Health and Safety is not About the Role, but About the Goal
Posted on January 27, 2022
By Steve Wallace.
I used to work in construction. I enjoyed it, I was good at it, and it helped me find what I’ve come to realise has been my true calling, although I didn’t know I would feel that way at the time.
I’m not trying to be funny when I say that what drew me to health and safety was security – simple personal economics to move away from the feast and famine scenario that construction professionals can often find themselves in.
Health and safety also felt like a steady and calm career choice and it’s proved to be so far. As a business, Courtley has been riding out a pandemic and it’s not affected turnover by more than 10%. It’s proven its resilience to me as a career.
Steady and calm, but definitely not boring. This is a sector that’s challenging, diverse and rewarding.
My opinion of what I do and why I do it has evolved over the years. I used to think of health and safety as a way of being efficient – that old maxim “a clean site is a safe site” was a key driver for me. Good housekeeping, good stacking of materials, the right tool for the job – doing it right is what I enjoyed.
So, I thought that I would help companies demonstrate their professionalism and their competence and that would help them win work and be more profitable. While this is true, within a couple of years, I realised that there is more to it than just window dressing to help businesses become more appealing to clients. No, it was about being their safe pair of hands in more ways than one.
My job is an interesting daily challenge and no two days are the same. Courtley works with 150 companies and everyone is different so you never know what or who you are going to face. One day it might be a chemical site or an airport the next an office or a school.
And it’s personally rewarding – not only am I making a difference, but after all this time I’m also still learning every day.
What do you need to Succeed?
A career in health and safety trains you to work with people, to be methodical, to identify hazards and put in appropriate control measures. It’s the three ‘C’s – communication, competence and control.
While qualifications are important – everyone needs English and Maths for example, and experience of course helps, in my view success is founded more on attitude and personality.
I don’t put a lot of store in qualifications, personal attributes are far more important to me. In working with new recruits we help them acquire those certificates while working. I’ve taken people on without them, they have picked up experience, knowledge and knowhow and gone on to greater things in their career as they’ve gained chartered status with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), for example.
All qualifications are useful for career progression and we do of course need to have a vocabulary in our profession that we can all agree on, but it isn’t the be all and end all of what we do. The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) is useful, but there is more to success in this career than just following the NEBOSH way.
Top of my list is having a passion for wanting to make a difference. You need to be a people person, a team player, unselfish and willing to learn. If you can be humble then you can go a long way. It’s our job to make workers’ lives easier, not any harder. So you have to be a listener as well as a communicator and be prepared to plan and prepare and to adapt.
Being articulate helps and persuasion is a massive part of our armoury, so being able to deliver constructive criticism is hugely important, tailoring your message to suit the audience.
You also have to have enough about you to reflect on your own performance – did you convey the message in the right way, were they listening, have they taken it in, were you empathetic, sympathetic, was it open and frank, did you generate a dialogue?
These are transferable skills that will serve you well throughout your career journey, whether that’s moving up the health and safety ladder, or moving into HR, or occupational health, whatever is – even politics!
And finally accepting from day one that this is a career not a job is crucial. This is not something one does from 9 to 5, switching off when you turn that office light out. I don’t mean you will be checking for fire exits wherever you go, but it will change the way you think, the way you view life, the way you view people. It’s something that is going to change you, positively. Make no mistake, a health and safety career will make you a better person.
I set up Courtley Health & Safety 27 years ago and I can honestly say it was the best move I made.
If you’re interested in a career in Health and Safety, please contact us today.