October 23, 2019

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‘I want to be a leader and considered an authority within the industry’: In conversation with Robert Jukes, SHP’s Rising Star UK for 2019

At Safety & Health Expo in June, Robert Jukes was crowned SHP’s Rising Star for Manufacturing and, subsequently, the overall Rising Star UK winner for 2019. Having given him a few weeks to let the accolade sink in, SHP caught up with Robert to ask him about the achievement and to find out what made him the stand-out choice for the judging panel.

Robert Jukes Rising Star

Robert Jukes (left), collecting his UK Award from Karl Simons, Chief Health, Safety & Security Officer, Thames Water.

Robert Jukes is the Health, Safety and Environment Manager for Wax lyrical Ltd, the UK’s largest home fragrance manufacturer and part of the Portmeirion Group. The 27-year-old is currently studying the NEBOSH Diploma and the MSc in Occupational Health, Safety and Environment at Manchester Metropolitan University and, in his spare time, volunteers as a committee member of the Keswick to Barrow Walk, a 40 mile stroll through the beautiful Lake District from Keswick to Barrow. It has raises £100,000’s for both local and national charities. Robert also volunteers as a mentor in the Safety4Good Scheme.

Robert scooped SHP’s Rising Star for Manufacturing and Rising Star UK at Safety & Health Expo in June. He enthralled the judges by “his commitment to learning more and working away from home is excellent, engaging with local communities with a heavy focus on wellbeing.

What was your first experience of the health & safety profession?

Robert Jukes (RJ): “My first job in health & safety, was a placement within the health and safety department at BAE Systems in Barrow-In-Furness. I was very fortunate to get the opportunity, as I was contracting through an external agency and I had to take unpaid time off and work overtime and shifts in order to self-fund and complete the Nebosh General Certificate and Prince2 Practitioners course, both of which I passed with flying colours. I was struggling to gain volunteer work experience in the field in my own time and, after a management briefing, I spoke to a senior manager about what I had done and how I was struggling to get anything and [he/she] helped me set up an internal secondment.

“Although I had already taken on safety responsibility and become a leader within the team, this work really provided an insight into the role of a health and safety advisor within one of the biggest defence companies in the world. As we designed, built and commissioned one of the world’s most complex machines I understood and respected the importance of safety. Getting first-hand experience shadowing HSE advisors and working with the team really helped me decide that health and safety was for me. Working on these projects of national importance was something else, especially when the submarine was transitioned from the DDH to the ship lift and you see the sheer size of the submarine and know you contributed to that.

“The role of the health and safety advisor is of critical importance as you have so many factors at play and almost 10,000 people to keep safe. Working at height, restricted access, confined spaces, clashing processes, hazardous substances, machinery, working over or near water and radiation are all everyday challenges that involve hundreds of people at any one time. The everyday challenges were immense and the need to be able to adapt to a situation quickly and in the right manner was a lesson which I applied in my first full health and safety role and still use now in my health and safety managerial role.”

What was your first role in health & safety?

(RJ): “In order to get my first role, I had to leave BAE Systems; an organisation I am thankful to, as it is where I grew from a fresh-out-of-university student, to a professional working man. I was incredibly fortunate to get an opportunity with a specialist construction firm called Sheet Piling (UK) Ltd. This company really gave me an insight into the construction industry and challenged me in ways I never saw coming. I really put a lot of effort into the role and learned a lot from so many great people. I put in so many hours to learn the specific risks and hazards involved with construction especially sheet piling.

“The risks involved in piling is very unique and the challenges the construction industry faces are just as big. For instance, Sheet Piling is a specialist trade within construction that few companies can do, especially on a large scale. It is also not something which takes a long time to complete. Therefore, projects are varied throughout the country all with differing lengths of duration and complexity to complete. The problem is, like many other construction companies, employees have to live somewhere, and this means working away from home and travelling. This role really gave me an insight into the problems facing employees working away from home, mental health and the importance of work/life balance. I was very fortunate that the team at Sheet Piling are like a big family and the directors understand the importance of family. This really gave me an insight into how employees should be encouraged to find balance in their lives and put family first.”

What does your current role involve?

(RJ): “My current role involves ensuring the health, safety and welfare of almost 200 employees and the environmental performance of the company. This can be a demanding role, which has challenged me in new ways. In my first few months at the company, I was carrying out an investigation with an employee who was working in a different culture, different time zone and different language. Afterwards I reflected back I really enjoyed the challenge and it drove home the global reach of the company. I am very fortunate to be able to be involved in all traditional aspects of health and safety in my role but also having the ability and freedom to develop the health and safety management systems. I envisage to be involved in budgeting and leading improvement projects, chairing safety meetings, producing board reports and being responsible for the HSE performance of the company. I am very fortunate to have the ability to develop both professionally and personally and have the support of fantastic colleagues and a supportive senior management team.”

What is the best part of your role?

Robert Jukes-Rising Star

Robert Jukes (left), collecting his Manufacturing Award from Steve Hails, Health & Safety Director at Tideway.

(RJ): “For me the best part of my role is people. I generally love speaking to people and developing relationships. I enjoy working on projects which deliver a general improvement to the health and safety of my colleagues. For me it does not matter if you spend £10 or £10,000, I get a sense of accomplishment when a colleague has recognised that we have made a genuine improvement to their health and safety. Whether it be from implementing a new safe system of work to delivering new training, the importance of explaining the why and the how to employees is key. These conversations can be very rewarding. They help not only build the safety culture of an organisation but also improves the culture of the whole organisation.

“For me safety culture is like a cog in a clock, and like how cogs in the clock are connected to each other, safety culture is connected to culture and other organisation factors. As these improve the culture improves but like if there is a problem in one cog there will be a knock on effect on the other cogs another organisational factor can impact safety culture. As I have developed in my role and gained an insight into leadership, I appreciate more and more the bigger picture and how we as health and safety leaders have to assist other departments, channel and facilitate business in a responsible manner.”

What is your biggest challenge?

(RJ): “My biggest challenge at the moment is maintaining balance in my life. At the moment I am working a full time managerial role, studying my MSc part time and the NEBOSH diploma, I volunteer with charity events and organisations, I am involved in various health and safety projects, I have just started Brazilian Jiujitsu, I try to keep fit, albeit badly at the moment, and I have friends, family and a fantastic girlfriend. Trying to fit all this in and finding time to relax can be a little tricky at times but I am getting the hang of it.”

What motivates you?

(RJ): “I unfortunately suffered an accident, when I was struck by a metal hatch in a previous role. This caused a slipped disc, which meant I spent months off work and on medication. I was told I was very lucky not to have died, as it would have almost certainly been a fatality if I had been struck on the head. This really hit home how unexpected and unfortunate life can be. For me this was one of the worst times in my life and I was depressed, as I was not able to do the things I loved. I still have not gone back to playing the sports I love (Football, Rugby League, Rugby Union and American Football). In truth I never want anyone to go through what I did, and if I can do something to stop that then I will do everything I can do.

“I also had an unfortunate experience when on my first holiday with my girlfriend when we were visiting the Christmas markets in Berlin and a terrorist attack unfolded. This was one of my worst experiences in life, I will always remember the aftermath, the feeling of being scared and the victims of this attack. This made me realise how short life is and is probably why I take so much on. I really want to be the best version of myself and live life to full as we do not know what tomorrow may bring. This for me is the career I want and the difference I want to make in the world. Everything I can do to have the biggest impact and improve both the industry and individuals Health, Safety and Welfare I will do so.

“I really push mental health wellbeing and mental health charities and services because I understand what it is like to be feeling down, to be stressed and to lose friends to due to mental health problems. I remember failing to recognise the signs in a former teammate and friend who had helped me so much in settling into a sports team when I was in a tough place, and they took their own life. I had reached out to speak to them and help them, but it was too late. I regret not being able to act sooner or even recognise and pick up on the signs. I only saw my friend a few days before. For me it is personal not just professional.”

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Robert Jukes

Robert Jukes (right) showing off his awards with tutor Haruna Moda.

(RJ): “I would encourage anyone starting out to reach out to people in the industry, to attend IOSH meetings and network. I have been very fortunate to speak to people at all levels throughout the industry and have found most are happy to speak and provide advice. When these people speak, listen. Their advice is invaluable. I recently attended the Safer Highways conference at Silverstone, after being invited by a senior figure in the industry, I now consider a good friend. I met so many industry leaders and they had amazing advice. One leader really made an impact and I went home and thought about my own personal one, three and five year plan, another had me going home and planning how to write an article and produce a podcast, another had me looking at people to get into contact with for my PhD that I want to do and another had me considering how I network and to consider speaking at conferences.

“The health and safety industry is generally very good at guiding people on the technical skills they need and is a friendly bunch of people. It is very daunting at first, but everyone is really friendly and willing to help. It may be because of our industry and our roles that we need to be able to help and develop relationships that we start to naturally do this. I do not know, but, seriously reach out!

“The key, I think, in getting the first role in the industry is getting a basic qualification which for me is the NEBOSH General Certificate, and building some relevant experience on this. A willingness to learn and develop skills is required, as is a willingness to reach out to people in the industry to get that experience. It is likely that you would already have completed some health and safety tasks or have some relevant transferable skills. The key is to highlight them on a CV and in an interview.”

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

(RJ): “I want to be a leader and considered an authority within the industry. Someone that other health and safety professionals respect and admire. I would like to be in a senior business position such as a Head of Health and Safety or HSE Director role within a major organisation directing strategic planning and policy. Whether that be in my current organisation, or another, I am not entirely sure. I would love to be able to do so with my current employer, due to the close personal relationships I have built, but that would likely require moving or travelling to group headquarters.

“I plan to do a PhD after I finish my MSc and NEBOSH diploma to prove to myself that I can do it and go all the way. I also like the idea of doing a little bit of consultancy work, being involved with health and safety publications, reports and projects. I would like to also develop my public speaking skills enough to have spoken at conferences. This for me is what the top people in the industry are doing and is what I want to do. I want to challenge government strategy, be an industry leader and help improve the industry. I want to be on my way to achieving the fellowships of IOSH, IEMA and IIRSM, as well as helping promote these and the health and safety industry as a career to current and future generations. I would like to sit on a charity board and to be able to help people get a start in the industry and be a role model for others in the industry to follow.”

To read about the winners in the other categories, click here.

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In this episode, hear from Robert as he talks about the challenges the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the manufacturing sector. Robert’s firm, Wax Lyrical, has remined open throughout the pandemic, pivoting to produce hand sanitizer for the NHS. In this episode, hear Robert speak about his experiences of the last few months, how his year has been as SHP Rising Star in Manufacturing and SHP Rising Star UK, his involvement with the IOSH Future Leaders programme and his plans and goals for 2021.

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