My career: environmental health, late night clubs and the private sector
Noel Pilling, Head of Technical Services at Shield Safety Group discusses his long and varied career and reflects on what he’s experienced as he enters his ‘twilight years’.
The early years – environmental health
I began working life in environmental health at 16 years old, when I was employed as a student Public Health Inspector for Accrington MBC. This was the start of a 21-year career journey within Local Government.
Educated via the fantastic team at Salford College of Technology and given all of the practical ‘on the job’ help and training, I qualified as an Environmental Health Officer, moving onto Rossendale Borough Council as a newly qualified and excited District Inspector.
This is when I really started to learn the skills I have honed over the years. I was given an excellent grounding with the job-specific education and training, which I believe was far superior to those who come through the system today.
I was responsible for all aspects of environmental and public health including, pest control, housing “slum” clearance and housing improvements, infectious diseases, drainage, food safety, health and safety, air pollution and anything else thrown at us.
Looking back, the first 10 years of my working life were the most memorable; I gained a phenomenal amount of knowledge and learnt many life skills.
Having to tell old ladies we were going to demolish their house and being bitten and chased by “safe dogs” when dealing with pollution problems enabled me to understand self-preservation and how to deal with people.
Eating the famous warm Mary Taylor custards after dealing with blocked sewers/drains are all fond memories that will not be experienced today.
Moving on up
Following a promotion to senior EHO and ultimately principal, I had added specific responsibilities for health and safety enforcement as the specialist officer in that subject.
A number of late night visits to clubs and pubs were part of the job after I became the licensing officer for public entertainment and safety of sports grounds.
I decided to enhance my health and safety skills and undertook additional specialist post-graduate health and safety qualifications. From this I ultimately became responsible for the safety officer function of the authority, with over 300 employees – taking in the refuse collection, highways, street lighting, parks, recreation services, and the Local Authority housing maintenance teams.
Into the private sector
After becoming frustrated by the lack of opportunity in the public sector, my private sector career began when I became a Regional Health and Safety Consultant for First Business Support Ltd. in the mid-90s.
This was the second major learning in my career but was more specific to Health and Safety related subjects, where I particularly had up until this point, limited detailed safety exposure.
I supported various business types including a variety of manufacturing, warehousing and distribution companies, commercial businesses, residential care etc.
The role necessitated an ability to produce safety policies, safe working procedures, deliver training and covered the huge area of practical risk assessment. I became more commercially astute, often agreeing with clients’ solutions that were “safe” but also cost effective to the business.
After almost 4 years in this role, I took a very bold step and moved into food manufacturing with a Regional HSE role for Arla Foods, being responsible for four production sites and several domestic distribution depots.
The third massive learning curve involved the health element in Health and Safety at Work. Working within a team of HSE Practitioners and Occupational Health Nurses was a real eye opener in terms of the benefits of joined up thinking in a labour intensive industry.
Collaboration in dealing with particularly musculoskeletal problems demonstrated how important another perspective can be when trying to find practical solutions for day-to-day employee challenges. During this period, I believe I came of age as a safety practitioner, working within a team of professionals in an environment where safety compliance, good practice and practical solutions were essential and occasionally out of my comfort zone.
Following a short spell in the residential care environment, which generated even more learning, I moved back into HSE consultancy as Group H&S Service Director for Peninsula Business Services, where I was responsible for establishing and managing a team to provide health and safety support to over 14,000 clients.
Where I am now
I seem to have come full circle and back to my roots in my current role, where I’m working with a team of Environmental health Practitioners, helping our clients simplify compliance through the delivery of Food, Fire and Health & Safety software and technical on-site support services.
From the outset of my career I have always worked with professionals providing technical help and support to the commercial and industrial sectors.
It appears however, that the valuable and necessary public sector services are in significant decline and with the demise of Local Government support and advisory services it appears the future of legal compliance and the development and maintenance of public health standards will rest in the private sector.
On reflection, it is sad to say that whilst standards have generally improved, some of the basics I had to deal with are still an issue today; poor and overcrowded housing, poor food hygiene standards, significant pest control challenges, workplace accidents and ill health (acknowledging the huge reduction in work place fatalities).
There are some fantastic, hardworking and very knowledgeable professionals out there who can, if allowed, help to maintain the UK as a safe place to eat, sleep, work and play.
I have loved every minute of my career. I am very grateful for the help and support I have received and hope that I made a difference to all those people I have dealt with. I hope my private sector colleagues can persuade those still in the public sector that we are all on the same side and want the same thing, which is the best standards of “public health” we can achieve in an increasingly changing world.
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