Editor, UBM

June 3, 2016

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Ben Ealey-Newham: Inspiring the next generation of health and safety practitioners

Ben Ealey-NewmanBen Ealey-Newham is an apprentice at Cobham Antenna Systems. Six months into his employment as an engineering apprentice, Ben suffered an industrial accident at college which required plastic surgery to reconstruct parts of his index finger. Ben worked tirelessly to secure a six-month work placement in the safety, health and environmental department of Cobham Antenna Systems. Once he’d secured his apprenticeship, Ben assimilated the skills and developed his performance in different aspects of SHE management.

Two years on, Ben was nominated for and won Young Health and Safety Champion of the year at the International Safety Awards.

Roz Sanderson, editor of SHP spoke to Ben about how his feelings changed about health and safety and what we can do to encourage more young people to inspire the next generation of health and safety practitioners.

Tell me about how you got your apprenticeship at Cobham?

I did engineering as a GCSE at school and it was always my favourite subject so I decided to persue it as a career when I left.

I applied for a few colleges and was accepted on the courses but I also saw an advert in the school newsletter about apprenticeships at Cobham. I did a small amount of research into the company with my dad and I decided to apply.

I came to the induction evening and got a chance to speak to current apprentices about their experiences and I was also shown around the site. I knew after the induction evening that I wanted to go down the apprenticeship route rather than go to college. I completed all my interviews and in September 2013, I found myself with a job at 16. I have never looked back.

How did you feel about health and safety before you had your industrial incident?

I understood the importance of health and safety in the workplace because my engineering apprenticeship involves the use of machinery that has caused significant injuries and worse. This is mainly due to failure to control the hazards that exist in respect to these types of machinery.

I suppose though, even with the knowledge and understanding that was passed onto me via the college I’m doing the apprenticeship with, I didn’t fully appreciate how easy this type of machinery can cause serious damage and just how vulnerable human beings are when they come into contact with such equipment.

Of course I’d heard of industrial accidents happening both on the news and listening to people, but it wasn’t until I was directly engaged with this type of machinery that I understood how significant the risks were.

How do you feel about health and safety since the incident happened?

Firstly, thankful that my injuries have now repaired and I don’t have any long term issues.  I feel much more conscious of the risks associated with engineering equipment and I respect the equipment much more than I did before the accident.

Having seen the subsequent sequence of events that unfold when you’re involved in an accident at work I’ve also gained a better understanding of the investigation sequence for workplace accidents.

I truly get what it means to have a risk assessment that captures all the hazards and provides suitable and sufficient control measures to protect against those hazards.  I also feel that my understanding regarding people and human behaviour has been given a boost as a result of my personal ‘inward reflection’ of why I did what I did and the harm that caused.

Of course the harm was far greater than the injury that I suffered, the real harm was to my family, my college friends and my team at Cobham Antenna Systems who have supported me during my recovery.

I would say that the one thing that I am thankful for is the fact that this whole episode has generated an interest in health and safety that has made me want to commit to a full time role as a health and safety practitioner in the years ahead.

I am now focused on completing the NEBOSH National General Certificate in due course so that I can begin my career with a great foundation of understanding.  I am already embedded into safety, health and environmental (SHE) management due to my placement at Cobham Antenna Systems with the SHE team there.

I am also working in the machining shop on improvements to the area including enhancing the machines and equipment with SOPs and helping to generate improved checklists for operators to use to strengthen safety in this area.

As well as this I’m working on an improvement initiative for manual handling which focuses upon the movement of heavy jigs.

I enjoy doing what I am doing because it is orientated around health and safety. I’m trusted to get on with what I know I need to do to improve things at my site.

You recently won an award for Young Health and Safety Champion – what have you done in your company that’s contributed to this win?

I am passionate about becoming a health and safety practitioner so my activities in this field demonstrate this.

I simply get the job done and because I know my input is designed to keep people safe it’s very easy for me to be motivated to achieve that.

I feel I owe the system something because of how they’ve supported me throughout my apprenticeship here in Cobham. I’m keen to demonstrate that I’ll give back for the support and trust they’ve shown in me.

I couldn’t have done any of this without being given the opportunity and support from Mick Cooper and Cobham.

How do you think health and safety is communicated to workers and the public and how can we improve it?

At Cobham, health and safety is communicated very well and is integrated into the activities and routine that we all undertake.

Health and safety is not a ‘bolt on’ – it’s written into the jobs, the tasks and the activities that we do so that everyone feels they have an intrinsic part to play with safety.

There is still a lot we can do to improve communication in respect to safety and we continue to find ways to do that.

The public opinion of health and safety is somewhat different to where it actually is at Cobham because of the poor press approach that mocks health and safety.

Of course, the press are only communicating their observations and unfortunately some organisations and individuals use health and safety as a ‘scape goat’ or as an excuse to not do something.

In other words if they cannot explain the real reason for stopping doing what they are intent on stopping they simply use the ‘it’s because of health and safety’ excuse.

Health and safety is about being proactive and finding safe solutions – it’s not simply saying no.

The HSE push out a ‘Health and Safety Myth Buster’ bulletin which goes a long way to improve this perception but we still have a long way to go to remove this ‘Elf n Safety’ perception that is communicated in the public domain.

We can all help to improve this image by doing what is right and not using health and safety as an excuse to remove unpalatable actions or extra workloads.

There is always a safe way with additional thinking and effort but some find it easier to say no.

How do you think we can encourage more young people to look at health and safety as a potential career choice?

Health, safety and environmental careers are out there but for some reason it is not as well communicated at colleges and universities as other mainstream careers.

These institutions should show more interest in communicating the benefits of this career.  Some of those institutions perhaps do not understand it and I recall recently a university banning the throwing of the headgear because of ‘health and safety reasons’ – a perfect example of using the ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ excuse and giving health and safety a poor reputation.

In conjunction with UK Health and Safety Week 2016, Safety & Health Expo is celebrating up-and-coming talent within the health and safety profession, encouraging graduates, apprentices and those considering a career in health and safety to join us at Safety & Health Expo on 23 June at ExCeL London.

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7 years ago

Good article. All the best Ben.