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July 3, 2017

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Simon Rowe career journey: the changing role of a health & safety professional

Simon Rowe discusses his career in the varied world of a health & safety professional. Now a Helpline Technician amongst the largest team of EHPs in the country at Shield Safety Group, it’s fair to say his career journey has been anything but boring.

I started my working life at 17 years old in drainage, specifically drainage investigation, which unexpectedly left me with a skill set suitable for local authority. In 1995, I joined Wigan Council managing pest control contracts for a variety of establishments dealing with rats, fleas, bed bugs, etc. This turned out to be a lot more dangerous than it sounded. I found myself in derelict houses that had been booby-trapped by drug abusers – we learnt quickly not to press light switches as they often contained needles. The move from here to Public Health seemed natural, as I continued to deal with drainage and pest related cases in addition to noises and smells. Through executing warrants to gain access to properties, the start of what would be a long working partnership with the police came here.

My first enforcement jobs

In a different route to EHPs today, I undertook my formal qualifications at the University of Salford whilst on the job. I’ll always remember my first enforcement job where I had to ‘book’ an illegal burger van, I was so nervous my notebook was shaking. There was lots of variation in my enforcement roles from food and health & safety in the commercial sector, to food only inspections, to licensing of pet shops and catteries. For a time I worked closely with the RSPCA on a project involving illegal dog fighting. A short stint back in Public Health preceded my last role in food safety, focussing on enforcing the licensing acts so I spent a lot of time assessing late night food businesses and even ice cream vans!

Catching waste management offenders

Working within Duty of Care is where I learnt the skills which could be considered by some today as outside of the usual remit of a health and safety professional. As the responsibility for waste management and fly tipping moved away from environmental agencies, a pioneering team was created within local authorities, and I was a part of it. I was one of the first enforcement officers to get a car crushed as a result of fly tipping. During this time, I spent two weeks training at West Yorkshire police focussing on surveillance skills which I would use in my day-to-day working life, incorporating the police method 5x5x5 and utilising RIPA (The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) as a matter of course. Offenders of fly tipping came in all shapes and sizes, from domestic houses dumping their waste to some of the manufacturing industry carrying out late night digging and dumping of asbestos. We had to get creative in order to build evidence on this kind of illegal activity, a particularly memorable method was using covert cameras hidden in Coke cans which we would put in ‘hot spots’. There was no place to hide!

Learning from the security industry

Other training I took part in was door licensing, again maybe slightly unconventional but it was so important to ensure personal safety whilst on the job. Many people might not consider the situation they’re going into whilst in this field, I learnt how to manage difficult situations, as well as diffuse them. You can really learn a lot from the security industry in our profession, my experience has taught me that safety at work covers so much more than things you can leave in the back of your car (protective clothing, etc) – it’s about making sure you get home at the end of the shift.  I learnt to always be aware; it tended to be that if we were watching people they would be watching us too. There were many systems within the council to make sure we were safe, for example our cars had blocks on them if someone tried to check our details. We also had our own personal mechanisms such as pre-planning exit routes and having spatial awareness at all times  – from interview techniques (always sit by the door) to being out on the road (360 degree awareness). These were ingrained in me from not only from training but also my close work with the police, and I still use them to this day.

After cutbacks in LAs, meaning less overtime available, I got my SIA licence and worked in client management, artist movement and at the Olympics. A proud moment was being in charge of 125 staff at London Victoria Park during the games. I have continued to do different security work ever since then which has given me some interesting weekends.

Getting into Helpline Service for Shield Safety Group

I finished at Wigan Council after 19 years. My experience there took me to a Professional Witness company, gathering intelligence for anti-social behaviour. This really was using many of the same skills I had done for years to support a housing association with their intel. A brief stint at Oldham Council came before I landed my current role as one of the team manning the Helpline Service for Shield Safety Group. Working with the largest team of EHPs I am pleased to be back around many familiar faces from my Wigan days, former colleagues and students who passed through there – including a certain Mark Flanagan who is now our CEO.

It’s safe to say that I have used the skills I picked up along my career in a lot of different ways! The main thing I have taken from each part of my working life is to learn from everyone around me. Qualifications alone don’t mean that you can do the job, it’s so important to learn from the people who have done it.

Why environmental health is a great area to work in

I’d say one of the main differences in the profession today to when I started out is that people choose one area of work and stay in it, but the great thing about environmental health is that it covers a whole range of topics. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with having an area of focus, I think it’s good to know a bit about everything. For example, you might be visiting a food serving establishing for food safety and spot a health & safety problem whilst you’re there. As a Technical Officer it’s great to be able to solve that problem at the same time. Having such a skilled workforce here at Shield Safety means that we can help our clients with all areas of environmental health, which I think is important to maintain as the profession changes.

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