Alan Butler Obituary

Obituary by Tony Corfield


It is extremely sad to have to record Alan Butler's death on August 16th (1995). Over the last two years, as chairman of the National Health and Safety Groups' Council, he has been my closest colleague within the groups. He has taken a prominent role in the launching of the Groups' national project to establish a country-wide system of Safety Information Centres giving free and confidential guidance to small businesses. He has also played a decisive part in getting the Groups recognised as a Registered Charity. His long and wide-ranging experience has given authority to his opinions in the Groups' National Council. As those who know him will hardly need telling, his firm and sensitive grasp of affairs was backed by a beguiling sense of humour.

Given Alan's own business responsibilities locally, we must acknowledge his deep commitment to our national movement for removing work-based accidents and ill-health. He would make every effort to attend Group meetings even when they involved travelling long distances. He showed no less commitment to getting our policies right. His advice to the council has been to raise our sights. He argued that we could mobilise the biggest support of any health and safety organisation in the country. Our ability to do so depended on good policy, the right contacts and sound organisation. He told me he felt we were making real progress in all three of these. Organisation, he believed, could benefit from more attention. He felt confident that our new charitable status would enable us to get a closer group upon this. We must all rally to him to ensure that his hopes are fulfilled.

Brought up in a printing and publishing family, Alan had just started as an apprentice journalist in London when the war came. In 1941 he volunteered for active service in the RAF. As a couple of old wartime servicemen we often discussed our experiences. On this subject Alan held that, against a background of sustained international depression, the retrieving virtue of war and the preparation for war was that it kept everyone busy. He added that it certainly kept him busy. As a maintainer of electronic equipment for mobile radar services it took him to North Africa with the First Army, into Sicily, and then, after a spell in England at Marston Airport servicing Tycoons, to Holland with the Second Front. He believed his wartime experience had provided valuable lessons for occupational health and safety. As he put it - the safety manager had always to be prepared for the unexpected. Sod's law could be driven into a corner: it could never be pushed right out. There was no such thing as a completely safety system of work.

Back from the war, Alan resumed his interest in writing. He held a succession of jobs producing advertising materials and technical publications. He was soon drawn into the United Steel Works at Scunthorpe. Alan believed, in speech as in writing, getting to the point early and not dragging it out. His work with United Steel was similarly focused in producing safety posters, notices and manuals. From there he was transferred to United Steel's Head Office in Sheffield as Head of Safety.

Alan was an early recruit to his local Safety Group. He joined the Scunthorpe Group shortly after its' formation in 1945. When he moved to Sheffield, he transferred membership to Sheffield and soon joined its' Executive Committee. He was elected Chairman, a post held until becoming Chairman of the National Groups' Council. He put his communication skills to good use with the Sheffield Group. On behalf of this Group, he drafted a large section of a Slingers Handbook - a manual setting out the principles of safe handling of goods being put upon crnaes. It proved popular with industry in South Yorkshire and provided a welcome source of income for the group.

As a writer, Alan once told me - whether intended as information or advice, he did not say - that "the pen could be mightier than the sword". He added that, in this sensitive world, "it was important to keep the point of the pen sharp, but not too sharp". The example he set in using simple and clear communications to popularise health and safety in the steel industry and the groups were recognised by RoSPA. In 1979 he was presented with its' Distinguished Service Award. Alan wielded the pen to no less good effect with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. For some years he was the editor of its' journal and the later served on its' editorial executive.

We were hoping to re-elect Alan as Chairman of the National Groups again this year. That is no longer possible. In concluding this statement, I hope I express the belief of the Groups as a whole that we have lost an able and deeply committed colleague. His care and wisdom will be greatly missed: but we can and will carry his example with us.

Tony Corfield





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