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January 4, 2017

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International careers: How did I get here? Steve Dibben

dscf5694From Devon and Cornwall to the World Cup 2022 in Qatar, Steve tells SHP about his journey to $6billion mega projects and CMIOSH status.

Steve started his health and safey career “by accident” during a gap year in university where he assisted the HSE Advisor in Business Link Devon and Cornwall, since then has worked within health and safety across the UK, Africa and the Middle East.

Steve ventured out into health and safety Consultancy within Devon and Cornwall for 3 years prior to moving to Saudi Arabia to undertake a role with Almarai overseeing the construction of Project Cradle a $350m capital project development in the Saudi desert, a short spell in Nigeria was followed by a return to KSA and a $6 billion mega project in Riyadh (ITCC) where he headed the project HSE team.

A move to Qatar has seen Steve involved in a number of projects including the Al Attiyah Multi Purpose Hall, a 200km Road Enhancement Project, the early stage management of Al Bayt Stadium (WC 2022 facility) and he currently finds himself based at QP District as the final stages of construction are completed and the Fit Out of the 10 Towers is due commence. This year Steve was acknowledged as a Chartered Member of IOSH.

How did you get into health and safety?

I never really knew what I wanted to do as a career; I just knew that I enjoyed interacting with people! I returned to University as a mature student in 1997 and during the gap year worked with Technical Services Team within Business Link Devon and Cornwall who at the time provided HSE Guidance and Consultancy to local businesses within the area. The HSE Adviser encouraged me to assist in the delivery of the service by providing administrative support and my interest grew from there, it seemed to be a way of helping businesses help their people which is something that appealed to me. IOSH Managing Safely and NEBOSH Certificate were undertaken and so the journey to today began.

My time in the Middle East has allowed me to grow into the HSE professional I knew I could be and also allowed me to work on some huge projects that I doubt I would have been exposed to if I had remained in the UK.

How have your past roles led you to your current role?

In 2005 I decided that the time had come to try and develop my own consultancy business so left the comfort zone of Business Link and ventured into the unknown, in hindsight poor timing, but the experience of different businesses, pitching services to clients, delivering what I said I would on time and to the quality required developed me as an HSE professional quicker than remaining in the relative comfort of a large organisation. It also prepared me for the culture shock of moving to the Middle East to undertake an HSE Manager role in a location where construction safety standards were low and the only way to raise them was to persuade and demonstrate to the contractor better, safer and more effective methods of undertaking work than they currently employed. My time in the Middle East has allowed me to grow into the HSE professional I knew I could be and also allowed me to work on some huge projects that I doubt I would have been exposed to if I had remained in the UK.

Having worked in both the UK and aboard, what would say are the biggest differences in health and safety cultures?

Safety culture to me is what people do when they aren’t being observed or supervised…in other words is safety an intrinsic part of how they undertake their work?

Within the UK I think safety is now embedded in the way we do things, it’s part and parcel of how businesses operate from boardroom to the workforce, people understand its importance and the responsibilities they have to ensure that it is implemented. Within the KSA safety culture is in the early stages of development, lack of governance, enforcement of standards from the authorities, contractors looking to source the cheapest labour they can to maximise profits and clients looking for progress at any cost are just some of the reasons why a safety culture is slow in developing.

I held two roles within the KSA and safety culture was at opposite ends of the spectrum. Within Almarai the culture was strong, people considered safety as a key business process and investment was made into the teams and company to ensure that a safety comparison could be achieved with any vertically integrated dairy in the world, this culture was heavily influenced by the “Western” Managers present through all levels and disciplines but also accepted, understood and implemented by the multi cultural workforce of the business.

I also worked on a Mega Project with local and international contractors the difference in culture couldn’t have been any different. The safety standards were defined and agreed yet safety was left to the safety team, and few other levels of management or workers enforced the safety requirements of the task they were supervising or undertaking. This led to a policeman role for the safety team, knowing full well that once their back was turned and the inspection moved on, the workers returned to type and continued working unsafely until the next time they were seen by a member of the safety team, where the process went around the circle again.

What interests you most about health and safety?

I think the ability to make people’s working lives better and therefore influence their life outside of the workplace, there are “light bulb” moments when what you have been discussing or requesting suddenly clicks into place with the workers and they see that by changing the way they do things, it is beneficial to them. The interaction with people and changing their perceptions of safety and its purpose is challenging, interesting and rewarding.

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

Every day is an education, something always comes up that challenges my understanding of HSE Management and requires consideration and evaluation of what needs to be done to ensure safety stays paramount in decisions, this could require review of standards, legislation or best practice and how they apply to the situation.

I maintain CPD through the IOSH website articles, email bulletins, literature and webinars from safety institutions around the world, being in Qatar we have an amalgamated HSE system of standards so having a wide range of sources from the USA, Australia, New Zealand etc helps to keep knowledge improving. I am currently reading a new book People Work by Kevin Burns.

If you are considering moving to another country, research…research…research…make sure that you know exactly what you are likely to be moving to in terms of the company, contract, country, people, culture and project as well as how safety is managed and complied with currently.

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

The lowest points will always be the instances of investigating fatalities or serious injuries as I consider that I have failed in preventing the incident happening, nothing worse than thinking what could I have done to prevent this. High points are many but the ones I cherish the most are when colleagues who have shown an interest in developing as HSE professionals themselves, achieve their goals. Whether it’s a NEBOSH qualification, NVQ, promotion within the company, a new job or simply graduating through the IOSH accreditation structure, seeing their growth, sense of achievement and progress is something that I find extremely rewarding.

As someone who ran your own consultancy, what is piece of advice would you give to someone considering it themselves?

I was fortunate starting out in 2005 as I was in contact with two other self employed HSE Consultants who provided mentoring to me in the early stages of my training and also the initial stages of the business, the one thing they both said on separate occasions to me was “never agree to undertake work that you are not competent to do, no pay cheque is worth doing a job that you can’t do competently”. This advice reflects the IOSH Code of Conduct and has been a source of advice that has stayed with me. So there were occasions where I declined work, but rather than just say no to the client, I would refer them to the two consultants who could provide what they needed, so satisfying the clients’ needs even if it wasn’t me actually doing the work

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

Listen, learn and absorb all the information and advice you can from experienced practitioners. Undertaking qualifications is an essential part of developing competency however, by using examples of how issues have been managed successfully by others you will be able to generate greater confidence and better compliance than relying on theory alone.

If you are considering moving to another country, research…research…research…make sure that you know exactly what you are likely to be moving to in terms of the company, contract, country, people, culture and project as well as how safety is managed and complied with currently.

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