James Tye

The feisty British Safety Council (BSC) is not like its counterpart, the corporate-cowed National Safety Council in this country. There is and has been one reason for the difference — a World War II veteran by the name of James Tye. The focused Tye, the flamboyant Tye, the indefatigable Tye built, ran and inspired the BSC toward its worldwide impact on training workplace safety and health specialists.

On Sunday, July 21, 1996, Tye was making a public presentation and suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 75. Anybody who has known Tye came away impressed by the range of his concerns, the geography of his scope and the tartness, with the ready wit and smile, of his comments.

A frequent speaker at U.S. safety conferences, Tye made no secret of his dismay over the laid back, inhibited National Safety Council (NSC). He would not accept anyone making excuses for the NSC because it is largely funded by industries. The BSC receives its budget largely through fees from conducting training seminars for industry and selling companies its safety materials, along with annual business membership dues. But that did not deter the dynamic Tye from saying what he knew and what he believed.

Once while attending a large risk management conference in the U.S., he startled his audience by saying that insurance companies believe risk management is managing their financial risk rather than reducing risks in the workplace and marketplace to innocent workers and consumers.

James Tye also knew that to get safety information over the mass media, he had to be flamboyant, because the media thought these subjects dull. So once he hired a comely young woman as a “safety commando” who rode a crane high above the city near a construction site to emphasize the need for construction site safety. Voila pictures and words appeared in many of the major newspapers.

To emphasize the occupational fatality toll, Tye would bring a Gong to his safety sessions and each time there was a statistical worker fatality, the Gong would go off, reminding the attendees why they were there.

Tye was an outspoken opponent of boxing which he considered an outdated barbaric exchange. “As long as the prime aim of boxing, he said, is for two fighters to cause each other brain damage, there can be no safety standards and no place for boxing in a civilized society. It is a business in which two people are paid to hurt each other.” He noted that “bear baiting and cock fighting” are banned.

The pre-eminent British safety advocate was always available for a comment, suggestion or condemnation when reporters called. He knew that safety was not just solid information; it also had to be communicated in order to keep aroused a spirit of safety alert.

So in 1981 when Tye warned the public about the “appalling lack” of fire precautions at St. Paul’s Cathedral — the site of the July 29 royal wedding — he was called alarmist. But what alarmed Tye was that the doors opened only inward and there were no fire alarm systems.

As director general of the British Safety Council, Tye felt an obligation to take his safety training seminars abroad to Third World nations. He traveled a good deal to bring the latest techniques and knowhow to societies who received such advice often for the first time.

Full of life, gregarious, super-mobil and always agitating, Tye will be sorely missed by thousands of people who knew him and indirectly by millions of people who never heard of him but whose safety and health have been enhanced because of his life’s commitment.

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