Editor, UBM

March 21, 2016

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In conversation with Helen Rawlinson: “Find out what puts the fire in your belly”

Helen RawlinsonIn an interview with SHP, Helen Rawlinson describes how a career that started in the military led to a transition to health and safety, which at first didn’t come naturally.

Helen Rawlinson is senior health and safety coach at Mount Anvil. She is a finalist for the Outstanding Woman Award for the Women in Construction and Engineering Awards 2016, and a multiple BSC Sword of Honour Award Winner. She’s previously worked as health, safety and environment manger for Severfield plc and as safety, health, environment and quality manager for Midland Steel Reinforcement Supplies.

How did you start your career in health and safety?

The early days of my career began in the military, and after a few years of employment across a range of sectors, including software development and a PA role, in 2007 I made a decisive transition into the health and safety industry as a health and safety officer for Connexions – a governmental information, advice, guidance and support service, where I assessed the suitability of workplaces for young people.

At first, health and safety did not come naturally as I found it to be a little restrictive, but my personal drive to change the perceptions of safety (and probably largely down to my competitive edge) it resulted in me working with some really great companies in manufacturing, waste and now construction. I’ve been really lucky to work in health and safety management roles on many iconic projects including the Shard, the Leadenhall Building, Blackfriars Bridge, Heathrow T5.

I now work with Mount Anvil Ltd as a Senior Health and Safety coach. I love working for such a dynamic and engaging company who genuinely care about the safety and welfare of their employees.

What do you like and dislike about your job?

The industry is unfortunately fairly archaic, things like accessibility to facilities on site and limited opportunities still exist and, although I’ve seen a big improvement over the last few years, it can feel quite cyclical to consistently promote different ways of thinking.

That being said, it is the very thing I also love about my job, being a part of change, implementing strategies and genuinely making a difference. There is something I find extremely gratifying about seeing others learn from your own knowledge and experience; watching them nurture and develop into more rounded individuals.

I am hugely excited about where the industry is heading. There is real momentum behind looking at safety differently and I’m looking forward to being part of the change as we move out of buzz words such as ‘culture’ and more into the psychology of what we need, as humans, to facilitate and support safe work.

How do you think health and safety should be communicated?

I am passionate about innovation and using modern technology to inspire and communicate best practice to others. Smartphones are used as part of our daily lives and because of this, Mount Anvil seized the opportunity to further develop our online hazard reporting tool into app with can be accessed on a smartphone device. The app has received a great response from the whole workforce and as a result has increased hazard reporting, and subsequently reduced accidents by 33%.

To emphasise the importance of health in health and safety, Mount Anvil released its Fitbit campaign; ‘Fitbits’ were offered to all Mount Anvil employees and subcontractor health and wellbeing champions. Setting a target to walk to the moon – the campaign known within Mount Anvil as ‘Moontracker’ – has driven competitiveness and further engagement with our workforce and subcontractors.

The use of interactive TV’s located around site communicate important campaigns and health and safety information, from the effects of silica dust to benefits of using battery operated tools and tower crane cameras to eliminate blind lifts, all of which has resulted in greater engagement, especially as these initiatives haven are things the workforce can relate to.

Of course, like anything, keeping health and safety fresh and interesting is not just about using technology. It needs to be communicated by everyone on a level that isn’t chastising but is coaching. You can shout at someone to do something and you can employ someone to do a job. They will take your money and hopefully work safely. But if you employ people who believe in doing things the right way and empower others to make sensible decisions, they will be part of the collective change.

Is there anybody you look up to in the industry?

I look up to anyone who challenges the norm, whether they are a site operative or board executive. In a time when the impression of health and safety is broken we should all collectively work together to keep things fresh and sensible.

Gone are the days of clipboard monitoring. I find it inspiring when speaking to those who recognise that it is about engaging the workforce and treating individuals with respect, and I’m not talking about the basics.

It is those who, despite the pressure of the job at hand, are still willing to go the extra mile to establish a working environment that is safe, secure and an enjoyable place to be. Generally, these individuals can diversify and tailor their leadership styles to suit a particular situation, while never forgetting the core principles of creating a positive and safe work environmental, which I find truly inspirational.

There are companies who have genuine belief in health and safety excellence, and I am fortunate to currently work for a company where health and safety is not just a department, but a state of mind shared by everyone.

Do you have any advice to offer someone interested in embarking on a career in health and safety?

Regardless of where and when you start your health and safety career, there are many interesting opportunities out there with an industry that is forever evolving. The next generation of health and safety professionals I believe will be contrary to the clipboard approach and instead will positively influence, educate and empower the workforce, creating new and promising opportunities for people to become the solution, not the problem.

An invaluable skill I have developed is to listen to the workforce, understand the difficulties they encounter when performing their tasks and asking them to suggest ways in which to improve their safety at work, making my job all the more interesting.

In the early days of my health and safety career, I recognised that technical ability is very important, but also the softer skills were just as, if not more essential to perform my role effectively. Keep developing both, empower others to lead by example and strive to diminish bureaucracy.

Find out what puts the fire in your belly and work with people who can help you to inspire a change and finally, avoid those who make things unnecessarily long winded. If the safest way isn’t the quickest, it probably won’t work too well for anyone.

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