Figuring out how to counter the effects of outside life stresses, the commute, the connected world, are going to become critical in managing, let alone reducing, the impact of poor mental health on everyone’s business.

We did try to research the degree qualifications underpinning today’s health and safety industry but didn’t find any reliable data. We did, however, find data on where today’s psychology graduates are going to work (Source: What do graduates do? The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, 2018/19)…

This shows the professions of first-degree Psychology Graduates who entered full-time employment by industry sector (around 40% of the total number of psychology graduates). The leading profession is basically Retail and Hospitality. Nothing wrong with those professions of course but this illustrates one fertile recruiting ground for the health and safety industry.

Politician and Leader

Facilitating, cajoling, driving, enabling, or simply getting out of the way of the organisational culture change required to put wellness and safety at the forefront of a company’s raison d’être will require superb communication skills and leadership qualities.

I read recently that being a parent and a start-up entrepreneur were similar in that “You start out all important. Yet the goal is to make yourself irrelevant.” It seems to me that the role of H&S Manager has something in common with that sentiment.

For practical suggestions on how to effect culture change please download our eBook.

Thought Leader

Not simply a strategist, or a great communicator and leader of change, but a thought leader too. Not just an understanding of regulatory changes driving compliance but also, just by way of example, the socio-economic drivers behind the changes in consumer behaviour (where consumers = us), and attitudes to flexible working. How can you rebuild the trust missing between your senior management and workers that would facilitate flexible working, thereby, reducing commute stress, improving wellness while delivering environmental benefits?

Justify Your Existence

We’re not asking for much are we? Now, you have to do all of this and justify your existence at the same time.

True, you’ve always had to do justify your existence but there are dynamics at play that make how you do this an imperative and whether or not you’re successful something close to existential.

You see, it’s those darned machines again. AI, machine learning, automation, robotics are all coming for our jobs – not just blue collar jobs, but white collar too. Not just routine manual jobs, but routine cognitive jobs as well.

It would be easy to assume that the role of a H&S Manager is non-routine and cognitive, making it safe from ‘automation’. But, then you may think the same of your GP. However, 80% of the function of a GP is routine, i.e. applying well-known decision trees to diagnosis and suggested treatment. Equally, much legal work is routine, formulaic and lends itself to automation through machine learning.

We can argue around the impact of AI and machine learning on health and safety, and definitely the timing of that impact, but here’s the one thing you can do to justify your existence…

Align yourself with the growth of your organisation – do not be seen as a cost centre.

Cost centres will come increasingly under pressure from automation, but the engines of growth will be oiled and protected. We discussed this in more detail in our post Making Safety a Keystone Habit, and provided examples from other industries on how to do this in our subsequent post ROI and Your Board.

Swiss army knife? More of an operating theatre full of advanced instruments but that’s where we are. Recognising the challenge early (now) can only increase your chances of success. Good luck, we need you to be successful.

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