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Getting on in your health and safety career

Health and safety leaders offer professional development tips for those aspiring to a career which put care for colleagues and customers first.

The water industry offers many opportunities for those thinking about a career in health and safety. NEBOSH, a leading provider of HSE qualifications, has gathered together advice and insights from some of the world’s health and safety thought leaders in a new guide.

Here, two of those leaders – Karl Simons, Chief Health, Safety & Security Officer, Thames Water and Trystan Lewis-Williams, Senior Health and Safety Advisor (North West), Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water –share their insights into what it takes to succeed as a health and safety porfessionals.

So what qualities are ideal for a health and safety career? Among the 24 health and safety leaders questioned for the new NEBOSH guide, ‘Do Something Great: Your Health and Safety Career’, a passion to protect people was raised time and again.

“Many health and safety professionals arrive in this role because they have a natural tendency to care for people, it comes through in abundance,” says Karl Simons, Thames Water.

Beyond this, Trystan Lewis-Williams, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, believes communication skills are really important: “You need to be comfortable speaking with people from different levels within a business and from different backgrounds.

You need to be confident but not overbearing and you need to be able to take a balanced and impartial outlook.” There are a number of ways to get qualified and NEBOSH’s General Certificate and Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety are well recognised by employers in all sectors. Simons uses NEBOSH extensively within Thames Water, arguing that the right qualification is the one which is recognised globally or domestically as one of the best qualifications you can get.

“For instance, with my 600 front line operational managers, we’ve put them through the NEBOSH General Certificate to give them an enhanced level of health and safety understanding. My health and safety community (my technical professionals) have all gone through the NEBOSH Diploma, so they have a much deeper knowledge and it puts them on the ladder to becoming a chartered member with IOSH.”

Culture match

Beyond qualifications, the organisations you work for will be fundamental to your development as a health and safety professional. So it’s important to get this right.

When assessing a potential employer Lewis-Williams suggests trying to get a feel for the health and safety culture.

“You can often spot this in job adverts. For example, roles advertised with main responsibilities such as ‘investigating accidents and carrying out risk assessments’ may indicate a more reactive, old fashioned culture, where ‘health and safety is done by the health and safety team’.

“On the other hand, those advertised with responsibilities such as ‘assisting managers to identify and control risks and carrying out proactive inspections’ may suggest a more proactive culture where health and safety is managed by those who manage the work.”

Simons agrees that culture is vital. “It’s so, so important for someone starting out in their health and safety career to be working somewhere where the culture is good. So ask questions, then look at the web, social media channels and speak to people, to get a real feel for the culture and values within the organisation.”

How do you get your first break in health and safety? Would-be health and safety professionals face the age-old conundrum; they need experience to get that first job but need a job to get the experience. So how do they get relevant experience for their CV?

There are many suggestions from the experts, ranging from offering free help to health and safety consultants, volunteering, internships and practical projects perhaps as part of the study process, through to approaching health and safety professionals in the company where you are working to see if you can get involved in projects.

“Don’t forget graduate schemes or speaking to local employers,” adds Lewis- Williams. “I know a number of companies offer such schemes, so my advice would be to research what is available in the area you live. Otherwise, companies are often willing to provide work experience to people.”

Find a mentor

Almost all our health and safety professionals believe a good mentor is a real

career boost. Lewis-Williams believes they’re very valuable not least in helping you improve your knowledge and understanding.

“It’s also very helpful to have someone you can talk to about how things are going and anything you aren’t clear on or need help with.”

That’s not to say you should limit mentors to health and safety professionals, adds Simons: “Health and safety professionals are now not simply inspectors of incidents. We are strategically aligned to the operations of the business. We are business professionals and leaders. So, someone with finance, HR or operations backgrounds may be a very useful mentor for you.”

Lewis-Williams’ parting advice for a would-be health and safety professional working in the water industry: “There’s a reason why we have two ears and one mouth! Use them. Listen to what those in the workplace are saying about their jobs and their challenges. You will then be much better placed to help them.”

You can download a copy of Do Something Great – Your Health and Safety Career at nebosh.org.uk/dosomethinggreat

Topic: Skills & workforce
Tags: Health & safety

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