A RINGWOOD man who has helped drive and shape national mental health policy has been recognised by the Queen.

Karl Simons, who is Thames Water's chief health, safety and wellbeing officer, was made an OBE in the New Year Honours.

The award comes after years of work to help tackle the stigma around mental health, delivering change both at the country's biggest water company and nationwide.

Mr Simons told the Daily Echo more still needs to be done in the business industry around psychological health.

He made the switch into business after 13 years in the British Army, serving in multiple conflicts.

"I saw the devastating impact of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in individuals (in the Army)," said Mr Simons.

"When I moved into business I took a job in health and safety and I have been there ever since, supporting organisations I have worked with all over the world.

"It has been interesting watching as injury prevention and safety has been at the forefront of many organisations' minds, they haven't grasped the link between physical and psychological health is so important."

His work in recent years involved supporting numerous Government departments to shape their policies and guidance around business reporting on mental health.

“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," the 47-year-old added.

“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."

During his time at Thames Water, Mr Simons 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.

On being named in the New Year Honours, he said: "It is incredibly humbling more than anything else.

"To receive something which says you have influenced nationally is unbelievable really.

"Telling my mum and dad was really emotional for the family.

"It is still disbelief that it has happened to be honest."

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.”