High v low risk safety - what is more challenging?

High risk safety or low risk safety - what is more challenging?
by James Irwin - Director (June 2016)

Ok, before anyone blows a gasket this blog is meant to be very much with tongue in cheek. However, hopefully it will spark discussion and sharing of ideas.

Whilst specialising in Health and Safety recruitment for over 7 years I have become accustomed to candidates at all levels explaining why their role specifically is the most difficult. It's a competitive market out there and I would expect nothing less than a candidate to "sell" themselves.

One "us and them" topic which comes up time and time again is the difficulty in practicing safety in high risk against low risk environments.

At the high risk end of the spectrum, so I'm regularly told, health and safety is much, much more difficult than low risk environments as day in, day out lives are being saved. “If we don't do our job right people will die”. Many high risk safety experts would contend that this pressure combined with the often more technical nature of high risk safety makes the role and environment much more challenging than operating in a low risk environment.

When advertising roles in low risk industries I often have candidates contact me from high risk industries (more so recently with the oil price collapse). Regardless of the skill set being advertised for or the seniority of the job, high risk safety professionals often say they could "do any role in a low risk environment standing on my head".

Clients in low risk environments actively laugh when the suggestion is made that a candidate could walk off an oil rig into their organisation and be successful in a safety role. “They simply wouldn’t understand how to engage with the people in my business”. Low risk professionals will readily point to the fact the ratio of safety professional to employee in their organisation could be 1:500 or higher, where as in high risk this can be 1:50 or lower. Surely, they would argue this makes practicing safety successfully in the lower risk environment more difficult?

The number one reason I continually hear for low risk environments being more difficult is due to it being much harder to gain buy-in for health and safety programs. Low risk safety professionals argue that high risk safety professionals have safety permanently at the top of the agenda, they swim in a sea of funding and often sit on if not report into the board. “Let them come into my world for a minute and see how difficult it is to try and get a voice at the table and funding!”

This debate reminds me of one I saw when studying at university about who are the top competitors in nature, those in the desert with few resources, few competitors and where survival is difficult or in the Amazon - plenty of resource, endless competitors and always something ready to take a bite!

Of course there is no answer and both ends of the spectrum have their own key challenges and there is no doubt there are lessons that can be taken from each. Indeed, many of the top senior candidates I work with (and interestingly often the seemingly happiest candidates) are those who have moved sectors and operate in a diverse range of industries both high and low risk environments. They often put a large amount of their career success down to having this exposure to different industries.

Given this, it can be frustrating when clients focus purely on the industry background of a candidate during the selection process. Recruiting a candidate from an identical industry will likely allow the candidate to be able to get up and running quickly and indeed regardless of industry they could be the best candidate for the job. However, could it be that recruiting more candidates from different industries and risk profiles, although in the short term might require additional training, in the long term it could lead to a more diverse and stronger skill set in the team?

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 james.irwin@irwinandcolton.com

Posted on Friday Jun 24