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OBE honour for health and safety tsar Karl Simons

Thursday 31st December 2020 08:29

Karl Simons has been made an OBE in the 2021 New Year Honours List

The man who has spearheaded a mental health revolution at Britain’s biggest water company and beyond has been made an OBE in the New Year Honours List. 

Karl Simons, Thames Water’s chief health, safety and wellbeing officer, has been named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for ‘services to mental health policy’. 

An OBE is awarded to people who play a major local role in any activity, including those whose work has made them known nationally in their chosen area. 

Since joining the Reading-based utility in 2012, Karl, who lives in the New Forest in Hampshire, has pioneered mental health policy reform both company-wide and nationally, attracting widespread praise and recognition from MPs, business leaders and trade professionals. 

Karl said he was “incredibly overwhelmed and emotional” after receiving news of his OBE, and even called the Cabinet Office several times to check it was real. 

He added: “Many people still think of health and safety as just physical wellbeing, but good mental health in the workplace is just as important because both body and mind are connected.   

“At Thames Water we have worked incredibly hard over many years to create a culture of care – one in which our employees’ mental fitness is as important as their physical fitness to do their work.  

“Our efforts continue to create an environment where our people are free to speak openly should they be struggling mentally so we can provide help and support at the earliest opportunity and enable them to remain in work." 

Sarah Bentley, Thames Water chief executive, said: “Looking after our key workers’ physical and mental wellbeing is vital, especially during these difficult times. 

“We’re so proud to see that Karl’s tireless work in this area, not just at Thames Water but on the national stage too, has been recognised in this way.” 

During his time at Thames Water, Karl has built a comprehensive mental health and wellbeing programme, including Time to Talk which gives mental health parity with physical health in all areas of the business, and piloted an initiative which saw 500 members of staff train as mental health first aiders. 

He also led the industry in what he calls a “cultural revolution” of mental health destigmatisation and has ensured that suppliers and contractors follow best practice. From this position, he has encouraged the government to legislate on ensuring organisations provide better mental health support and to put in place measures to allow for mental health intervention.  

Since Thames Water started recording mental illness and physical illness together seven years ago, work-related illness within the company has declined by 80 per cent.  

In 2019 Karl was awarded "Most Influential Person in Health & Safety for 2019" by SHP (Safety and Health Practitioner) Magazine's readership while in the same year Thames Water was awarded "Best Mental Health Initiative" in the Occupational Health and Wellbeing Awards.