Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

March 10, 2016

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The weird and wonderful jobs of OSH: Zoo safety


If we believed everything we read in the papers, we would think that every health and safety (H&S) professional was just a party pooper here to spoil the fun.

Throughout March we are looking at some of the more unique health and safety jobs – from Wimbledon tennis to zoos to film safety and more…

This week Douglas Garland, Health and Safety Manager at Bristol Zoo, talks to SHP about his very varied job, which involves everything from training a gun crew to keep the lions in check to managing the drugs in the veterinary centre.

Tell us about your current job role

I manage the health and safety of two separate zoos run under the same management, they are about 4 to 5 miles apart. One is Bristol zoo which is the second oldest zoo in GB and is 180 years old. Many of the buildings are listed (which does not help) and we are currently going through major, significant upgrading with continuous rebuilding and modification – so I am deeply involved in CDM.

We have some very serious animals here (classed as Category 1) which are likely to kill if they escape, such as Lions and Gorillas. I am responsible for training the Gun Crew. They are first line in controlling the animal, and we must kill it if human life is at risk. I am also responsible for liaising with the Police Firearms Team.

I am involved whenever there is a decision to have new animals on show, so that I can assess the safety needs for the enclosure, not only in terms of preventing the animal from escaping but also the safety needs of the keepers, maintenance crew and gardeners who need to be in the enclosure.

On top of this there are the chemicals that we use, drugs and x-ray needs for the Veterinary team, storage and security of the firearms and ammunition, working at height and in confined spaces, Zoonotic diseases, ground work and contractors.

Further to this (and by far the most difficult) is the public. Many seem to be hell-bent on putting themselves at maximum peril. They seem to think that the animals are harmless pets. Some time ago some youngsters threw stones at the glass of the Lion enclosure hoping to break it, without thinking about the result if the lions got out.

During 2012/13 I co-ordinated the building of the new Zoo (called Wild Place) and this was from the floor up, starting with open fields (and a crested newt problem which greatly restricted the methods of building we could use). I was deeply involved in the designing and building of the animal enclosures so that they would pass the inspection require for a Zoo Licence to be issued.

How did your past jobs lead to this role?

I have been involved in H&S since the 1972 (pre the 1974 act) and worked for many years checking work placements for youngsters on YTS schemes. I moved from there to teaching H&S with a local college under an ESF programme which meant that I worked very closely with the HSE. 10 years ago I moved from there to Bristol Zoo where I am part-time at two days per week.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

Anything from accidents, to showing the various inspectors around, to figuring out the best methods of animal containment. I do a walk around to see if there is anything wrong and negotiate between dedicated keepers, whose sole interest is the wellbeing of their animals, when I am looking to change something in the interest of H&S.

I do most of the H&S training and arrange practice animal escape scenarios so that the gun grew, recapture team and the veterinary darting team can maintain their level of skills.

What do you like most about your job?

The variety – how many people get to let out three fully grown cheetahs, who have just been delivered to the zoo and do not really want to go from the delivery crate into a new enclosure? How many people get to know what it is like to be up close to a fully grown lion when it has just come around from being knocked out by drugs and is not in the best of moods?

In your opinion, can health and safety be fun?

Oh yes, H&S can great fun.

What is the strangest thing you’ve had to do since you started your current role?

When I was introduced to the gorillas in the keeper’s area at the rear of the enclosure, the Silverback (the Boss) poked a piece of straw through the wire mesh and I had to rub this under my armpits and give it back to him. He was watching this very closely and when he took if he gave it a big sniff with his nose and then had me clocked for the rest of his life. I also saw one of the baby gorillas being born and the mother carrying it out onto the island trailing a yard or so of umbilical cord, this was a very poignant moment.

What are the best perks about working for your company/ organisation?

I can visit the zoo anytime I want to with my family, and as my wife once said, I am very lucky because I get paid to work at a place were other people have got to pay to come to! Plus it is a great conversation starter when you meet new people down the pub.

Douglas Garland is a H&S Advisor/Manager at Bristol Zoo. He has worked in health and safety for over 40 years.

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