“The concepts learned at Hull have helped me help others, to stop people getting hurt, maimed, or killed” – Dominic Cooper, Specialist in Cultural and Behavioural Safety

Dominic Cooper (Industrial Psychology, 1989) is now a successful entrepreneur, award-winning author and Chartered Psychologist specialising in Cultural and Behavioural Safety. 

Dom is well known in the safety industry attending and speaking at international conferences on improving safety culture, he has won many awards for his books and publications and has established Behavioural Safety, the world’s first free interactive web site devoted to behavioural safety, and the first online ‘behavioural safety software service’.  We thought now more than ever would be a good time to catch up with Dom as health and safety becomes the topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue, as we suddenly make drastic changes in a fight against the global pandemic of Covid-19.

We caught up with Dom and asked him a few questions about his career journey since departing Hull.

“The concepts learned at Hull have helped me help others, to stop people getting hurt, maimed, or killed” at work in numerous industries – an experience that I am fortunate to be a part of.”

Dominic Cooper, Industrial Psychology, 1989

What attracted you to come to Hull to study?
The University of Hull in the 1980s was one of the few places in the UK offering a full-time MSc in Industrial Psychology. The psychology faculty, such as Dr. Dave Bartram and Dr. Martin Crawshaw, were renowned, which meant I would be learning from amongst the best in the field. As a mature student with children, Hull also offered relatively cheap housing and a good quality of life. A clear win for me in more ways than one. 

You did an MSc In Industrial Psychology – can you tell us a little bit about what Industrial Psychology is and how it shaped your career
Industrial/ occupational psychology is concerned with people’s behaviour and experiences in organised work settings. The discipline is eclectic and covers a diverse range of areas such as recruitment & personnel selection, vocational guidance, ergonomics, leadership, motivation, health & safety, organisational structures, climates, and cultures. This topic diversity suits my restless nature. I get bored easily, and this discipline allows me to flit from one topic to another like a butterfly to drink the nectar from the collective pool of knowledge. 

Was there anyone at Hull, or any moment at Hull that particularly inspired you? 
I have never forgotten Dr Dave Williams, head of the psychology department at the time, who had previously emerged from a manual working background. He intuitively detected I was struggling psychologically with my life-changing transition from scaffolder to scholar: belonging neither here nor there. He spontaneously took time out of his busy schedule to inspire me with his own story, and provided voluntary coaching support during my time in Hull. Equally unforgettable is the joyous reaction of my fellow students when my wife gave birth to twin girls. I was very lucky to study with a group of very warm hearted and kind people. Fond memories indeed.

You specialise in Safety Culture and Behavioural Based Safety – two things that are very much at the forefront of everyone’s thinking now as we adapt our behaviour to stop the spread of Covid-19. Our behaviour has had to change overnight. What has impressed you about the way we’ve responded to adapt our behaviour, and what more do you think we could do? 
Before answering, I will take this opportunity to personally applaud all our magnificent NHS staff, Doctors, Nurses, volunteers, etc., as well as all others essential workers such as sanitation workers, supermarket personnel, truck drivers, the emergency services and military personnel who despite the difficulties have stepped up to change the game.  Thank you. 

‘Social distancing’ is alien to humans as by nature we are social beings: It is our strength & weakness and it only works to the degree that people see their personal sacrifice of staying indoors as proportionate to their perceived threat of infection.

What has impressed me, is that despite sincere reservations about the loss of certain freedoms, alongside the decimation of businesses and jobs, the vast majority of Britain’s are overcoming their instincts, are complying with government advice, and are calmly carrying on. The British sense of humour and love of its front-line services in this situation is also very much in evidence on social media. It is the British way of pulling together. 

What recommendations do you have for those who are responsible for the safety of others – employees, family members etc.
Psychologically speaking, we know that “optimising the situation, optimises the behaviour”.  We can use this fundamental principle in many ways both at work and at home.  

From a psychological safety standpoint which refers to giving employees or family members a voice, employers need to listen to their employee’s concerns, and where feasible and reasonable, act on what is said. It might prove beneficial to actively seek employee’s suggestions to control the risk of infections. Similarly, provide feedback to everyone every single day, about actions taken, using multiple communication channels to keep people informed about the entity’s response to the crisis, any suggestions that have been enacted, etc. Highlighting the positives where possible will help to boost morale as well as keep people connected and psychologically invested in the entity. 

Having changed our work and personal lives so drastically to respond to the crisis, what new threats are posed to our safety, and what measures might we take to mitigate them?
Clearly, the mental health of people is going to be an issue, if not already. People at risk, include people working in isolation from home who are used to working with others, and are struggling to adjust, compounded, perhaps, by juggling work demands with children and partners in relatively cramped quarters.  The longer the crisis goes on, the greater the inevitable toll it will exert on many people’s well-being, causing increased depression and anxiety across the country. 

A big threat to people returning to work after the crisis is their employer chasing the dragon in terms of ‘survival catchup’. I foresee a massive productivity push, which could mean entities putting ‘profits before safety’, and engendering a ‘culture of  fear’, so that people do not speak up about unsafe working conditions: the vastly inflated unemployment pool could be used as a weapon to threaten people with unemployment if they do speak up. These factors are bad enough in their own right. 

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