HSE recruits Sykes to rescue its image

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has appointed a new director of communications as it attempts to overcome attacks from columnists such as Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn.

Sally Sykes, former head of UK comms at Astra Zeneca, will join in December, heading a 75-strong comms team.

The government agency is keen to respond to negative coverage of health and safety issues in the tabloid press.

Health and safety officers are often targeted by the tabloids running stories such as sack races being banned at schools or grandmothers being banned from selling cakes for charity. Such stories are frequently followed up by the likes of Clarkson and Littlejohn.

Sykes admitted that the HSE has a 'perception issue in some quarters', and said that a major part of her role will be to make people aware of the 'excellent work it does saving people's lives'.

She added: 'I don't think anyone can argue with that, but I think there's a job to do in getting that message across. Those challenges of perception are real, and they're going to require a lot of energy to address.'

HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: 'Sally will be charged with ensuring HSE is portrayed accurately for the critical role it plays in supporting employers across Great Britain to mitigate health and safety issues and preventing death, injury and illness caused by working activities.'

Sykes arrives at a key time for HSE. The agency will be unveiling its five-year strategy for health and safety in the UK while relocating its headquarters to Bootle.

She joins from Johnson & Johnson subsidiary DePuy International, where she served on the board as director, comms and business services.

Sykes has previously been head of UK comms at Astra Zeneca and head of press and PR at Manchester Airport.

She replaces interim director of communications Vivienne Carlton.

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