Obituary: James Tye

Greville Janner
Wednesday 24 July 1996 23:02 BST

James Tye, Director-General of the British Safety Council since 1968, was not only a leading authority on accident prevention, but probably Britain's best-known, most articulate and fearless safety champion.

He was a charismatic character, bow-tied, perky and totally unimpressed by authority. If the Queen was photographed riding a horse without a safety hat, then Her Majesty duly received a much-publicised thwack from his tongue. He chided the Princess Royal for allowing her son Peter to sit on the front passenger seat of a car without a seat-belt, and the Prince of Wales for letting Prince Harry sit behind the steering wheel of his Land Rover whilst driving through his Sandringham estate.

Similarly, if industrialists or politicians however mighty did not give proper attention to the safety of those in their charge or care, woe betide them if Jimmy Tye discovered their failings. To him, lack of due care for the health and safety of others was not merely a crime in law but an offence against good management and common decency.

Tye campaigned against unsafe working practices, paving the way to the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974. He served on 12 government committees, compiled reports on everything from safety at work and on the roads, in fairgrounds and on holidays, through to first aid, risk management, asbestos, product liability, safety training, life jackets, flammable nightwear and vehicle recall procedures. His report on seat-belts was a powerful influence towards change in the law and mas-sive saving of life on the roads.

It was no surprise that in 1987 he was named World Safety Person of the Year by the World Safety Organisation, and last year became one of the first Europeans included in the American Safety and Health Hall of Fame International. Tye recognised the value of awards to others. To receive one from the British Safety Council was an honour well earned.

Ralph Nader, World Safety Consumer Advocate, pleaded with him for years to start a United States branch of the British Safety Council. "James and his team," said Nader, "do exactly what the USA National Safety Council should do, but haven't got the skills, knowledge or courage. So I am not surprised that safety men from all over the world come to him for retraining."

Tye was born in London in 1921. Educated at Upper Hornsey LCC School, he served in the RAF from 1940 to 1946 before becoming an advertising agent and contractor. He was then managing director of Sky Press Ltd and Safety Publications Ltd between 1920 and 1962.

His professional interests were phenomenal. He was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management; a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and of the Royal Society of Arts; Honorary Vice-President of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; a Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and of the American Safety Management Society; Vice-President of the Jamaica Safety Council; and a Fellow of the Institute of Accident Prevention, Zambia.

He wrote many books and handbooks, from Communicating the Safety Message to the Management Guide (1968) to Product Liability (1979); from Skilful Driving (1952) and the Industrial Safety Digest (1953) to the International Nautical Safety Code (with Uffa Fox, 1961).

No area of safety escaped his lively attention. As Allan St John Holt, Chairman of the International Committee of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said: "James Tye is the sort of man who will throw himself off a cross- Channel ferry to demonstrate the poor design of the life vests then in place, resulting in a change in government policy."

Tye shrugged off attacks by his critics and opponents claiming that he was simply an inveterate self-publicist. Through his own work as a pro- safety pressure group, he put a permanent and powerful spotlight on to the need for safety, and on blatant examples of its absence. He knew the power of advertising for a crucial cause, and over the 35 years he served and ran the British Safety Council, he earned the admiration and affection even of most of his critics.

It is the British Safety Council which will be his memorial. Under his leadership, the council has become one of the most influential Occupational Health and Safety Organisation in Europe. He built it. He used it as a platform for his unceasing safety campaigns. He was a colourful, lovable and ubiquitous man, always popping up at conferences, taking copious notes, generous in his praise and acute in his criticism.

James Tye, advertising agent and safety manager: born London 21 December 1921; Executive Director, British Safety Council 1962-68, Director-General 1968-96; married 1950 Rosalie Hooker (one son, one daughter); died London 21 July 1996.

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