Sue Parker-Tantush is Co-op’s Head of Safety. Her team’s job is to keep us all safe by setting standards, bringing safety expertise from the businesses together, sharing best practice and making sure we’re being proactive.
We caught up with Sue on how we’re getting better at health and safety by working as one Co-op, and how doing it right could save us a lot of money as well as heartache.
I’ve only been here a year but already feel right at home and am enjoying getting stuck in. I’ve always worked in retail – companies like Littlewoods, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Kingfisher, and Debenhams.
I love the variety of retail as every day is different so I’ve always wanted to stay in this area. I started in operations and store management, and then general risk but I gradually got into health and safety. I feel so passionately that everyone who goes to work or visits one of our sites should go home safe and sound.
I really enjoy working in safety and I think it’s changed a lot over the years as I’m starting to see a lot more women get into it. There used to be a very traditional image of health and safety people – men in tweed jackets with clipboards, but to be a health and safety professional now you have to be an influencer, a leader and be able to bring people together and engage them. It definitely isn’t just about enforcing regulations these days.
We’re getting better by working together
I’ve seen quite a few changes in the last year already. When I started I was really impressed as safety was clearly a priority and there were lots of great intentions, but we weren’t as connected as we could have been. There wasn’t one framework to bring safety together across Co-op.
One of the first things I wanted to do was bring the safety experts in our businesses together. We now have regular safety forums with experts in the businesses to share best practice and work on issues together.
It’s a very co-operative way of working as we can learn from each other and upskill. The teams have worked together on a number of things, like how we manage asbestos, and have collaborated to create new policies. We also have a formal safety committee which meets every quarter to talk through how we’re doing, and to look at big things like changes in legislation.
There’s great work going on in all of the businesses too. They’ve improved safety inductions for colleagues and gone back to basics to make sure that everything we do, whether it’s training or a process, is the best it can be to keep people safe. I think safety is going to be much more of an objective for leaders going forward.
You have to invest to save in safety
I’m a people person so what motivates me about this job is the chance to make things better for our people. Obviously with every serious incident your first thought is for the people involved, but I have a commercial head too, so I’m well aware that failing to protect people comes at a huge cost and is a real false economy.
We’re pushing at the moment for cost savings to reinvest through Fuel for Growth, and safety is a great example of where we can save a lot of money by making things better for colleagues, so everyone wins. Paying out for investigations, claims and insurance is a huge waste of money that we’d much rather spend investing in new technologies to keep our colleagues safe.
A lot of my job is just about common sense really. Working safely is something we can all do – it doesn’t have to be complicated. A lot of accidents are preventable and could be avoided by great design, great processes and the right behaviours. The important thing is that safety’s prioritised at the start of a process, not at the end when it could be too late. It can’t be an add-on or a ‘nice to do’.
Changes are coming – look out for MySafety
One of the big things teams across Co-op are working on at the moment is the launch of MySafety, our new H&S incident management system. It’s a huge change and it’ll make us safer by giving us the data we need to be more proactive.
As well as making it easier for colleagues to report accidents, it’ll be a cultural change as we’re asking people to report near misses too – serious incidents where we narrowly avoided hurting somebody or damaging property. Only by doing this can we stop it happening to others.
Because we’re encouraging people to report, we’re expecting accident numbers to go up as this often happens when you raise awareness – it’s a sign that the system is working, and that it’s easy to use. But long term, obviously we’d hope to see the number of incidents go down.
My ultimate ambition for Health and Safety at Co-op? For us to set the tone for other retailers and lead the way. We’re an ethical organisation set up to benefit people, so we should be leaders in safety too.