Chatting with Lawrence Waterman

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Lawrence Waterman‘s career is inspiring. He has a great ability to communicate complex issues with ease and confidence and is accountable for an abundant number of items in his current position whilst receiving numerous accolades in the process. Lawrence is the Head of Health & Safety for the Olympic Delivery Authority and Head of Health & Safety for the London Legacy Development Corporation.  I could spend an entire page of text summarising his qualifications, achievements, and experience…or you could just trust me when I say that this guy is a #hygienegod

I was lucky enough to sit down with Lawrence today and pick his brain. There was a lot of things that I took away from my conversation, and today I’m going to share a few of those with you!

Firstly, if you always do what you always do, you should always expect the same answer. I guess that’s similar to that other dangerous phrase of, “…but we’ve always done it this way!.  When faced with the realisation that due to the sheer number of man hours needed to build the infrastructure for the London Olympic Games, that project (based on the current industry standards) was likely to end in around 2-3 deaths, Lawrence knew something had to change. In the end that mega-project was completed with no fatalities, and by large, that was due to the fact that the large safety program encompassed a large occupational health programme also.

Lawrence delivered a paper at the recent AIOH Conference in Sydney where he said that in the construction industry historically we have “whispered health and shouted safety”. So what are Lawrence’s top tips to other hygienists who may be struggling to get ‘Health’ on the agenda of their worksite or their company?  Well, upon reflecting back to how it all started at the Olympic Games, he explained that essentially such a program goes a long way to keep workers happy, healthy, and productive. It results in less injuries, lower down-time if there are injuries, and gets those workers back quicker. You need to be able to show the business case for the approach, it will always win in the end.

Lawrence also shared with me one of his lessons learned throughout this career. He lamented that some time ago the idea of a “wellbeing programme” would have been considered a distraction from the people who have real health risks in the workplace. It was seen as fluffy and soft, yet they needed to be hard and focussed on the tough risks in the workplace. A big lesson was that when you properly engage with people with wellbeing issues, it provides opportunities to engage with the workforce. In the smallest example, it became a conversation starter, a relationship booster if you will. On the other scale, it provided a framework for relevant information. For example, if you were to present a tool box talk on occupational asthma and the use of isocyanates, you would lose the attention of most of the workers fairly rapidly. However, if you were to ask the workers, “How many of you know someone with asthma?” and then you provide an introduction of asthma as a genetic trait, and then explain the other mechanisms by which it can be caused, for example, by using two-pack paints with isocyanate, then it becomes more relevant. It results in more workers being more likely to engage in the topic and therefore influence their behaviours to take the right precautions.

A very big thank you goes to Lawrence who took time out of his day to chat with me. I feel as though I will be a better occupational hygienist after having this conversation!

This is just a taste of the interview I was fortunate enough to have today. For more information, including Lawrence Waterman’s advice to other hygienists, and tips for developing a good occupational health programme, look out for the article in the next edition of OH Matters. Not a member of the AIOH? It’s easy…just join here and you’ll be on the mailing list.


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