Tony boyle has published around 50 papers, articles and book chapters and he is the author of the ‘standard’ text on health and safety risk management, published by Routledge. Tony has worked on a number of expert witness reports, including the Potters Bar derailment. He is currently working with a major multi-national client helping them improve the way the audit and measure safety performance.

As part of our meet the expert series, Tony agreed to be interviewed.

Where I fit into the Hastam team.

I was one of the founder members of Hastam and took on the role of Managing Director in 1987. As Hastam grew, we recruited a new Managing Director in 1991 and I became Chairman. However, my main interests are health and safety consultancy and research – not running a business – so in 1999 I reverted to being a freelance consultant and a Director of Hastam. And that is still what I am, nearly twenty years later.

The majority of the founder members of Hastam were employed in the Health and Safety Department at Aston University but I was running my own software company at that time. This was more than thirty years ago and in those days you could buy what was then called a microcomputer, write a useful program in a few weeks, and sell it to anyone who had the same type of microcomputer. It was not the Apple or Microsoft choice we have now – there were many microcomputer manufacturers and programs written for one machine would not work on the others. Things only started to become standardised when IBM Personal Computer (PC) was introduced in 1981.

I had started my business using the Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor (PET)  . This was an interesting machine because the whole top lifted like a car bonnet and, like a car bonnet, there was a shaped metal rod to hold the top up. This was needed because you had to get at the innards to insert and remove various chips, and to program using banks of micro-switches. I switched to the IBM PC as soon as it became available in the UK!

While I was running my software company I was also doing an MSc in Intelligent Systems at Brunel University. This is now known as the branch of artificial intelligence concerned with using computers to solve problems, programs usually referred to as expert systems.

Through Andrew Hale, I was asked by to write an expert system for the Health and Safety Department at Aston. This system was to help people with the Notification of New Substances Regulations. Which is how I came to be hanging around Aston University at the time Hastam was being formed in 1984. Hastam began as a loose association of consultants but as the amount of work increased things needed to be more formal and this led to my appointment as Managing Director in 1987.

My biggest influencer

It is probably an arrogant thing to say but throughout my professional career I have deliberately tried to avoid being influenced by anyone. If someone influences you it is either for good or bad – and how are you able to judge which it is? Over the years I have observed the work of people who are influential because of their position in various organisations. A few of these people have, in my view, a very bad influence – for example they pass on outmoded views on how health and safety should be managed. However, the people receiving these views do not know that they are outmoded and accept them uncritically.

I’ve used the outmoded views on how health and safety should be managed as an example because the value of independent thought was really brought home to me when John Barrel – who was then the Chief Executive of IOSH – asked me to write a textbook on health and safety risk management. This was published by IOSH in 2000. Quite a lot of the time I spent preparing this textbook was taken up with disentangling what influencers like the HSE, BSI and ILO said about health and safety management. Not only did they not agree with each other, they were internally contradictory. For example, I found half a dozen different definitions of risk in use in the HSE.

This really did have an influence on me because I was embarrassed to discover that some of the things I had been teaching were simply wrong. I had accepted what I had been told, or had read, and not bothered to check. Since then I try always to work from original sources – much easier now with the internet, no more interminable hours in libraries.

Most memorable piece of work

I suppose my most memorable piece of work is my textbook Health and safety: risk management. This was commissioned by IOSH and first published by IOSH in 2000. The first editions were in A4 format and hardback but the third edition was an unconventional size and was only available in paperback. IOSH stopped publishing books in 2000 and my textbook, and the other books IOSH published were handed over to Routledge. The latest edition, the fourth, was published by Routledge late last year and it is available in hardback, paperback and as an eBook –

My textbook is my most memorable piece of work for two main reasons.

First, preparing the first edition made me question many aspects of my health and safety thinking. This was because I went back to original sources to check that what I wanted to write was correct and to give the relevant references. This was quite a shock since I discovered that some of the things I had been teaching were not in fact correct. I had even been misinterpreting the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act. For example I had been teaching that

a health and safety policy consisted of a Declaration of intent, organisation and arrangements. What the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act actually specifies is policy, organisation and arrangements.

the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act says that you don’t need a health and safety policy if you have fewer than five employees. In fact, this is not the case – there is nothing in the Act about numbers of employees and policies. The relevant legislation is the Employers’ Health and Safety Policy Statements (Exception) Regulations 1975.

Questioning everything in this way meant that it took a long time to prepare the first edition but it did me good. I think all of my work has been much more rigorous since I found out how easy it was to be wrong.

The second reason my textbook is my most memorable piece of work is because it is brought to mind continually. At present I am working on the fifth edition which will take into account the publication of ISO 45001. This is in its Final Draft International Standard form and I am hoping that there will not be too many changes in the published version. However, this is just the latest work that keeps my textbook in mind. Over the years since it was first published I have had to keep up to date with changes in International Standards such as ISO 9000, ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, BSI Standards such as OHSAS 18001, PAS 99 and BS 76000, and other developments in management practices such as changes in the EFQM model.

In effect, my textbook is with me continually as everything I come across in the course of my work has to be evaluated to determine whether it will make it necessary to change the text.

One piece of advice that has stuck with me.

The piece of advice that has stuck with me is about written work. Very early in my career my then boss advised me to write my report and then put it aside for a few days rather than submit it immediately. I should then read my report, and correct it and make changes as necessary. If there were a lot of mistakes and/or major changes, then I should repeat the process of putting it aside. I was told to submit my report only if a careful reading resulted in no, or only minor, corrections and changes.

In those days the reports were hand written on foolscap sheets of paper but these days I type the first draft, print it out and leave it in a drawer for a while. This is mainly because I find it much easier to mark corrections and changes on a hard copy.

Following this advice is, of course, only possible if you have sufficient time. However, if you know that this is what you will be doing it is usually possible to schedule your work so that can.

Anything you have changed mind on?

I’ve changed my mind on so many things over the years that its best just to list the reasons for changes.

Technology has made a big difference, for example I’ve changed my mind about reading books and newspapers and I now do both on an iPad.

What others have to say makes me change my mind. This can be friends or people I meet at work, or it can be published documents.

The work I have to do makes me change my mind. For example, I may find a better way to do something because of the context or nature of a particular work activity.

Getting older makes me change my mind. There are lots of things I used to think were important that don’t seem so important now, and vice versa.

What I have learnt during my time in Health and Safety.

Things do get better, but not everywhere and we sometimes go backwards.

When I think back to what I saw during visits to factories and construction sites forty of fifty years ago I am horrified. Things that were common practice then, such as dirt money and danger money have mainly gone. Many of the hazards that were common then, such as asbestos and other carcinogens, have also gone.

However, we are now seeing the growth of things like the gig economy and modern slavery which are bringing their own health and safety issues. It is to be hoped that these issues are addressed more rapidly than was the case with things like asbestos.

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