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January 19, 2017

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My career: from a dead-end job to safety trainer


Steve Nagle, safety trainer, CDM and health and safety advisor for Baker Mallett LLP explains how he got into health and safety after a series of low paid, dead-end jobs and a bit of advice and encouragement from his father.





How did you get into health and safety?

I’d done a number of low-paid, dead-end jobs and wasn’t particularly happy with the lack of prospects or challenge in those roles. My dad, who had 15 years’ experience in health and safety, and 20+ years’ experience on the tools and in civil engineering, encouraged me to take my NEBOSH General Certificate, which he mentored me through, given I had no previous experience at the time.

Since then I achieved the NEBOSH Construction and Fire Certificates, the City & Guilds Level 5 NVQ Diploma in Health and Safety Practice, the PTLLS at Level 4, and am now undertaking the Level 5 DET with a view to also going on to take either the NCRQ Diploma next year, or start an MSc in Safety Management.

Tell us a bit about your current job role.

Working for Baker Mallett LLP, I have had the opportunity to work on projects in some interesting locations, including the British Museum, Natural History Museum and British Maritime Museum. Our services are utilised cross heritage, cultural, nuclear, petrochemical and many other industries.

I was taken on as a CDM and Health and Safety Advisor, but the team at Baker Mallett have encouraged my further development, and recently we began to create a schedule of open CPD sessions, which have been well received and exceeded anticipated attendance targets.

How do you ensure you are continually building on your health and safety knowledge?

Well, no matter what you do, particularly in the construction industry, you’re always on a learning curve.

As a rule I read/re-read one piece of legislation a fortnight to keep myself familiar with a broad range of legislation. Additionally I read SHP online, IOSH magazine, and am subscribed to IIRSM’s literature, which is also enlightening.

I regularly take short courses, particularly those that relate to things that I haven’t touched on so far, so as to increase my knowledge base. I am also starting to branch out into environmental management, people management/behavioural safety, etc.

I also undertake a lot of online CPD as there is a wide range of material out there to research. I am also increasing the number of associations I am part of so that I can have access to a wider range of updates.

Who has had the biggest impact on your career, and how?

Undoubtedly my dad. He was a superb mentor through my first few years and really encouraged me to pursue this.

Of course, there have been others. Theresa Clerkin and Carol Henry were excellent CDMC’s who helped me cut my teeth in that field, and are among the best CDM specialists I have come across.

Martin Cox at Pellings was also a great source of knowledge and a solid mentor. I learned a lot from him.

The team at Baker Mallett are also very encouraging with career development and provide me with opportunities to diversify, specialise and progress.

What have been the highest and lowest points in your career?

High points: I have enjoyed the range of projects that I have worked on, including being put in charge of the company’s flagship London-based projects at costs in excess of £100m.

Achieving Grad IOSH and MIIRSM have been high points. Probably the most flattering thing is the recognition I have received from clients, contractors and also from a recruitment point of view recently, which has been down to wanting to do an excellent job on behalf of everybody involved with projects. It has generally been very rewarding.

Low Points: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. How true that is for the safety industry! What’s more is that there are very few diplomatic ways in which to say “I told you so”.

The realisation that many contractors and clients still struggle to trust the judgement of their safety consultants is staggering when you consider the stakes against which they’re gambling.

I have worked for companies who just want you to tick boxes, rather than doing the job they recruit you for. I walked out of a £45,000 position in the City last year because the extent to which the company were doing that, coupled with their general incompetence, was just beyond words.

It took a little while to click that there are a lot of people out there who just don’t want to consider safety.

Remain teachable. You will never know everything. Find good mentors who are strong in their discipline and who are happy to spend time teaching you.

What do you think will be the biggest developments in the next 10 years?

Brexit will probably be the most significant thing over the next 10 years, depending on how it is handled, negotiated, and potentially manipulated by Parliament (assuming Parliament get a vote). Whilst Brexit will do very little to change safety law, it will affect business ethos and operations. Recruitment and retention may also be effected.

CDM 2015 will become a prime candidate for elimination after we leave the EU, I suspect. I have yet to meet anyone outside the APS and the HSE who actually think it is a positive step, and at all the CPD and networking events I have been to (not to mention LinkedIn), I have yet to find one person who agrees it has been worthwhile introducing.

When we leave the EU, 2007 could well be brought back, as it appears to have only been introduced to comply with an EU Directive, and save us being fined €30,000 a day for non-compliance. It’s one saving provision is earlier design risk management.

With rumours of CDM 2018 starting to circulate, I suspect its days are numbered – but apparently that’s an HSEcret. If we get a ‘hard Brexit’, which the EU seem keen to encourage, Environmental Management is something I suspect will be reviewed.

If you were PM for a day, which H&S law(s) would you introduce, or repeal?

CDM 2015 and Agenda 21 would be repealed immediately. I don’t see anything particularly positive about them and I feel we can do better. CDM 2007 would be entirety reinstated, and I would introduce provisions in law to stop employers being burdened with having to safeguard those unlawfully on site.

All environmental law should be reviewed in a new ‘red tape challenge’, not because I am against environmental management – I’m all for keeping England’s green and pleasant lands ‘green and pleasant’, but given many pieces of legislation are hundreds of pages long, it must be asked if all that paperwork is really necessary, or indeed, beneficial.

What would be your top tips for someone about to start out in health and safety?

While remembering safety is a ‘career’, it is also an ethos that impacts all around you. As such, it is not just about getting up the career ladder, but it is about saving lives.

While qualifications give us base knowledge and skills, more important is experience in the industry sectors you serve – particularly in terms of trades/site experience, and you need to be able to develop the skills that will deliver the goal of eliminating injuries and fatalities –including things like mentoring, people management, learning from shop floor staff about the nature of their work if you are not familiar with it, and being prepared to use dirty phrases like “I don’t honestly know”, “I will find out”, and “I’m sorry” –humility goes far on site.

Remain teachable. You will never know everything. Find good mentors who are strong in their discipline and who are happy to spend time teaching you.

Also consider an engineering path, it is something I regret not doing when I was younger. Above all, remember that even in senior safety management, you are here to serve the needs of others. Yes, you are there to lead, but part of that role is serving, mentoring, encouraging and helping others improve themselves.

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Chris Dutton
Chris Dutton
7 years ago

Great article – really encouraging to someone like myself who has worked in health and safety for many years but has only just started to acquire qualifications in the topic. Thank you!