Looking out upon the packed room full of enthusiastic occupational safety and health professionals - many of whom had travelled from all sides of the country to be there - you would be forgiven for thinking that IOSH’s Future Leaders Conference is an event that has been running for years.
And yet, despite the significant number of attendees and the high-profile speakers, 2019 marks the first time IOSH has run an event for the recently launched Future Leaders Community, designed to support early-career professionals and those new to the OSH profession. Its immediate popularity is indicative of the gap it fills in the market.
“The Future Leaders Conference is important because there is nothing else like it out there,” one eager delegate explained to me. “For someone like me, who is new to working in safety and health, having an event made with me in mind that allows me to meet and network with my peers is really valuable.”
Running on 5 November at the Crowne Plaza, Birmingham NEC, the first Future Leaders Conference saw nearly 120 delegates in attendance. Some were new to the profession, taking their first steps into occupational safety and health; others were a few years into their careers, attending in order to learn more about the Community. The focus of the Conference was, as the same implies, on the future – the future of technology; the future of the workplace; and the future of OSH.
Chaired by Jamie Laing, Group Safety Business Partner at Sainsbury’s and a member of the Future Leaders Steering Group, the Conference saw a range of speakers from across industry. The keynote speaker, Neil Lennox, Head of Safety and Insurance at Sainsbury’s, provided an illuminating insight into his professional career – the ups and downs, the challenges, and the areas where he took risks that thankfully paid off.
Working in his current role, and having seen the industry changing over the years, Neil is well-placed to know what skills, knowledge and behaviours the modern OSH professional requires to be able to succeed and influence effectively within their organisation.
“OSH professionals are increasingly required to be able to speak the language of the business and the boardroom,” he said. “While technical skills are vital, we must all be able to work with colleagues across the business and communicate how workplaces that have strong safety and health cultures reap long-term benefits.”
Sage advice, and an insight that resonated with everyone in the room. Businesses are placing increased focus on the safety, health and wellbeing of their workers as part of their sustainable business practices and they are looking to OSH professionals to help shape and meet their sustainable objectives.
Other sessions explored the value of professional mentoring and how OSH leaders can empower themselves and each other by reflecting on their goals and aspirations. A session run by writer and freelance health and safety consultant Bridget Leathley on technological innovations in the workplace was particularly well-received. Bridget spoke of evolutions in workplace robotics, and how robots – or ‘co-bots’ - can help to automate certain manual tasks that can put workers at risk of developing health issues such as musculoskeletal disorders.
The session also outlined how ‘social robots’ can help to improve health and wellbeing among workers, such as those working in isolated environments. OSH professionals, Bridget argued, are well-placed to embrace this technology and understand how robots can enhance safety, health and wellbeing in the workplace.
A panel discussion near the end of the day was chaired by IOSH-President Elect Jimmy Quinn and featured Neil Lennox, Duncan Spencer (Head of Advice and Practice, IOSH), Shona Paterson (Director, Shirley Parsons) and Sarah James (Assistant Health and Safety Advisor, Carney Consultancy and a member of the Future Leaders Steering Group) discussing the future of occupational safety and health. They responded to a range of questions from the audience, including how to engage with IOSH and how more reliance on technology in the workplace and an aging workforce will create new challenges for OSH professionals.
Bev Messinger, IOSH’s Chief Executive, took to the stage to give the closing address, reflecting on the mentors and teachers who inspired her throughout her career. She celebrated those in the room as the next generation of OSH professionals, who will help to inspire a positive shift in public perception and carry the torch in the coming years.
Judging by the passion, enthusiasm and calibre of the Future Leaders in the room, it is clear that the future of OSH is in safe hands.
Words: Alex Phillimore