Safety Paradox continued...

Safety Paradox continued...
by James Irwin - Director (June 2016)

In a previous blog I touched on the “Safety Paradox”, this is a description of the paradoxical situation the health and safety industry finds itself in. A situation, where although the foundations of the profession are based on a moral and ethical desire to help and inspire the workforce, the health and safety profession itself is described as being “broken” and even the Prime Minister has pledged to cut back.

In the blog I offered insights as to how I believe this may have come to be the case, central to my thoughts for the Safety Paradox were the hiring and personal development strategies of companies. I am told time and time again by clients that it is the non-technical competencies which are critical for success in their safety function. It is the ability to influence, engage, and gain buy-in which has either driven the success of their health and safety teams or conversely the lack of these skills which has held back progress. Despite this being known by organisations so few test for these skills at interviews or have a program in place to actively develop these skills in their Health and Safety Teams.

The initial blog really struck a chord with the profession and produced a large number of comments on social media. Since its publication I have held several discussions with professionals in the industry to get their take on the reasons for the Safety Paradox and many concurred that although the non-technical competencies are essential they are not prioritised, this in turn leads to the wrong people being hired or placed in the wrong role and / or these skills not being developed methodically.

It is through these discussions that I realised that not one of the professionals I talked too had any training themselves on interviewing candidates. These senior safety professionals, many of whom are with house hold brands and have large teams, have interviewed hundreds of safety professionals in their careers and have developed their own method of success at interviews. However, they have done so by developing their own style through trial and error.  

Interviewing is tricky, trying to select the right candidate (who you are likely to see more of than your own family!) all based upon a couple of meetings, is not an easy thing to do. Combining this with the desire to assess non-technical competencies – notoriously difficult to do……all without any training on how to do it.

I am a huge proponent of following gut feel in interviews and I firmly believe it is essential for each client to develop their own method and style of interview rather than follow a prescriptive process. It is when this combination of gut feel and style have been honed I often see consistently correct decisions being made.

However, this can take years to develop and most people would admit to hiring candidates earlier in their career which in hindsight were mistakes. In a lot of industries this is a problem which is likely to effect the team or company. In the case of a health and safety professional, selection of the wrong person can add to the wider public perception and help to fuel the myths and Safety Paradox.

Interviewing is a key leverage point and has a major impact on the industry. In the grand scheme of things, the 3-5 hours spent interviewing is a small amount of time if compared against the 3-5 years a successful candidate could likely spend with a company, having either a positive or negative impact.

Could it be that an investment of time in training on how to interview and how to asses for non-technical competencies could go a long way not only to ensuring companies get the right people in the right roles but also changing the image of health and safety and correcting the Safety Paradox?

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 Friday Jun 24