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January 17, 2012

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Chris Wraith – How did I get here?

How did you get into health and safety?
My first real health and safety role was as an instructor with Nationwide Access, delivering courses on the safe use of mobile elevated work platforms. I soon realised how little I really knew about the technicalities of health and safety law, so made a conscious effort to learn more and started studying part time.

What qualifications do you hold?
In 2003, I gained a NEBOSH General Certificate, which gave me the incentive to learn more. Over the next four years I studied part time at Hull University and gained both NEBOSH safety and environmental Diplomas. In 2007, aged 52, I gained a first-class honours degree in safety and environmental management.

Which aspects of your health and safety role do you most enjoy?
I work with manufacturers, hire companies, contractors and enforcement authorities to raise awareness and improve safety standards for work at height. Getting people to understand and appreciate how common sense and a practical approach can provide workable solutions that triumph over bureaucracy is challenging but rewarding.

What have been the highest and lowest points in your career?
Sharing knowledge and empowering others is always a high point. The culmination of a three-year team effort to merge the safety cultures of eight companies resulting in achieving a RoSPA Gold award was another (Chris is on the right in the picture above, receiving the award). Low points are hearing of serious accidents that could have been avoided.

What has been the biggest change in health and safety since you have been working in it?
The introduction of Work at Height Regulations 2005 and removal of the ‘two-metre rule’ changed behaviour to focus on low-level access. Unfortunately, it also gave rise to myths such as ‘ladders are banned’ and led to inappropriate access solutions being used. Thankfully, these issues are being re-addressed, as managers and supervisors come to appreciate the range of options available, and realise no access solution is risk-free.

What do you think will be the biggest developments in the next 10 years?
When I worked in France in the early 1990s, I had to have an annual employment medical. Over the next 10 years I believe the UK industry focus will shift more from safety to include health and well-being. Annual medicals for all could save lives and reduce health costs by identifying ill health earlier.

If you were prime minister for a day, which health and safety law(s) would you introduce, or repeal?
I would remove the ability of the ambulance-chasers to tout for business, and implement measures to defeat  the ‘no win, no fee’ culture, which has stifled common sense and resulted in over-protective measures being implemented in the name of good safety.

How do you capitalise on your IOSH membership?
I appreciate IOSH do very good work and often reference their material and information in reports and presentations. However, powered access is used in all sectors of industry and doesn’t sit in one specialist IOSH group, so I would like to see a plant-hire specialist group.

What are your top two pieces of advice on getting a job in health and safety?
You need a blend of life experience and education in order to have a balanced approach to achieving best practice while appreciating commercial realities. Take the initiative by showing an interest in formal study. It’s like travelling abroad – make an effort with the language and the locals will become friends.

Who has had the biggest impact on your career, and how?
My predecessor at Nationwide Access, Dave James, was an ex-Navy man and had a lifetime’s experience with lifting equipment and the access industry but few academic qualifications. He taught me to consult others, be practical and keep things simple – and that the results you achieve are proportional to the time and effort you are prepared to put in.

If you could be anything other than a health and safety practitioner, what job would you choose?
From construction and agriculture to haulage and plant hire I have been fortunate to enjoy all the roles I have had in my 39-year working life. Although my roots are in agriculture, I do not have a preferred job – being happy at work is more important than an ideal job.

CV Chris Wraith
Current Technical officer, International Powered Access Federation
2008-2011 QHSE manager, Lavendon Access Services
2005-2008 SHE advisor, Nationwide Access
2000-2005 Senior training instructor, Nationwide Access
1997-2000 Large goods vehicle driver, Nationwide Access


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