Lee tells us about his career path into Health & Safety and why it's never too late to achieve your goals...
How did you Get into Health & Safety as a Career?
I started out as a lithographic printer and endured that role for 18 years. By chance, and a favour from a family friend, I was offered an opportunity as a foreman in a construction company looking after 60 skilled tradesmen, albeit I knew nothing of construction at the time. I took the responsibility for health and safety and assumed the role of the HSE manager.
I decided to self-fund a NEBOSH General Certificate course, which I studied at my local college after I finished work. Upon completion of this course, NEBOSH became an addiction to me and in addition to an Asbestos and CITB qualification, I proceeded to attain the NEBOSH Construction, Fire, Environmental and Diploma qualifications - all of which built on the foundation knowledge that the NGC afforded.
This armoury of qualifications, as well as the construction experience I had attained resulted in my appointment as a trainer/consultant within a Health & Safety training organisation. I didn’t start studying until I was 35 and didn’t stop until I was 45 - I tell all my students that it is never too late in life to study and that you will achieve your goals if you put the graft in.
What do you Enjoy the Most about Working in Health & Safety?
I laugh every day when I teach. While safety is a serious matter, I am not a dictator and my delegates need to feel relaxed; and what better way to relax than to laugh? I genuinely like people and no matter where I teach, I always have a good range of characters in my class. I have made some good friends along the way and they often return to study further courses with me.
I also believe that learning is a two-way stream and I love learning from people, hearing about their different backgrounds and what brought them into health and safety - it's always for such diverse reasons. I’ve been fortunate enough to have delegates including an employee of the British Embassy in Egypt and an ex-soldier who protects boats in pirate-infested waters in the same room - what’s not to love about that?
You’ve been in the industry a long time, have you noticed any changes since you began your career?
Absolutely! When I first started teaching there was always at least one anti-safety delegate in the room. I loved this because I set myself a challenge to educate this person and change their perception of safety before the end of the course - most of the time without them knowing I had done it. Fortunately I have seen this type of delegate disappear, as we now all accept that safety is in the workplace for the right reasons and not just to hinder us.
I have also been pleased to see the construction industry come on leaps and bounds over the last 10 years - from an industry that always lagged behind others. Everyone should be safe in work no matter what they do to earn a penny.
What have been the Biggest Challenges you’ve Faced Throughout your Career?
During my years in construction, I faced negativity regarding safety many times from management and employees. I believe safety is about education and not reprimand or conditioning. You only know what you know - sometimes someone needs to tell you.
I'm fortunate to have come from an industry background and can now offer advice in a practical way, rather than reciting what a text-book says. I think the word safety will always raise an eyebrow with employees, but this has developed over years of draconian policing, rather than education. If safety is tackled by pragmatic advisors with good people skills, then we would hope to eventually see every person come home from work in one piece.
What about your Career Highlights?
I have several special career highlights that seemed impossible when I left school with just an O-Level in Art. Completing my Level 6 NEBOSH Diploma was a massive accomplishment to me, due to the amount of commitment and I am still bewildered how I got through it to this day. I was also extremely proud of myself when I was appointed the National Training Manager of an employment law company managing 30 H&S professionals.
Finally, I swore to myself that I was finished with studying after the 2-year diploma...however, that didn't last long as on my graduation day, I signed up with Loughborough University to complete a 2-year Level 7 Master’s Degree in Occupational Health and Safety! Walking on stage to receive my scroll in a cap and gown was difficult to compare to the young lad that failed GCSE maths 3 times. My MSc is my proudest achievement to date, in addition to becoming Chartered in my profession. I would like to think that I am finished with studying now...but never say never.
You’ve certainly done your fair share of exams; do you have any top tips for those studying a H&S qualification at the moment?
My biggest piece of advice to all my students is to mix it up. Don’t get bogged down with reading massive reference text books. Make use of any online software that’s available. Use ACOP’s and guidance from the HSE website - it’s free! Use images and videos to paint pictures. Use mind maps, acronyms, quizzes, flash cards and past questions. Rather than remember the contents of a Permit-To-Work, print one off and fill it in - you will recall the information easier.
Predominantly in life, what you put in is what you get back and NEBOSH is no different. These qualifications will not fall into your lap without hard work, dedication and time. If they were easy, they wouldn’t hold the respect they do worldwide and you wouldn’t feel the fantastic achievement when your results land on the doormat. You don’t need to suffer alone though. Your tutors are there to help, so talk to them. In my experience, a problem that a delegate feels is massive can be quashed in a 2-minute phone conversation.
Qualifications are important to us and you should feel a small degree of stress as this is what drives us, so plan your revision time but be prepared to be flexible. It is about quality revision rather than quantity, this maybe 3 hours one night and 30 minutes the next. Hard work pays off. My favourite saying is fall down seven, stand up eight.
Lastly, what advice would you give those wanting to develop/start their career in Health & Safety?
My advice would be that you need to be passionate about it. If you don’t believe in it then it will forever be an upward struggle, your studies will be a chore and the people you are trying to advise will not buy into it. NEBOSH is a great pathway into the industry and is recognised worldwide. The courses can be intense, but if you discipline yourself then anyone can achieve them; I am living proof!
If you're looking to get started with a career in Health & Safety, the NEBOSH General Certificate is great place to begin!