Jayne Sutton, director, JSL Safety & Risk Management Ltd, and currently working as a health and safety consultant at London Metropolitan University, explains how she became a director of health and safety after starting out as a classical trumpet player.
Currently Health and safety consultant at London Metropolitan University
How did you get started in a career in health and safety?
I actually started my professional life as a classical trumpet player, having studied at the Royal College of Music and then the Royal Academy of Music. It was whilst doing a temporary office job to top up my earnings that I decided to forward my CV across the company I was working at. Looking back, it was quite a bold move, but it worked, and I got o
ffered two roles, one in business development and one in health and safety construction. I thought health and safety sounded pretty interesting, so I thought ‘why not?!” and here I am over 10 years later.
What paths did you take to get into health and safety?
I started in construction, until the recession hit and then realised I had to be more versatile, in what is an ever-changing industry. So I diversified, and got experience in different business types and environments and haven’t stopped since.
Tell us about your job now.
My job now is great. I go in to organisations that need a fresh pair of eyes to look at how they are managing health and safety, advise them how to improve things, and help them through the implementation process. It’s great being able to go in to different workplaces and make a real difference to the organisation, both in terms of efficiency, but also in how people view health and safety, turning it into a positive and interactive experience.
You started out in permanent health and safety roles and now work in interim and consulting work – an area that lots of people are trying to transition to. Can you tell us how you went about doing that?
I’d worked in permanent positions, but wanted to make more of a tangible difference in a shorter space of time. You have to remember that not all organisations want to challenge the status quo, despite having a health and safety role in-house. Moving to being a professional interim was my way of being able to get ‘stuck in’ with businesses that do want to challenge their internal processes and move things forwards in a positive way, improve engagement and be the best they can be with their health and safety standards and performance.
There was no transition period for me, it was a case of having complete faith in my professional abilities and being brave enough to make the leap. I’ll never forget when I told my husband my decision, he looked at me with sheer worry. I told him: “Don’t worry, I’m determined to do this, trust me, it’ll be fine”. I started to network straight away, worked on my branding, CV, website and ended up only having a week off between finishing my permanent role to starting my first contract role which was found for me by Caroline Binns at Hays, who I’ve worked with ever since.
What are the biggest challenges day-to-day for you as a health and safety professional?
Resistance from those who don’t want things to change can be the biggest obstacle – but only if you let it be.
What do you find most rewarding about working in health and safety?
I like seeing that I’ve made a difference to the people who work in the front line of an organisation and that they come away with a sense of enthusiasm about the topic. I like to know that by doing what I do, I can help people get home safely to their families at the end of each working day.
What do you feel is the most important thing when trying to get people on board with health and safety?
Being a good salesperson is the key. Unless you have the ability to tailor your message to the audience you’re addressing, you’ll never win hearts and minds. You have to make health and safety relevant or you’ll never get buy-in. Keep things as interactive as you can, and make time to talk to people at all levels within the organisation you’re in, that’s so important.
What would be your top tips for someone about to start out in health and safety?
Make sure you research the field thoroughly and ensure it’s something you really want to do before you commit – there are no half measures in this job. Once you’ve done that, get an entry level qualification, like the NEBOSH General Certificate and apply for a hands on health and safety role to gain some experience before you do further study.
What is your career plan over the next five years?
I can’t say I have a firm plan as such. I’d obviously like to grow my business further. I’ve just developed a health and safety compliance monitoring tool called Cerburus, so I’d like to see that become really successful and I’d also like to do more guest speaking about wellbeing in the workplace.
However, I’m a firm believer in staying open to new possibilities as they present themselves, and never being frightened to try something slightly different. I like to take calculated risks and to follow my gut instinct, though I do enjoy working in an education environment, so possibly staying in that field for the next couple of years would be interesting.
If you could do any job (excluding health and safety) what would you have done?
I’d have loved to be an acrobat, like in the Cirque du Soleil. The ability to be able to do such daring and amazing things with the human body is inspirational and fascinating to me. I tried the trapeze once, but I confess that my head for heights would need some work, not to mention a permit!