09/20/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/20/2019 04:27
Karen Henfrey is referred to affectionately by her colleagues as 'The Oracle' - a product of her extensive knowledge of safety and health through the training she has received and the 26 years she has diligently worked at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
As the longest-serving member of staff currently at the organisation, Karen has witnessed first-hand the changing face of the industry, and how occupational safety and health has transformed over the years - from a niche profession barely in the public consciousness to a vital part of leading businesses across the globe.
Joining IOSH in 1993 as a membership clerk, Karen remembers how safety and health was perceived at the time.
'While health and safety was seen as necessary and there to keep people safe, I believe newspapers at the time were partly to blame for negative perceptions of the profession,' Karen says. 'Many reports inaccurately referred to things being shut down or stopped as 'health and safety gone mad'. Thankfully, this belief seems to be changing in recent years, with more people and companies becoming aware of the importance of safety and health in workplaces and managing physical and mental wellbeing.'
When Karen joined IOSH, the company had around ten members of staff. Workers at the time were trained in 'safety appreciation courses', which were introduced to the public throughout 1993-1994. The training, while important, was delivered through overhead projectors and acetate slides, and often failed to engage workers who were required to undertake the training.
Everything changed, Karen says, when PowerPoint started being used more widely in the late-90s.
'Presentations became more engaging, easier to follow and more visual,' Karen remembers. 'Gone were the days of waiting for slides to be manually placed onto the projector. Trainers were able to communicate significant amounts of information quickly and effectively.'
In 1999, the Facilities Department - where Karen still works today, now called Workplace Services - was created at IOSH. Through expansion of the building and increasing construction work, it was decided that health and safety duties should be added to the responsibilities of the department and its workers.
This culminated in Karen taking IOSH's Managing Safely course for the first time in 2001. She found the course so inspiring, it gave her a real thirst for health and safety - so much so that over the next 18 years, she accumulated over 40 certificates in various areas of the profession. With her new-found knowledge, Karen made real changes within the organisation to help keep her colleagues safe, from implementing a ladder and working at height equipment safety management inspection system to overseeing a portable appliances testing management system.
What was it about Managing Safely that Karen found so inspiring and started her off on this journey?
'From when I first took Managing Safely all those years ago, I knew that it was going to be well-received by the industry and highlighted why safety and health is so important for so many people,' she says. 'Managing Safely helps to save lives, prevents injury and teaches people about the importance of identifying and removing hazards. It can be the difference between life and death.'
For Karen, and many others, the lessons learned through Managing Safely do not stop in the workplace.
'You take it home with you. It creates a ripple effect,' Karen says. 'My children are very safety aware. I instilled this knowledge in them at a young age, helped by the training I received, and they have absorbed and retained it in their own personal and working lives ever since. My grandchildren are also being made aware of the importance of working safely and being aware of risks and hazards. It's knowledge that is passed down through the generations. It's vital.'
The cost of not investing in health and safety training, Karen says, could be catastrophic - from accidents and injuries leading to organisations closing down through financial penalties, to workers' being hurt or even killed due to negligence.
'It is hard to say how many human lives have been saved and injuries prevented as a result of Managing Safely,' Karen ponders. 'I have every confidence it could be thousands, if not more, worldwide.'
Karen took Managing Safely again in 2014, thirteen years after her first foray into its teachings. The page count was less than it had once been - from under 300 to just under 150 pages - and the content had been updated, with graphics and a more concise layout. But the core values of the training were the same, and Karen appreciated having the opportunity to refresh her knowledge and keep up-to-date with the content.
'Even all those years later, Managing Safely continues to be the gold standard,' she says. 'Taking Managing Safely really influenced my own perceptions of health and safety and sent me down a pathway that has allowed me to make a huge difference in people's lives. Knowing that the knowledge I gained from the course could have potentially saved lives is gratifying.
'It is important that managers and workers both understand the importance of being trained in safety and health. Over the years, IOSH's Managing Safely course has stood the test of time and has really influenced my interests and what I am passionate about.'
This is evident in Karen's future plans. At the age of 63, Karen is due to retire from IOSH next month, leaving behind a truly remarkable legacy. She has seen the changing world of work first-hand, and has been able to observe how Managing Safely, and IOSH's many other training courses, have made a huge difference in people's working lives.
It is fitting that while Karen will be leaving IOSH behind, she will continue to use the knowledge and experience she gained during her time here to help others.
'I will be volunteering at my local library in Leicestershire, using my health and safety knowledge to keep visitors safe,' she says. 'I will miss working at IOSH, but I won't be saying goodbye to the skills and experience I gained through Managing Safely.
'That stays with you for life.'
Words: Alex Phillimore