Are communications and branding a key leverage point?

Are communications and branding a key leverage point?
by James Irwin - Director September 2016

If the health and safety industry had the same profile as sustainability would it enable health and safety professionals to engage more easily with the workforce and have greater positive impact? Could this also help to redress the Safety Paradox? 

Sustainability has risen rapidly up the corporate and public agenda to now hold a position of considerable influence and prominence. From global agreements such as COP21 through to the GE’s sustainability strategy, Ecomagination which has generated billions in revenue, the impact has been wide ranging. Few would argue this rise in profile and impact are not warranted given the critical nature of topics from climate change through to youth engagement. Few would also argue there is not a huge amount still to do.      

Health and safety has seen similar global agreements and major corporate success stories. The industry itself is one which enables millions of workers to enjoy a longer, healthier life and businesses being able to enjoy a more productive workforce. Why then don’t the public hold the same affection for health and safety as they do for sustainability? Why does health and safety not have the same reach, and why do major corporate health and safety programs not have the same profile as sustainability programs such as Marks & Spencer's "Plan A"?

I’m not suggesting some kind of comparison of the safety and lives of people over or against the impact of the wider sustainability sector. Surely this is impossible as both are as critical……. this is the point.

If the health and safety industry did have the same profile as sustainability would this enable health and safety professionals to engage more readily across a workforce and have a larger positive impact? Might this also help to redress the Safety Paradox?

How then did sustainability, which is a smaller industry than health and safety, manage to have such a large impact in a shorter space of time? Could one of the major reasons be due to the close relationship between sustainability and the communications and branding world? Sustainability programs often have innovative ways to communicate and engage both internally and externally. They are actively competing to do the next big thing which is driving the industry forward. This communications and branding excellence spreads right across sustainability including government agencies and NGOs. Excellent examples include WWF’s Earth Hour and Sky Bigger Picture program.

 Could it be that some innovative, exciting, pioneering health and safety  programs fall short in regards to branding and communication in a way that  sustainability programs are unlikely to? Health and safety professionals, due to  the nature of the job, are likely to be more technically focused than  sustainability professionals and have dedicated less of their time to focus on  branding and communications, if any. Not only are Sustainability professionals  likely to have a more robust skill set around communications and branding  many corporate Sustainability Teams also have a dedicated Communications  and Branding professional, and there is no shortage of Sustainable  Communications agencies.

Could it be that this association between health and safety and communications and branding is a key leverage point and one which if changed could have a huge impact? Could the investment in a Health and Safety Communications Manager, a job title currently seldom seen, be considered more readily?

James Irwin is a Director at Irwin & Colton, a specialist Health, Safety and Sustainability recruitment firm placing professionals in permanent and temporary roles across the UK.For more information please contact

Posted on Sunday Sep 4