Career focus: Moving into health and safety consultancy
Emma Bavin of Southalls
Andy Murray of Southalls
Safety Consultants, Emma Bavin and Andy Murray, part of the Southalls team of health and consultants, share their experiences of moving into the industry from different careers, and offer their advice to those considering doing the same.
Why did you choose a career in health and safety?
Emma – ‘Hospitality had always been my focus, at 13 years of age I worked in catering for a local football club and then a catering contractor. Later when completing a Business Management and Hospitality BA, I worked as a floor manager for an events company.
‘Having gained a taste for working in a fast-paced business combined with an interest in food, I became a nightclub manager. This meant high stress work and a lot of late nights, although I thrived in this environment, it simply wasn’t sustainable long-term.
I then moved into the public sector, which later included a health and safety and infection control role for the NHS where I gained an interest in health and safety. She then moved into local authority work, as an environmental health officer for Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, and then Birmingham City Council, before joining Southalls as a consultant.
Andy – ‘I worked in several chef positions until I became a head chef, where a good understanding of the need for food safety was essential. I’ve always worked in the hospitality industry, working my way up from pot washer to head chef. The long hours and stressful kitchen environment, however, led me to consider other careers with a better work-life balance.
‘Whilst still working as chef in a hotel, I decided to pursue an MSc in Environmental Health after speaking to others in the industry and deciding that that was an industry I would really like to get into. Shortly after graduating, I approached Southalls, keen to build a career in a high-growth industry in which I had a genuine interest and could make a difference.’
Were there unexpected challenges?
Aside from the usual challenges that come with a career change, such as new people and a different culture, a background as a chef meant Andy had to quickly adapt to a working day that demanded a more technical skillset.
Andy – ‘I knew how to use a computer, of course, but it hadn’t been ingrained in my daily working life. This meant moving into a work environment with a strong focus on apps and technology to aid productivity, from cloud storage to collaborative team apps was a substantial change for me.
Hitting the ground running though, after a few weeks I was up to speed, and love that I work in such a forward-thinking environment which utilises technology to make working more productive and effective’.
Emma – ‘Knowing where to start when it comes to moving into the health and safety industry was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, I had built some connections in the industry while working in hospitality, but reaching out to them was the first step to gain advice and valuable insights to make that move.
‘Moving from one industry to another is never going to be linear, so you have to accept that there will be obstacles and a lot of new things to learn. If you know that it’s the right industry for you, then you’ll make it happen.
Making contacts and reaching out to those with experience in it is a great way to find out whether it’s really what you want, and you may be surprised at how open people are to giving advice and helping you break into the industry they are in.’
What skills were transferrable to the health and safety industry?
A good understanding of people is perhaps the most important skill for a career in health and safety. Learning to work with people and knowing what makes them tick all helps you to get them on board with making improvements in health and safety.
Emma – ‘Having experience of managing people and their working processes has been incredibly helpful in my role as a consultant. You need to fully understand how people work within the businesses we support and how to guide them to safer practices.’
Andy – ‘Any experience you have of problem solving, whether that’s as part of a team or on your own, is also a truly valuable skill within the health and safety industry. Being able to spot trends in accidents and near misses and then identifying safer working practices to help reduce these is a massive part of the job.’
Was the switch worth it?
Both consultants not only believe the work-life balance is better in this job, but they agree that the work is intellectually stimulating so it really challenges you too.
Andy – ‘It’s a genuinely rewarding career as you create relationships with clients and you’re able to offer effective solutions to improve the working lives of everyone within a business. If you enjoy bringing real value to others and aren’t afraid of a challenge, this could be the career for you.’
Emma – ‘I am really glad I made the move into the health and safety industry – not only have a developed on the skills I already had, but I can see tangible results for the work I do, bringing about positive changes within a business. My earlier work as an auditor in the public sector was very reactive in its approach, whereas safety consultancy at Southalls is proactive in its approach, spotting issues before they develop and preventing accidents from occurring.’
What advice do you have for those thinking of changing career?
Emma – ‘Don’t restrict your options by being too narrow in your focus – you never know what opportunities may arise by being open minded and meeting new people. Keep challenging yourself and be open to learning new skills and having new experiences.’
Andy – ‘I would really recommend speaking to others in the field you are considering moving into. Before studying for my Environmental Health degree for example, I spoke to course tutors and people who had already done it to find out what their experiences were and whether it was right for me.’
While a move from another industry into health and safety may seem daunting at first, there are many ways you can ease yourself into it and find out whether it’s really what you’re looking for. You might also be surprised at how many skills from your current role are transferable, helping you to achieve in this fast-growth, yet diverse industry.