Farewell and thanks to those dedicated to improving our sector's health and safety

By Professor Stuart Palmer, former UCEA Board member and Chair to the Health and Safety Committee and the HESH Forum
7 February 2022

It is with some sadness that I have recently stepped down from the UCEA Board and from Chairing the Health and Safety Committee and the Higher Education Safety and Health (HESH) Forum. I was not pushed and nor did I jump – both of which are health and safety risks - but it was because I had completed an equally rewarding eight years as Cardiff University’s Chair. I can only agree with colleagues that involvement with UCEA is one of the more rewarding roles in HE. I have enjoyed an active role during my time as a UCEA Board member, from the Remuneration Committee to Chairing a number of UCEA national conferences, including Pensions and Health and Safety with the former more feisty than the latter before a pandemic came along! It is always rewarding and hopefully helpful, particularly for a Lay member of a University Council, to partake in discussions and hear views from the colleagues actually doing the work.

The involvement with Health and Safety over the last three years has been particularly interesting. Initially it was almost a dormant role with meetings every six months and then the Covid virus struck and the national scene was changing almost daily, with Health and Safety hogging the headlines. We quickly agreed that both the Health and Safety Committee and the HESH Forum should meet monthly which put an enormous added burden on the already stretched UCEA staff servicing the meetings: fixing a date convenient for all, preparing the agenda, circulating the papers, contributing to the meetings, writing the (necessarily detailed) minutes and then immediately doing it all again. All this was in addition to their normal jobs. So, what exactly did UCEA achieve – or influence - in this now essential area over the last few years? An enormous amount! But let me try listing some: All this information and advice culminated in the publication last month of the HE Sector Health Safety and Wellbeing Strategic Framework 2022-25. On 27 January this Framework was warmly welcomed by over 80 representatives at the ‘HEI workforce health safety and wellbeing: A strategic approach’ conference.

I am proud that many of the health, safety and wellbeing initiatives have arisen from collaboration between UCEA and the Sector Trade Unions. This is despite the difficulties working with sector Trade Unions – one in particular – especially when it comes to matters relating to claims and what can be afforded by the majority of institutions. In fact, it has been one of the biggest pleasures of my time as Chair: witnessing the very positive joint work between the different parties. Indeed, the constructive contributions from Trade Union members and their national representatives have been consistent, and I would like to thank them for the way in which they have contributed to the meetings during my time as Chair. It is also clear that USHA and its representatives, Neil Budworth and Vincent King, play a crucial role in the success of the two committees. I would like to thank them, sector Trade Union representatives, UUK colleagues and Health and Safety Executive attendees for their contributions to the HESH Forum. The Health and Safety Committee has also been well served by representatives from the various Higher Education Associations related to Health and Safety as well as UUK and Academic Staff colleagues.

Finally, and above all, I would like to thank the staff of UCEA whose commitment and expertise has made my job as Chair so easy. Thank you to Roshan, to Nicola, to Emma, to Alison - it has been a pleasure.