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May 29, 2017

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Spreading positive messages about health and safety, Rachel Butler

Britain’s track record health and safety should be a source of national pride.

This couldn’t be more apparent than when you contrast the exemplary worker safety record for London 2012 with reports coming from Qatar 2022.

Yet despite this, and HSE’s Myth Busters campaign, the stereotype still persists of ‘elf and safety’ professionals as po-faced jobsworths.

Rachel Butler, one of the youngest chartered members of IOSH and health and safety manager at fit-out and refurbishment specialist, Overbury, wants to change all of that.

“I’ve been in the profession for about 7 years now, and I believe there’s an opportunity for the perception of health and safety [among the public] to be changed into a much more positive thing.” Butler tells me,

“It doesn’t just have to be an exercise in policing the workforce.”

Interest in health and safety

Butler first became interested in health and safety after working as a receptionist at another construction company based in the North-West.

“During my time there was a lot of positive messages coming out of the compliance department. Immediately I was interested in the positive messages and wanted to be a part of it.”

“Luckily I was given a chance to go and work in the compliance department. Although it was only a support role (mostly paperwork and scanning in site files), it was still a fantastic opportunity.”

“It was because of that job that I got my basic training in health and safety and received a mandatory minimum training qualification. That covered stuff like First aid, fire marshalling and asbestos awareness.”

From there, Butler’s interest and passion for the work continued to grow until she moved full into the profession..

“I think they kind of recognised my potential and my ambition. Unfortunately for them, but luckily for me, the compliance manager left the company. So at that point, they said to me “we need you to become as competent as you can as quickly as you can”. So I went on to do my NEBOSH and from then on I was acting as the safety advisor for the North.”

“I was really grateful for every opportunity they gave me, which is why I’m keen to push for this sort of stuff to happen. I want people to be aware that there are opportunities and it is an interesting subject, and kind of just raise the awareness of young people, and especially of young women.”

Changing attitudes

Butler talks passionately about her desire to raise awareness of health and safety as a career for young women.

“Health and safety has such a preconception that I’m so passionate about changing. I really want to change how health and safety is thought of, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be like a policing exercise.”

“There needs to be a wide range of people out there. Different kinds of people take different approaches to health and safety. There needs to be different characters out there. People who are interested in this subject should definitely feel that they can come in and do that and make that difference.”

This desire to change the way health and safety operates and to adopt a more positive outlook is the beating heart of Butler’s ethos.

“My approach is a more positive one. I tend not to quote regulations, not to act as a police-woman. I make an effort to spend time upfront with people and make sure they have the right training. I spend a lot of time with them and ensure that they’re confident with their health and safety.”

 

“With the nature of the industry the way it is, there’s always going to be that confrontation.”

In construction the majority of people on site tend to be burly guys. Obviously these guys don’t always like being told what to do by health and safety, especially when the EHS officer is a young lady like myself.

“There’s been times when I’ve had to draw the line. In most cases, as long as you can demonstrate that the approach you’re taking is working then everyone will be happy. At the end of the day everyone wants to go home safely and we want to see them get there.”

 

Enthusiasm and positivity

Butler’s enthusiasm for keeping people safe is infectious.

“We need to make health and safety an everyday thought for people. It needs to be delivered in a positive way, rather than procedurally or quoting regulations. We need to get people to take these ideas home with them.”

“It’s just passing on the message. And by all of us doing this it is eventually going to impact more and more people. Eventually it’ll be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Every little helps!”

Butler leaves us with some advice for other young people interested in the health and safety profession.

“Ask questions. As health and safety practitioners, we don’t claim to know everything, but there is support and advice out there.”

“The best piece of advice that was ever given to me, that I would give to anybody, not just to young people starting out but anybody: take the good things from other people and use that – there’s no problem with developing yourself – but honestly, the more you experience and everything you pick up from people along the way, just take that and just turn it into something brilliant.”

Overbury specialises in fit out and refurbishment nationally with projects ranging from a few thousand pounds up to £100 million. The company currently has teams operating in the following sectors: commercial offices, higher education and retail banking.

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