“Hearts and Minds” – A different approach to Health & Safety


Barry O’Connor, former Global Health and Safety Director at adidas, inspired audiences to make a change and reignite a passion for health and safety during a recent Learning conference.

This inspirational talk was split into 6 sections:

  • Moral Responsibility
  • Hearts & Minds
  • Behavioural
  • Communication
  • Training
  • A thought to be left with

The passion and experience brought to, what is often seen as dry subject, by the engaging and charismatic speaker left the majority of the audience nodding and eager to continue the conversations after the event.  One piece of feedback was:

“Great down-to-earth and informative speaker”

For those of you who missed the chance to hear the seminar in person, I thought I would provide a brief summary of some of the key points covered.

Moral Responsibility

The approach that Barry has always taken to implementing Health & Safety standards revolves around the moral responsibility of the organisation rather than worrying about the ROI of a new scheme.   He emphasised that any goals have to be realistic and demonstrate a real commitment to safety responsibilities, these should include:

  • Financially
  • Materially
  • Human Resource
  • Systems
  • Training

There were a number of personal anecdotes that Barry talked about here but I won’t spoil these for you in case you do manage to get a seat at any of his next appearances!

Hearts and Minds

One of the barriers that Barry faced when implementing a new safety culture at the global brand was the attitudes of some people, along the lines of “What do you know about my job?”  Barry had counters for these types of arguments and used his experience of health and safety to demonstrate his overall expertise in the subject.

One strategy Barry took was his “Hearts and Minds” approach whereby he looked for the people with the biggest objections, or the loudest objections, and worked on winning them over to his way of thinking.  These people were then used as advocates to disperse the message which gained widespread acceptance.

An important part of this approach was to cultivate a no blame culture so that people felt able to report honestly on incidents and assure people that if correct procedures had been followed then there was no need to fear persecution.


Among researching the topics for this talk one thing became incredibly clear…the organisation is often at the biggest risk when employees are simply trying to do their best given the circumstances that they are presented with. I am sure if you think about it you can think of an example or two of when things have gone wrong for someone when they had the best of intentions – changing a lightbulb while standing on a chair, dropping a box on their foot when carrying a heavy load, fixing a rotor without pulling the stop switch…


One of the key elements of getting the approach to health and safety right is about how and when it is communicated across the wider team.   Being able to communicate quickly and efficiently can make a huge difference to executing your companies commitment to Safety.

A strong part of this is to create an “Eager Want” meaning that people want to learn and improve themselves.  In a sports-focused company such as adidas this was achieved by creating league tables and adding an element of competition so that people were actively wanting to take the training again and again in order to improve their own scores and league positions! Now that is not something you experience often in the world of health and safety!


In order to succeed in your goals the quality of the training given has to meet the expectations that people have following on from all of the above elements.  Therefore choosing the right solution or partner to deliver the training is a critical decision.  Barry employed standards of excellence at adidas and implemented the Plan-Do-Check-Act mentality.  However, providing training is all well and good but there have to be measures in place to verify the training and allow it to stand up in court should the need ever arise.

Thought to be left with

“Whatever model you adopt, if you haven’t got a system in place to help you deliver on the model objective then how do you deliver on the moral objective?”

If you would like more information about the systems implemented by adidas to achieve Health & Safety excellence under the guidance of Barry O’Connor then you can check out our case study here »

Here are some sneaky peaks from the talks: – please excuse the dodgy mobile phone sound quality – trust me it was better at the show!!

Written by Claire Williams, Marketing Director, Safety Media

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