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Invicta Interviews: Tim McLaughlin, Health & Safety Manager

Driving a safer working culture

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For our second interview with key personnel at Invicta, we sat down with Health & Safety Manager Tim McLaughlin to talk about health & safety in our Racking division, how the industry’s attitude to safety has changed over time, and how to respond to individuals who break safety rules.

Who are you and what is your role at Invicta?

Tim McLaughlin, and my role at Invicta – as with most of us, I wear a few hats – is Health & Safety Manager. I also look after one specific account, which is our account with Booker Cash & Carry. I got into Health & Safety through that role, actually.

I was initially employed to inspect their racking, so I trained up in that, and then for forklift damage as an extension of that as well. And that clearly led into health & safety, so after three or four years I trained in NEBOSH, and the rest as they say is history. So after getting my NEBOSH certificate, I started overseeing health & safety in the company.


So I think I’m right in saying that you joined the company almost 20 years ago at this point. What’s kept you at Invicta for such a long time?

Well, several reasons. The head office being in Margate would be a factor for sure. I’m a Margate boy born and bred – I actually live in Broadstairs now, but still only a ten minute journey to the office.

But keeping me at Invicta for such a long time…well, respect works both ways, from both the company, the boss and the management, and vice versa. I think I do a good job for them, I look after the company, and in return I get looked after.


How do you think the safety culture has changed at Invicta in the time since you joined, and also in the industry as a whole?

Well, it’s become more of a factor in everything that we do. Safety culture has definitely improved, and I’ll be a factor in that, but also other staff coming in with experience in slightly different trades has helped as well.

Just before my time – but not long, I don’t think – I’m told the guys used to – y’know – just climb the racking without necessary harnesses. And clearly that doesn’t happen at all anymore!

They might [have gone] to the pub at lunch before carrying on erecting racking systems and other construction. That just doesn’t happen anymore. And rightly so. It’s something that’s been concentrated on, nationwide and industry wide.

It’s often said that safety needs to be proactive rather than reactive. What do you think a proactive approach to safety looks like? What does that mean to you?

Well, trying to prevent incidents. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s all down to risk assessment, really. Whether that’s an actual document that’s written or typed up or just in the planning stage, a risk assessment is something we do in all walks of life.

[The key is] to make it more of a part of the planning stage in any task or job that we’re in charge with. If we think about it in minute one, of how it will go and how it might go wrong, that’s a proactive approach to make sure there aren’t any nasty incidents.


There definitely seems like there’s still a perception among a lot of people that health & safety rules can be overbearing or unnecessary. How do you get people out of that mindset, and get them to take health & safety more seriously?

Well, definitely to try and limit bureaucracy. There have been occasions, even personally, when I’m filling in paperwork thinking that ‘there’s no way this is making anybody any safer’. So that’s certainly something that I think we are working towards and getting better at. Somebody stuck in the office for two hours filling in a bit of paper – that’s not making somebody on site safer, in my opinion.

It is necessary, and it is part of the planning stage – so if you document it, it is part of covering your backside and to prove that if there were an incident, you have put everything in place that you could do to ensure something didn’t go wrong. But [less] paperwork for paperwork’s sake is something that answers that question, I think.

A lot of businesses will still have the prospect of financial penalties as one of the main drivers of health & safety compliance. Do you feel like there’s more to it than that, from a business perspective? Do people maybe get a bit too focused on just being penalised, and not the other benefits of health & safety?

Yes, certainly. It’s not a case of it costing you money if something goes wrong. For the bigger firms and certainly the big organisations, you won’t be able to get onto their tender list without the correct health & safety compliance or paperwork in place.

It’s not a financial penalty; it’s a financial gain if you get onto those tender lists and win those jobs. That’s a more sensible approach, and a sensible attitude in my opinion. The benefits are also that you do those jobs and nobody ends up getting hurt, or accidents end up costing money in terms of stock or loss of trade.


You’ve worked with a number of big national and multinational companies in your role at Invicta. Does your approach to safety differ at all depending on the size of the client?

No, I don’t think it differs. In fact, in many ways it’s the size of the project rather than the size of the client. The size of the project wouldn’t necessarily change our approach, but we might necessarily become more involved – using other people’s experience and help in our approach to the work.

When we put together a plan of work, we’ve had feedback from health & safety advisors of the firm we’re working for, or their consultants, and they’ve helped us with our risk assessments, method statements, and working practices.

Is it important with a big project or a big company like that to engage lots of people in the health & safety process? Or is it okay to just have one health & safety manager who delegates, and tells people what to do?

A bit of both. You need somebody in charge, of course you do. But if you don’t engage with everybody right down to the coalface, to the workface, you don’t get much response, I think.

So we do an annual Durasteel get-together with our fitters, and we take feedback from those fitters, as well as project-on-project. And that’s really productive, because they can give feedback from specific incidents that they’ve experienced on site.

So it’s definitely important to involve everybody. It’s not necessarily delegating – it’s actually gleaning from the experience of those tradesmen and those experts in their field. We’re all moving towards a safer and better workplace, and you can’t do that by someone who’s never seen a bit of Durasteel being fitted, or racking, or anything else.


Moving directly on from that and personal experiences, have you ever seen people working particularly unsafely on a project? And if you do, how do you respond in that situation?

Yeah. I mean, not terribly unsafely, because I don’t think it happens anymore! Or certainly less and less, as we discussed earlier.

The response is to stop them doing what they’re doing and why they shouldn’t be doing it. I haven’t fought anybody. I don’t think disciplining people personally works – it’s actually educating and trying to help people. If someone’s doing something wrong, it’s not necessarily that they’re doing it on purpose. They aren’t trying to hurt themselves, they’ve obviously missed the risk.

So you don’t want to be screaming and shouting at people, in my personal opinion. It’s far better to educate and explain why they shouldn’t be doing it and make them engage with that. Then they’re far more likely not to do it in future than just getting screaming at. That counts for most walks of life, actually. I hope that answers your question.

Absolutely. I guess we’ve already kind of touched on this, but have you noticed a sea change in how people approach health & safety over the years, and how seriously people take it?

Yes. In almost 20 years since I’ve been here there’s certainly been a slight change, but over a longer period than that there’s been a huge change, for sure.

We keep on moving closer and closer – you can’t remove all risk, but you can certainly minimise it, and plan around it, and make sure everyone gets home to their families or friends safely after a day’s work.


Has that change happened at the same pace at all levels? Do you find that people higher up in the companies are more receptive to it, and operatives are maybe less receptive to it? Or is it quite similar across the board?

They’re pretty similar. It’s probably an age thing, really, and an experience thing. So if you’ve done something for 10, 15, 20 years and you’ve never had a problem with it, and then you’re asked to change because it’s not safe, then obviously you can see some resistance at that stage.

But I’ve definitely noticed a change. People will let you know that ‘I don’t think I should be doing this because I don’t feel quite safe doing it. Why don’t we do something else?’. They’re giving you a solution: rather than ‘I’m not gonna do the job’, ‘I shouldn’t be doing the job in this way’. So that’s definitely happened.


Just finally then: is there anyone you particularly want to shout out that’s been a big part of your work at Invicta, someone who doesn’t normally get the spotlight?

I’d say Stuart Pearson, who has come in from his role working in a different industry, and just brought some good ideas in, and has helped me with that experience. Long may that continue.


Excellent. Well, that’s it from me – thank you very much Tim.

Thank you!

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