Welcome to the Safeti Podcast
If you are involved in Health and Safety, Environment or anything in between, make sure to join us for some laid back learning!
In this Episode, we talk to Katherine Randell CMIOSH, Head of Fire, Safety, Quality & Environment at the prestigious Canary Wharf Group in London.
Katherine recently posted a very candid Linkedin article relating to her ‘Dirty Safety Secret’.
I think there will be lots of people within the profession who will empathise with Katherine’s story. The openness and honesty in Katherine’s post was both admirable and courageous, we dig a little bit deeper into the reasons why she felt the need to write her article.
To find out what that secret was and what she done about it, have a listen.
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Podcast Transcript – read the full chat here!
Hi welcome to episode 10 of the safeti podcast. I’m your host Richard Collins. Today we have something a little bit different for you. Whenever I read Katherine Randall’s post on LinkedIn of her dirty safety secret, there’s a few things kind of sprung to mind.
Firstly I breathed a little bit of a sigh of relief. I was just glad that she had come out and said it and it did resonate with me. Secondly I was in admiration of her courage and actually doing that.
But thirdly I was inspired to bring her on the show and dig a little bit deeper with her and talk about the actual reasons as to why she felt this way.
So I hear you ask, what was that dirty safety secret that she was talking about? Well it was simply that she was embarrassed to tell people that she worked in health and safety.
Welcome to the Safeti podcast with your host all the way from a small green island in the wild Atlantic Ocean, Richard Collins.
So I’ve invited Katherine on the show today to talk about this issue which she seemed to struggle with for quite some time. Thankfully she pushed on through these struggles & is now the head of fire safety quality and environment at the prestigious canary wharf group in London.
I’m sure lots of you will resonate with what Katherine’s experience has been here and hopefully you can take away something positive from this conversation. So without further ado let’s go and speak to Katherine Randell.
Katherine Randell CMIOSH thank you very much for coming on the show today on the safeti podcast. How are you keeping?
I’m good thank you so much for having me.
No problem I’m really looking forward to having a nice frank discussion relating to your very honest and and open article that you published on LinkedIn quite recently. Which had a really good positive reaction from your network and the title of that was my dirty safety secret.
Warts and all
Yeah its true warts and all kind of approach to how I’ve kind of perceived myself as a safety professional over the years. I was just having a think about it one night and it just felt like something I needed to speak about. So that’s why I just I just wrote the article.
It’s really interesting to see how something like that – you know when you may have a thought like this and think that I’ll not share it with anyone because no one else will be thinking the same.
But as soon as you start talking about it as you’ve seen from your article, there’s hundreds of people going yeah I agree with you and this is something that really resonates with people.
So it’s awesome that you’ve done that and it’s a relatively short article and you created a bit of a stir with it. So I look forward to discussing it more with you here.
Can you give the audience a wee bit of a background of how you’ve actually developed into the health and safety professional you are now and where your career came from.
From the beginning
Yeah of course I’m one of the rarities in this world in which I chose from day one to be in Health and Safety. I started when I was 16. So I suppose most people don’t really know what they want to do at sixteen.
But I got a part-time job in the summer at health and safety consultancy and it piqued my interest and so I kind of over the next couple years did my qualifications and then began properly full-time when I was 18 and I really liked the variety.
Since I started out I’ve gone through quite a few industries. I’ve done consultancy, I’ve done education to work in university, which was really interesting. Housing, social housing. Facilities management, construction.
Now I’m finally at the position I’m in I head up a team, in a really iconic destination. Which is really exciting and it’s amazing. But it’s been quite a difficult road in terms of my personal, I suppose understanding and agreement of doing it with being in health and safety.
So although I knew I wanted to do it I had to kind of convince myself over the years that this was definitely what I wanted to do. That’s how I ended up where I am today really.
What’s the big secret?
Yeah I mean don’t get me wrong I am beyond proud to do the job that I do and I think it is one of the most worthy jobs to do. You know we are helping companies and people and preventing anyone hopefully from going or not returning home.
So it’s a fantastic career and it’s got the variety. It’s got you know the different areas it can go in, it’s brilliant. But I know when I started at 16 and for a long time after that when I would tell individuals what I did. I would be constantly met with the kind of eye rolling or the kind of just boredom of oh my god you do health and safety.
And I think that especially when you’re young and impressionable that really at the beginning hit me. As am I doing something which people don’t actually want to do, have I made a bad career choice here.
So although I knew day to day when I was doing the job that I really loved it. When I was telling people about it I wasn’t so enthusiastic about it and I think that’s where the embarrassment stemmed from.
Self-generated to an extent but also the public perception and the way that people reacted to me really did suppose increase that embarrassment.
Richard: Yeah it’s completely understandable and I mean I would be surprised if there were many health and safety professionals right now who could say hand on heart they haven’t felt that in some shape or form and to some degree. You know although you will have some people who you know try and say that has never been a concern of theirs. but I think you touched on the perception part there and the negativity that you’ve seen from people just when you’re starting to tell them you work in that area.
One thing to draw that out of people when you’re talking to them and so on. it’s easy for us just to kind of you know step back and not bring it to people’s attention because of our fear and that’s something that’s the perception as you say has been developed. What do you think we’ve actually done wrong, what do you think the industry has done wrong to actually cause this?
Katherine: I mean when I was starting out this was very much, back in what early 2000’s it was very much in the time where it was really all about the kind of the regulation. There was no flexibility in the industry and it was very much you would come in and you tell people what to do and it was [07:20 inaudible] basically.
So I think people got the perception the notion that we were just you know the clipboard folk and I know this has been said a thousand times. but it really was like that back in 2000’s and you know the papers were constantly day after day releasing articles about you know health and safety gone mad. This was the time of the bonkers conkers kind of stories and it got to the point obviously where the HSE were like we need to start challenging these stories and putting up the Myth Busters.
Because it was just getting that the public perception was just, it wasn’t manageable anymore and I think us as professionals at the early stages we weren’t helping with that. we were happy to go in and reinforce that perception of we are here to be the inspectors and to be the enforcers rather than being seen as a positive business influence, a kind of an overall management role that can support and help the business and the individuals.
So I think it was a combination of things. But obviously the industry wasn’t as developed as it is now in terms of how we are now publicly facing.
Richard: Do you see from your experience and I know you have involvement with a lot of progressive bodies and you work with a lot of other women in health and safety to you know promote the industry and so on. Do you see a change happening? Obviously you’ve mentioned there the HSE picked up on this a while back and I’ve tried to start influencing it. Do you think you can see things on the ground actually changing in a significant way?
Katherine: I can see the demographic of the organizations changing definitely, sorry of the health safety professionals changing. When I started it was the typical men in suits and they were all post 40 etc. now as I said in my article my team is fundamentally young women.
Who’ve either come straight out of university or you know we’ve made an early career choice to go into health and safety. so I think in terms of the profession yes things are changing and have come a hell of a long way I’m not sure whether publicly or externally facing we are seen as progressive as we like to think within the industry and I think that’s something which we’ve got to challenge a bit more.
You know as much as we all love saying that oh yeah you know businesses see health and safety is a real business benefit. There are a hell of a lot of companies that will think that. But there are still those that exist that think it’s just a tick in the box and they have to do it.
So we’re not there yet and we’ve still got a long way to go and I think you know we have to still keep challenging those perceptions unfortunately and I still get it day in and day out when I tell people what I do, I will still have the whole do you really want to do that, did you choose to do that and that’s not changing at the moment. So the question of how we go about shifting that is really difficult. It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.
Richard: No I agree with you and certainly in terms of reactions and I think we’ve all had our fair share you know. I guess that goes back to what we’re talking about that really ingrained perception and you talked on the lack of diversity point which I believe is really really important.
Something that I discussed with some of my own network recently was in regard to effectiveness of health and safety professionals and that was a competence and what characteristics generally do people need to have to be an effective person working in the industry. I think diversity is a major factor and you’ve obviously alluded to the fact that teams that you are building are more diverse and what we previously would have got in the past. But another thing that I was thinking and talking to others about is the education piece of it previously.
But as you just mentioned we’ve been very much concentrating on compliance & you identified a need for a lot more flexibility. can you tell us more by how we might go about that or what are your thoughts on that and how do we encourage more flexibility and what’s the best way to address it?
Katherine: It’s a hard one. I personally believe in building teams based or I suppose merit and individual skill rather than well you’ve got a qualification therefore you’re competent.
So saying that I am I have got the traditional qualification route myself. So I’m speaking a bit ironically there. But I think you know each individual will have their own merits and having a team full of people that all have the same skill isn’t going to work. Because you’ve not got the same skill set throughout the organization.
You need the different skill sets. So we need people to be able to complement those different areas. so you know I might need from day to day, sometimes I might need someone that is going to be able to enforce certain things and isn’t going to shy away from that because of the situation.
On another day I might need somebody actually who’s able to go and speak with senior management and be collaborative and actually be an active listener rather than dictatorial. So I think it’s about having that complimentary team that’s going to be able to fit the mould of the needs of the organization rather than saying well you must have x,y & z qualification wise or x,y,z experience wise.
I think you know we all realistically no matter what qualifications or experience, we all have those moments when we go into a new organization where we have to completely relearn everything anyway.
So having different individuals, different fits, different backgrounds is actually a really positive thing for a health and safety team and it means you can diversify the way you talk to the rest of the organization and you can tailor your approach as you need to. So that’s how I tend to do it my team.
I mean my company might turn around tell you that actually it’s not working. But I like to think it is and I think we do get the best out of each of the individual members. Because we’ve gone down that kind of non-prescriptive route.
Richard: Yeah yeah I got you. This is probably a controversial question. do you think the fact that health and safety has been or whether it’s health and safety environment or quality you know you have a quality role in what you do as well, do you think the fact and I read something recently I can’t put my finger on exactly who wrote it or what the research body was.
But they were looking at the effectiveness of having HSE separated from other functions and whether or not that in itself was a problem instead of having the responsibilities ingrained or in-built into the roles. So the people who were doing the activities and the team leaders and managers and so on actually were primarily responsible for it.
Because obviously part of our problem here is that as you know yourself I’m sure is ‘the health and safety departments is responsible for health and safety’ mentality. It’s not my problem. What are your thoughts on that?
Katherine: I think the ironic thing is as professionals we pretty much say that most of us actually are arguing for a future where health and safety departments don’t exist.
We’re all kind of setting ourselves up for a no jobs and I think that’s how it should be to be honest that as you say it is a day-to-day part of everyone’s job and yes okay you’re going to need someone that’s got aspects more specialist knowledge and understanding. But it shouldn’t be the case that as you’ve alluded to health and safety, does health and safety and no one else has to think about it.
It is just everybody’s job and it doesn’t even have a second thought within the role. It’s just part and parcel of what we do and I think I’d really like for I suppose it to be ingrained in kids at college and in higher education. To be honest that you know health & safety’s a fundamental part of work.
Why aren’t we teaching these kind of things as standard? So then when they get into the world of work it isn’t a case of okay we’ve got to learn about risk assessment, got to do this and that. Actually it’s just fundamental part of their job, it’s normalized and they’ve grown up with it. So yeah I think we are probably going to see a future where potentially the health and safety role as we see it won’t exist in its current guise. But that’s totally what we need to do is we need to be flexible with it.
Richard: Yeah it wasn’t something I was planning on talking about with you. but I’m interested to hear you’re very positive views on that and I have to say I really do agree with you there.
I think we’ve got to a point where we can only progress so much and certainly when it comes down to perceptions changing and so on that we can only change them so much being regarded as something different than the rest of the business and we’re always challenging to become ingrained in the business and build cultures and so on.
Whereas if you had that sort of thought process as you say up through the educational process, then surely it would be much easier you know if it was meaningfully done.
So yeah it’s an interesting conversation and maybe we can get someone on to discuss that in itself at some point. For now we still have a lot of work to do. We have a long way to go before that would ever happen. I’m sure there would be a lot of people that don’t want to hear that as well.
Katherine: And I’m sure there’ll be lots of people that will say that you know that’s never going to happen and that’s fine.
But I do think we do need to get to a point where as you say safety is not a standalone function and we’ve made real strides forward with that and I think there are lots of businesses that do integrate seamlessly with their other functions. But I’d say that’s a small minority compared to the majority of organizations and professions where Health and Safety is still kind of the department who does it.
So we definitely have got a long way to go.
Richard: You were saying there also in your article about whenever you sort of were growing up through the career path I guess there weren’t too many role models for you to look up to and that possibly you know made more concrete the fact that you didn’t want to shout what you were doing from the rooftops even within your friend or peer group and so on.
Has that changed for you now, is there anyone that doing anything in the industry that you would look up to you or you know what encourages you?
Katherine: There’s tons of really progressive practitioners out there now and it’s actually a really exciting time. I mean I’m really fortunate enough to have been selected to be on the women and health and safety committee and some of those women that are on that are just so inspiring.
I actually don’t know why I’m on that committee. because I’m nowhere near half of what some of these women are and they are really challenging the norm and you know if I had people like that that I could have seen on the industry circuits when I’m 16, I would have been so inspired from day one I would have been shouting out that this is what I’m doing and this is what I want to do. Because there isn’t the same old tired Health and Safety professional that we’ve been led to believe over the years.
Now it’s you know you can come from a different background and you can bring different values and different perspectives and you can create something which is really dynamic and adaptive and it’s yeah it’s really exciting.
Richard: I think you’re being modest there. But no it’s awesome to read an article that’s so honest about the problems that exist and they still do exist within our profession and within across different industries and it’s really important for us to acknowledge them and have these discussions as to how do we push things forward and as you say there’s lots of women particularly that are doing awesome things right there and I think a lot of us could take a leaf from their books and just try new things and not be afraid to give fresh opinions and challenge the norm.
As you were saying Katherine there’s lots of great ideas out there and fresh new approaches being shared and discovered towards our profession and because of the deeply embedded perceptions we’ve discussed and some of the attitudes that persist, it can be very challenging within companies to propose these new ways of thinking and new approaches when there’s been cultures of fear over health and safety and over compliance zero tolerance and so on. In fact what you’re doing really is you’re having to sell change and that can be really difficult cant it?
Katherine: Totally. People are afraid of new things, of change. we know that you know in all walks of life and especially in an area when we’ve been hammering home for years the whole, this is statutory you’ll go to jail etc. etc. when suddenly with turning that on its head and saying do you know what you don’t need to do all this.
What you can do is focus on it like this and I think especially for someone who’s in a very senior position to try and tell them that you know what they’ve been told before doesn’t apply so much anymore, that’s really difficult to get the buy-in initially and I suppose it’s through positive examples to be able to show that actually it does work. But change doesn’t happen overnight and that’s the thing, I think a lot of people get frustrated quickly by the fact that their culture hasn’t changed overnight, their behavioral safety program hasn’t worked over night.
It’s not going to, it takes years of graft and you know some of these really fundamental practitioners who are doing the whole safety differently and doing some of the more progressive cultural pieces have been working on them for years and they’re at the point now where they’re seeing the results and they’re able to you know openly discuss them.
But it is a difficult conversation and getting people to change their viewpoint and align with your sudden radicalized idea doesn’t always go down too well. You have to accept that, understand that.
Richard: Yeah I think it’s an extremely valid point and it does take a lot of persistence and confidence I guess to you know exactly what you’re trying to have to convince them on as well.
I think this is so important this conversation because the progress that’s been made within how safety and environment over the last number of years in businesses in terms of performance and in terms of expectations and so on. if we’re to continue that, you have to encourage young people into the profession and whether you know the economys strong or whether there’s a recession going on, it shouldn’t impact it as much as it sometimes does.
Now from that point on one hand I’m hearing that there’s a shortfall on young practitioners coming in to the profession and on the other hand I’ve heard from some recruiters say that the market at the moment is actually saturated with people trying to get into the HSE space. This struggle seems to be for companies that it’s difficult to get those people who are the right cultural fit and who have the right knowledge and experience to fit their needs.
ust touching on that and with a view to encouraging younger people into the profession. Can you give us any insight on the experiences you’ve had in terms of recruiting your team and what your view is of the current situation as it stands.
Katherine: Yeah I mean we’re currently actually recruiting and as you say there’s not much out there in terms of people really wanting to come into the profession. It seems at the moment maybe I actually don’t know why. You know it is a good profession to come in to in terms of you know for the future prospects of how you can move into different areas and avenues. So I don’t understand why it’s drying up so much.
You say about the young people or getting in people at the early stages, I know that there’s a few people on the scene at the moment who are really actively pushing that. I think there’s a guy can’t remember his name Jamie. Sutherland-Powell, apologies for his surname. He’s really trying to promote going into colleges and higher education facilities to try and say look health and safety’s a great career and you should consider it.
But I found over the years with my experience when I’ve told people what I do the whole you know the perception. The ironic thing is that these individuals all actually are doing health and safety within their jobs anywa
. So I have a lot of friends who work within TV and media and film industry and actually when you boil down what they’re doing day to day, probably a good third of what they’re doing fundamentally is still health and safety based. So the fact is that Health and Safety is a brilliant career. But it’s not being promoted and packaged in the way that it’s getting out there to the young professionals.
Also I I’d be interested to know if when people go into careers advisors, whether health and safety is being promoted as an option. Because it certainly wasn’t ever promoted for me and it was only because I just happened to do a stint in it that I knew that I wanted to go into it. But how are people getting that information that’s my question how are we giving that out to them.
Richard: Yeah it’s a very legitimate one I think and you know as you say when you look at job descriptions and you look at the amount of demand there is out there for people within the profession, it’s ubiquitous across industry and you would think that it would just be an obvious one for careers advisors to integrate that into their scope. But it’s not cool enough maybe that’s the problem.
You know maybe it’s a perception thing again isn’t it? I’ve heard it from people before you know saying that you know who say safety is not sexy and all that sort of stuff and maybe saying that in the first instance isn’t the right thing to say.
Katherine: Yeah I mean I hate the fact that in my article I talked about you know cool jobs versus safety. But it is true. That is the mindset. Especially when you talk about an 18 19 year old and they’re deciding what they want to do with the career.
They want to do something that sounds interesting and fun and nowadays especially with you know the era that we’re in with social media with the whole digital nomads, idea, concept. People don’t want to do a nine-to-five job that they proceed to just be paper-pushing.
They want to do something which is exciting, which is going to give them the freedom to go out and see different things and learn different things and I don’t know if we’re selling the job as that at the moment and I think that’s not the problem. That’s why you know young professionals aren’t thinking about health and safety until much later.
Richard: Yeah totally totally get that and who makes the decisions on that sort of stuff? How do we change it? you said that you you’d mentioned to some friends and things as you were asked where you worked, you’re saying well you know I work in management or I work in risk or something to do with insurance or claims maybe.
Do you think that suggests that the terminology itself is actually damaged to the extent where we need to change it even?
Katherine: I think it could be brought back. I think I’m part of the problem as one of the practitioners who wasn’t open and honest about what I did, you know I dumbed it down.
I turned it into something else that I thought would sound more appealing and enticing. You scratched off the surface of what I was calling it and actually it’s all the same job anyway. That’s they’re all the same types of role. but one sounded better than the other in my mind and I think that’s the challenge is actually why does something have a better connotation than another when actually fundamentally it’s the same business benefits, the same business value, it’s the same kind of role to be honest.
I mean there’s not much difference between myself a health and safety professional or a risk professional in terms of the overall kind of role. So why did I feel the need to dumb it down and portray it something different. Psychologically it’s obviously because I was afraid of the reactions I was going to get. But why was I getting those reactions, that’s the issue?
Richard: Yeah yeah the influence of external factors like the media and you know so many influences and factors in people’s lives from when they’re young to when it’s time to leave school and build a career has impacted them. If you mention health and safety to them it’s probably the last thing they want to do isn’t it?
That’s part of the problem and that’s the reason why you didn’t want to tell your peers and friends that that’s what you actually were working in. so I think it’s very legitimate to bring this up and you know if we are going to change the perceptions of it then we need to do it together and we need to push things forward just the same way as some of the people you were mentioning earlier have been doing and get influential people like yourself to write bold, truthful articles and such as you have on LinkedIn. Which I’ll let our listeners look at I’ll put a link on the podcast page.
But this has been something different for the safety podcast talking about something that’s very you know close to home amongst the fraternity and the profession but I think it’s really important.
So thank you again Katherine for coming on and give us a bit more of a sort of deep insight into why you wrote what you did and I think there’s a lot of truth in it and certainly a lot of value, which I think a lot of other people will relate to as well.
Katherine: Thank you yeah hopefully others will understand and I’m not just on my own putting myself out there.
Richard: Cool okay well I look forward to discussing this with people and hearing some feedback on it and yeah well look I would love to encourage you to write more articles just as the one you did obviously got an awesome reaction and resonated with a lot of people and not everyone has the courage to say these things and be so honest. So yeah I think it benefits everyone. So thanks a lot for coming on today and look after yourself.
Katherine Randall CMIOSH: Thanks so much.
So there you have it guys that was Katherine Randell’s dirty safety secret. as you’ve just heard Katherine felt insecure about telling people what’s she done because of the negative perceptions of others and I totally get that. I’m sure there’ll be many of you out there who don’t actually see why this was such a big issue.
But at the same time I think I’d be quite a lot of people that that can relate to Katherine’s experience and the great thing is of course that she confronted this issue and persisted on a career path and there’s now a very successful and influential in her field. So I take my hat off to Katherine and I hope lots of you have been able to relate to this conversation and also I hope you find some encouragement from Katherine’s openness on what is really quite a personal issue as well. We love for you to let us know what your thoughts are on this issue.
I’ll be posting some additional links and resources for you as usual on the podcast page and hopefully you can use this conversation or this podcast as a conversation starter and for yourself amongst your colleagues and peers. Maybe address any issues that you have or that they may have of a similar nature.
Thank you once again for tuning in to the podcast. If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe at safeti.com or via iTunes or stitcher. If you’re enjoying the content it would mean a hell of a lot for you to leave an honest review on iTunes to help us continue doing what we’re doing for you. Until next time keep stepping out of your comfort zone, keep making a positive impact and hopefully we’ll catch you again very soon. All the best.
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