Parting Shots

'Reflections on occupational health and safety policy and practice from 1996 to 2014'

Originally published in RoSPA's flagship journal Occupational Safety & Health, the ideas and thinking of Roger Bibbings, RoSPA's Occupational Safety Adviser for nearly 20 years, that helped to shape the world of health and safety have been brought together as: 'Parting Shots - Reflections on occupational health and safety policy and practice from 1996 to 2014'.


I have always envied my friend Roger Bibbings who for thirty years has been paid to be a professional observer of health and safety policy and strategy in the UK, first for twenty years in the trades union movement and for the last ten as RoSPA's Occupational Safety Adviser. Since 1996, besides being paid to think about and advise on how his masters should respond to consultative proposals from the Health and Safety Commission or other official bodies, Roger has been writing a his monthly column for RoSPA's magazine, 'OS&H' - flying kites, being suitably iconoclastic but also trying to present his own ideas on some of the main strategic themes of the day.

Whether it has been commenting on directions in thinking about health and safety management systems or specific features of management such as board level leadership, accident investigation and performance measurement - or whether it has been reflecting on the development of wider national (or indeed international) strategy for improving health and safety at work, Roger has been able to make contributions to debate precisely because he has had a tower of sorts (if not an ivory one) from which to view the world. But he has also enough of a practical turn of mind to understand the implications of particular policies for people at ground level.

Much of the inspiration for this collection of pieces comes from the work Roger has been engaged in at RoSPA in lobbying for its 'key issues'; not least his efforts to get risk on the road while at work managed and regulated as part of the contemporary H&S mainstream. The articles are grouped together under broad thematic headings. Many of them, like the products of the diarist quickly show their age but equally are of historical interest to remind us about debates that were going on only a few years ago. Others are more forward looking and raise questions which have still not even begun to be answered satisfactorily. What is it that really prevents accidents and injury to health? How do regulators ensure the right ingredients are in place? The effective management of health and safety goes right to right to the heart of operations, so why is it persistently marginalised? Where does the enhancement of health and safety risk management and regulation sit alongside other important developments in society and the economy?

Traditionally these are not questions that tend to occupy the centre space in current debates in the health and safety profession (if such a discipline exists) or indeed in teaching or research. Roger's decision to publish via the Internet (which increasingly is a more cost effective option than traditional hard copy) has delivered yet another important source for students and practitioners. Having known him for many years I know he loves to provoke and to challenge. I hope readers will take time to dip into this collection and respond to him directly.

Prof Richard Booth
Aston University


During the run up to Christmas 1995, Jacky Steemson, RoSPA's managing editor, approached me and suggested that I undertake to write a regular column for the Society's monthly journal 'OS&H'. Because it was to be situated at the end of each issue, Jacky suggested 'Parting Shots..' as a working title – which has stuck but not without causing some confusion. On occasions, not realising that the article they had just read was part of a series, worried readers have contacted me and expressed concern that I was leaving RoSPA and was using the pages of 'OS&H' to express some long pent up grievance!

The discipline of having to supply copy on time is something which all editors regard as not particularly onerous and all except the most organised of columnists find unusually irksome. This is more than offset however by the fact that to be able to communicate one's views regularly to an audience (especially of one's peers) is a great privilege and is actually extremely stimulating. 'Parting Shots' has enabled me to develop commentary, 'fly kites' and give vent to my iconoclastic tendencies in relation to a wide range of current issues and developments in the health and safety at work field.

Inevitably what I have chosen to write about has, to a large extent, been influenced by RoSPA's preoccupation with a number of 'key issues' where it seeks to bring about safety change. There include: managing occupational road risk, director action on safety and health, accident investigation and corporate target setting.

Yet at the same time, because a major part of my role at RoSPA has been to keep a 'weather eye' on health and safety strategy and major planks in the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, the column has also been extremely valuable as a way of encouraging readers to look at some of the 'big picture' issues as well. On occasions I have even allowed myself the doubtful privilege of wandering off down philosophical paths which, while not directly relevant to questions of the day, are nevertheless important in ensuring a sound grounding for health and safety policy making and practice.

I have grouped the various articles chronologically under certain generic chapter headings, although there is a good deal of overlap between certain chapters. Readers may wish to refer to the documents quoted to familiarise themselves with the background in each case and refer back to journals of the time. In total there are nearly 100 articles. There were no 'Parting Shots' in March and April 1996 (for reasons which I cannot recall) and in September 1998 and July 2002 I invited other contributors to use the column for topics they wished to write about.

Cynics might say that, like yesterday's newspapers, yesterday's policies are quickly out of date. Commentary on policy even more so! Things move on. Nevertheless, in any field, but particularly in health and safety, I do believe there is value in looking back over the way thinking has developed, certainly in the medium term. I hope that by collecting together my 'Parting Shots' over the last nine years, I can not only add something to the record but also provide a resource to help take colleagues' thoughts forward in the future.

My thanks in writing the column and for collating material for this book go to numerous colleagues but especially to Jacky Steemson, until recently Managing Editor of 'OS&H' and to Charlotte Henderson who has spent many hours stitching the whole collection of articles into accessible electronic format.

I dedicate this book to the memory of the late John Howard OBE, Chief Executive of RoSPA, a valued friend and mentor who did so much for safety and in whose debt I will always be for his encouragement and personal support.

Roger Bibbings MBE
Occupational Safety Adviser RoSPA

About the Author: Roger Bibbings

Roger Bibbings

Roger Bibbings was RoSPA's occupational safety adviser for nearly 20 years, retiring from the role in 2014. Prior to this, he was, for 17 years, health and safety adviser at the Trades Union Congress where he worked closely with the Health and Safety Commission and Executive and also with the European Commission (DGV).

Roger's role at RoSPA was to advise the Society on all matters associated with work related risk helping it expand its contribution to the British 'health and safety system'.

He developed a number of RoSPA's Key Campaigns including:

  • Managing Occupational Road Risk (MORR);
  • Strengthening the role of accident investigation in health and safety management;
  • Promoting director action on safety and health, and
  • Improving health and safety help and assistance to small firms.

He continues his work in Health and Safety as secretary of 'Safety Groups UK' re-energising the work of RoSPA's affiliated Health and Safety Groups.

In 1990 he received the MBE for his services to occupational safety and health. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and has received the RoSPA Distinguished Service Award for services to health and safety. In 2006 he received the IOSH President's Distinguished Service Certificate. In 2011 he received the IOSH Lifetime Achievement Award.

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