My career: how the recession made me a health and safety manager
Dale Robinson explains how following the recession, a change in his career path introduced him to the health and safety profession and after words of encouragement from managers and friends, he worked immensely hard over the course of seven years to become a qualified health and safety manager and achieve chartered status.
When the financial crash hit the UK in 2007, I had been working in the construction industry for nine years. I decided to leave the small family business my father ran for city work and bigger projects. In a short space of time I had moved up through three contractors, and ended up at Lyndsey Oil Refinery for SGB/HARSCO.
Until this point, I was unaware of health and safety systems outside of my own trade’s safe systems of work, but I realised something changed significantly for me when I was working on the project. I liked what I saw so much that I decided to volunteer to be part of the safety initiative, which involved cross-contractor co-ordination and communication.
The health and safety manager for the contractor and principal contractor both suggested I consider the IOSH, NEBOSH certificate and NEBOSH diploma route.
So, in the winter following project completion, I found myself at a local college ready to start my IOSH managing safely course. After completing that, I enrolled on the NEBOSH General Certificate with the same college, before taking on Units A, B and C of the NEBOSH diploma.
Work was patchy through the academic year and I struggled in terms of resources. I carried out unpaid work to gain experience, by contacting local authorities and asbestos removal companies to ask them if I could accompany them to observe their practices.
The college I was with didn’t offer a degree programme, and after completing my diploma a family friend mentioned that our local university in Hull did offer it – he suggested I do the 3rd year of the environmental diploma.
College I could do, I’d started small and continued to achieve, but uni, at 30 years old? It seemed a bit of a jump for me.
Still, I looked at funding and made the enquiries and before you know it, 12 months had passed with an incredible amount of even more alien information running through my ears and affecting the grey matter in between.
Applying the knowledge
I decided to take a break from academia and start applying what I had learned to the professional world.
I applied for several jobs in health and safety before gaining a place on the Birmingham New Street station redevelopment. It was for a contractor completely outside of scaffolding in general construction but specialising in drywall and firestopping. I am immensely proud of my time on the project and gained valuable experience in the application of most of the NDip syllabus skills.
All too quickly I had received notice that our phase of works was nearing completion, and maintaining 4-5 day presence wouldn’t be viable.
This news came after the principal contractor’s training manager had delivered the CITB’s site management safety training scheme we had to attend as part of their mandatory requirements.
During that week he told me not to intercalate more than one year and to head back to uni that September, and that I would never look back. I would like to thank Carl Manion for this advice – it seemed to be a clear sign given the discussions I had had with my employer.
So, after just seven months on the project I headed back to East Yorkshire, and found work with a training and consultancy company where I got to refresh much of the NDip knowledge as part of my occupation whilst starting the final BSc programme year.
I’m not sure if anyone who hasn’t done the BSc Hons in EHS Management would ever know how hard working full time and giving so much to that course was, but with immense sacrifice including a whole Christmas period without more than three days away from books and laptops for assignment and presentation creation, I completed the final year.
Downtime, exams and mindfulness
A month before final exams I headed to Crete for some downtime, a gamble I was nervous about so close to completion. but my strategy worked. I’ve always been an early riser and had recently taken up mindfulness while researching wellbeing and stress management. So with 5 am starts, I sat in the sunrise for 20 mins before heading to the poolside for two hours of study and revision, leaving the rest of the day to soak up the sun and read.
When the final exams came round, I felt nervous as usual but had amazing confidence that I had prepared and that nothing would stand in the way. A month or so later I had learned I gained a 2:1, and I feel no shame in being disappointed at being a mere 2.5 points off a first!
My most recent move was to a manufacturing company, situated right on my doorstep, allowing me to return to my home town and apply my recent experiences and knowledge for a small company knocking on the door of bigger clients and wanting sound health and safety systems in place.
As my first health and safety manager’s role it was a challenge being outside of my construction scope, but I knew with a team approach and applying the overlapping principles we would get there.
Professional development and recognition
It was during this time that an external inspection encouraged me to return to my IOSH initial professional development which was paid for but had been untouched in 20 months.
So, I started the process and was pleasantly surprised to find I had all evidences required for my Skills Development Portfolio inside of three weeks. The interview invite followed and after no small amount of nerves, in November this year I was successful in gaining my CMIOSH status.
When the email came through I can honestly say a tear accompanied it. I had worked so hard for nearly seven years in accruing small, step by step, pieces of health and safety responsibility from the oil refinery, to managing an engineering firm, working for global clients, picking up three NEBOSH certificates, two Diplomas and a degree on the way.
But being recognised by your peers after being made to demonstrate practical and technical knowledge is immensely rewarding and the feeling of recognition is valuable beyond compare.
I had met, worked with and co-ordinated on projects with some of the best people and teams in the country and of course I had learned some valuable lessons from failures as well. I don’t know where my drive came from and I don’t know what pushed me. Many people who worked with me or knew me from before simply couldn’t believe the changes in me as a person.
There are setbacks and lessons learned throughout the course, but don’t let them detract you from your goal. To influence leaders and workers alike, you need to have a desire and love for what you do, because safety needs passion and a deep understanding, that’s certainly not portrayed by the media.
We need strong safety practitioners that have been through the proverbial fire to earn their stripes and coming from trade to profession, I certainly feel I have done that.
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