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The return of our Head of Safety & Assurance – A Q&A with Chris Pike

Chris Pike worked as Tilhill’s Head of Safety & Assurance three years ago before he departed to pastures new for a stint in the mineral industry.  He is one of the key influencers in the formation of The Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA) and took Tilhill through to win RoSPA’s highest accolade, the Sir George Earle Trophy. Tilhill has welcomed Chris back with open arms so he can fulfil his desire to work within the forest industry once again. 

What do you do? Tell us about your typical day? 

It is very hard to describe a typical day in this job. It can vary from a very wet and cold day on top of Bodmin Moor assisting a Forest Manager in securing environmental protection measures to presenting Safety & Assurance plans to the Board of Directors in the confines of the Board Room. 

Tell us a little bit about your background. 

I obtained my degree in Occupational Safety & Health at the University of Greenwich in the early 1990’s. At that time very few degree courses existed for Health & Safety and I was on the first year the course was run at Greenwich. After graduating I have worked continuously in Health and Safety Management in a variety of industries, Automotive Engineering, Paper Manufacturing, Utility Water, Waste Water, Food Manufacturing, Quarrying, Readymix Concrete, Paving Manufacture and, of course, Forestry and Landscaping.

How did you get into safety within forestry?  

I have always enjoyed time outdoors and in the hills. Whether it be camping, hill walking or my love of mountain biking. In 2007 when Tilhill advertised for a “Safety Officer” I was working in the Food Industry with, at that time, no connection to the Forest Industry whatsoever. It still amazes me now that out of all the applications it was me they offered an interview to. On that occasion I was fortunate enough to go on and be offered the post. The post developed over the next 10 years until I left the Company as Head of Safety & Assurance in 2017 to take on the challenge of the Quarrying and Mineral Industry. This year, an opportunity came up to return to Tilhill and the Forest Industry. Despite having enjoyed my time in Quarries I had missed the Forestry environment and all that it entails and so decided to make the move back. 

What do you like the most about working in this industry?  

The challenge. Health and Safety in Forestry has come such a long way over the years but significant challenges still remain. The fatal accident rate is still among the highest industries in the UK. Working on steep rugged terrain with trees that are all individual has an inherent residual risk. The challenge is to work with the teams undertaking the work to find safe and practicable methods  that maximise their chance of going home to loved ones at the end of every day. 

What do you like most about Tilhill?  

It may be a cliché but it is the people that make Tilhill, and I include both employees and contractors in this statement. There is a special character to the company and that only comes from the people we work with each day. 

How do you feel Tilhill contributes to its employees’ professional development?  

During my time at Tilhill, the Company has always actively promoted continuous professional development for its staff, including the Health & Safety Team. This includes membership of the relevant professional body, but also playing an active part in industry groups, such as FISA. 

The broad range of topics and issues that arise allow me as a Health & Safety Professional to face new challenges and learn new skills on a regular basis.  

What sort of changes are occurring in your occupation?  

Recent years have seen a focus on Health issues, with some success. It has long been recognised that more people die of workrelated ill health each year than from incidents on site. However, these deaths happen away from the workplace, normally some time after the person retired, either through age or the ill health. The death on site from an incident is there right in front of us and so traditionally held the greater attention. A shift to focusing on health had been tried before but didn’t get the traction it has acquired in the past years. There has been a societal shift in discussing ill health generally, and it is this I believe that has allowed the movement on occupational health. 

There is also a growing movement to move from the H&S culture that considers people are our problem and we need systems and processes to control them, to a recognition that our workforce often understand the risks the best and working with them constructively we will find the best risk control solutions. 

How does a person progress in your field?  

Hard work, perseverance, adaptability and a sense of humour. They are some of the key traits I think a good H&S person needs. Having done the work yourself is a really good base to work from, but if you haven’t (like me) then it is vital to recognise that and not try to act as if you know all the answers. 

I would recommend joining IOSH and seeking out local Industry or H&S Groups (Safety Groups UK). Don’t be afraid to ask what might seem like a daft question and spend time on site understanding the issues from an operators perspective. 

What is your advice to anyone wishing to pursue a career within safety? 

I’d advise them to go for it. Don’t be limited to just focussing on Health and Safety, you will be part of improving a workplace. It is funny how most well organised and productive workplaces are also safe and healthy workplaces. 

There are many specialities within Health and Safety. Although most of us are generalists, we tend to have favourite pet topics. Try to get as broad an experience base as possible, you will find the areas you enjoy most.