Clear leadership drives professional body’s Covid response

Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals have played a critical role in how organisations have responded to the Covid-19 crisis worldwide – and will continue to be central to business continuity and resilience beyond the pandemic.

That is the view of Dr Bill Gunnyeon CBE, Chair of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) Board of Trustees, ahead of his planned departure from the role at the end of this week.

Businesses have turned to OSH professionals for expert advice on how to ensure people are protected from infection and supported. As the global Chartered body representing these professionals, IOSH adapted quickly, protected its own staff and volunteers, and supported others with accurate, timely information and guidance.

Throughout the pandemic, an absolute priority for senior leaders has been how to protect their staff and our members have led on this,” said Dr Gunnyeon. “And as we move forward, our profession will continue to be front and centre of ensuring businesses are sustainable.

“IOSH has been, and will continue to be, right behind its members. It adapted quickly to the pandemic in early 2020, combining measures to look after the health, safety and wellbeing of IOSH employees and members with clear strategy and leadership. It moved from face-to-face events around the world to online meetings and webinars; its Level-3 qualification was made available as e-learning and – as the employer of around 200 people at its UK headquarters – IOSH changed to operating remotely overnight.

Strong, clear leadership and strategy was key to IOSH’s effective response. Dr Gunnyeon, an unpaid Board Chair, volunteering alongside 10 fellow Trustees, led the organisation through the crisis in partnership with the Executive Team at IOSH.

Dr Gunnyeon had been due to start planning for his departure last year, but he offered to remain in his voluntary post to provide stability for IOSH at this critical time, enabling it to continue providing the continuity and support its members required.

As he leaves his role after five years, he said he is satisfied he is leaving IOSH in a healthy position and that the profession will continue to grow and evolve to respond to the future needs of businesses.

This time last year, I had been planning my departure, but as the pandemic situation unfolded, I felt it was in the best interests of IOSH and the profession that I remained in post so efforts could be devoted to our Covid response and ensuring our strategy remained on track. With my fellow Board members, we were able to set the direction and oversee and support the changes that IOSH made.

Prior to his appointment as Chair of the IOSH Board of Trustees in 2016, Dr Gunnyeon oversaw the health and work agenda within UK government for nearly a decade as Chief Medical Advisor, Director for Health and Wellbeing and Chief Scientist at the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions. 

This experience and expertise, and his occupational health and medicine professional background, gave depth and clarity to the Board’s development in 2016 of a five-year strategy – WORK 2022 – which focused IOSH’s efforts to shape the future of occupational safety and health, enhancing the profession and collaborating to influence change. This enabled IOSH to stay on course as it adapted and responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

I am delighted by how our strategy has evolved,” he said. “The progress made over the past four years, with the development and delivery of WORK 2022 and the structural and operational transformations led by Chief Executive Bev Messinger and her team, has shaped IOSH into the modern, flexible, agile organisation it is today.

“I’m proud to have been part of this journey and to hand over an organisation in good spirit and with an exciting future. I wish my successor every success.

IOSH’s agility has enabled it to respond to the changing global situation with Covid-19. As businesses began to look to their recovery, IOSH renewed its coronavirus guidance online to help its members and their organisations effectively plan forward, ensuring the advice it provides is current and relevant.

Despite international travel being restricted, IOSH has continued to collaborate with global organisations, including the World Health Organization, giving expert perspectives on Covid-19 workplace risks and mitigations, and other occupational safety and health matters.

Bev Messinger, Chief Executive of IOSH, said the Institution’s response to the pandemic was the result of the progress made since Dr Gunnyeon took on his role. She said: “A number of factors contributed to IOSH’s pandemic response, both as a membership body and as an employer. Key among these is good governance, strong leadership and being able to remain focused on delivering our strategy.

“The direction and support Bill has given as Chair of the Board of Trustees was central to this. He has overseen many significant and positive developments for IOSH. These have enabled us to be in the right place to respond to the pandemic.

As the body responsible for developing and setting IOSH’s strategy and ensuring efficient and effective governance and management, the Board of Trustees works closely with the Institution’s Presidential Team, as well as other senior members and staff.

IOSH’s President Jimmy Quinn said: “Over the past five years, IOSH has undergone a massive transition into the organisation that it is today. Many people have played a role in that but, as Chair of the Trustees, Bill has been right at the forefront.

“On behalf of all Past Presidents, members of IOSH’s Council and the membership, I’d like to thank him for the support he has given over the past five years.

Dr Gunnyeon officially leaves the role of Chair of IOSH’s Board of Trustees on Friday. He will be succeeded by Dr Peter Bonfield OBE.

Former IOSH Presidents who have served in the role during Dr Gunnyeon’s time in office have also praised his contribution.

Dr Karen McDonnell said: “As Chair of the Board of Trustees, Bill’s strategic approach and recruiting the right trustees at the right time has taken us forward. For me, the launch of WORK 2022 and its impact on extending our influence has aligned our thinking and given us focus as individual members and as an organisation. His open and honest approach making the difference IOSH needed to move forward.

Craig Foyle said: “I would like to thank Bill for his dedication and commitment to IOSH over the last five years. We have had some exceptional challenges to deal with as an Institution over that time and he has helped shape the Board of Trustees to what it is today, focussing on improved governance.

Dr Vincent Ho said: “It was a pleasure working with Bill. He came into the post at the time when we needed a Chair to lead the Board back on track and operate as a modern, prudent, sustainable charity organisation. The seed has been planted for a brighter future for IOSH and we have witnessed IOSH transform over the past years.

Tony Bough, Vice-Chair of IOSH’s Board of Trustees, said: “On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Bill for being our Chair. He has led the Board with courage and integrity. He has managed a massive transition of governance and of approach to the Board and we’ve forged new relationships in new ways with our stakeholders and the sheer energy and determination that takes is amazing.

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Marcus Boocock
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