“That’s really where I can look back to and see how my whole focus towards this was developed”, Peter France told the Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) HSE conference.
The chief executive of Asco had just finished recounting how – before joining the global logistics firm – he had once had to tell a family that their father wouldn’t be coming home.
“I was in my office. It was a number of years ago prior to my time at Asco,” he said.
“The time was just after 5pm, my phone rang, and it was my general manager from France. He told me that one of our guys had been visiting the office, doing some work in France, and unfortunately, as he left the office, he died.
“It wasn’t an accident – it appeared that he’d had a heart attack.”
Mr France, who knew the man, Trevor, “very well”, realised this it was his “responsibility as CEO to go and talk to his wife”.
He said: “I turned up at the door and I knocked, and as the door opened – I can remember it very vividly – the look on her face when she saw me, she knew straight away, why I was there. She just screamed and collapsed.
“Now these are very personal situations, aren’t they? They impact you over the course of your life.”
Having “sat with her and consoled her”, Mr France asked to speak to Trevor’s son, who instead of being very upset, “was very, very angry”.
Mr France said: “He started to accuse me of killing his dad, because we worked him too hard, we kept on giving him more work, he was stressed, and this is the reason why he had his heart attack. Clearly I reflected on this accusation.
“Following that, I received a letter of apology and an explanation that they realised Trevor had loved the company, that he was doing it because he wanted to, and it wasn’t the company’s fault.
“But, it stayed with me – what did I need to do differently?
“That shaped my view of health and safety, well-being, and the culture in an organisation. That’s really where I can look back to and see how my whole focus towards this was developed.”
Bosses urged to lead from the front
Much of the opening session of the OEUK event, which started in Aberdeen on Tuesday, honed in on how energy bosses could inspire a culture of safety within their companies.
Steve Rae, executive director at Step Change in Safety and a survivor of the Piper Alpha disaster, urged people to share their experiences in order to avoid mistakes being repeated.
And Deirdre Michie, chief executive of OEUK, reminded the industry of the need to remain “chronically uneasy” in order to maintain safety standards.
Mr France said: “As an industry leader, you’re sometimes asked ‘what is it that you’re most worried about?’
“I believe that it is the fact that we have so many things to deal with at the same time – energy transition, Covid-19, war in Ukraine, high inflation, supply chain at breaking point.
“But I also add that this provides us with a real opportunity for change, for growth, for collaboration, for sustainability.
“It is a really exciting time for the industry, I really do believe that, and I think together we can achieve great things.”