In December 2021, SHE Manager at Kier Highways, Dave McPherson, was named as the winner of the SHP Award for Trailblazer in Health & Safety. Here, he shares what inspired him to pursue a career in the profession, how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted his role, and what advice he would give to people in the early stages of a career in health and safety.
SHP Trailblazer Awards celebrate those who are going above and beyond to make a positive difference, the real pioneers of health and safety.
Trailblazer in Health & Safety recognises individuals who have made an impact in workplace safety, people who have transformed safety, through a transformative project or culture change, someone who has used technology to make a safety impact and unsung heroes.
It is brought to you as part of the wider SHP Awards, which, for 2021, was in collaboration with Shirley Parsons, global HSEQ talent experts.
At 35, Dave decided it was time for a career change, he was a personal trainer with no experience or qualifications in any other field, just a positive attitude and a genuine drive to succeed.
“I initially looked into engineering, I thought it might be something I’d find interesting, but I didn’t have a degree in it, so I couldn’t even get a basic entry level job.
“I got a job as a site cleaning labourer on a large power station build, and it was fascinating. I was overwhelmed by the amount of experience people had there, I would ask questions and get some really interesting answers. It became apparent after a while that there was an opportunity for some roles in health and safety, and that seemed like the perfect match for me. So, it really was an accident, I didn’t intend to get into health and safety.”
Coming from a career in fitness, Dave had already gained sufficient experience in working with people from various backgrounds.
“I think if I’d have come from a more traditional professional background, I wouldn’t approach things in the way I do. In my first construction job I was looking after a small team of industrial cleaners on an enormous project. The conditions were often very poor, sometimes you’d be digging and picking up bits of metal in the freezing cold and pouring rain, so I really understand what it means to be working in that environment. Considering the welfare and health and safety of the people working for our companies is crucial, showing employees that you truly care makes it so much easier to build a rapport with people and get to the root of any challenges that might exist within their work.”
Industry reliance on health and safety guidance has skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, though that has definitely brought with it a multitude of challenges, Dave highlights the positive impact the last two years have had on the profession.
“At first, the entire industry started leaning very heavily on health and safety to guide them through the process. Throughout the pandemic we continued to provide vital services, there was no pause for us, and there was a lot of work to be done. Although that was immensely challenging, as I’m sure it would be for anybody, it enabled better relationships to be instilled between operational management and health and safety. There has always been a degree of separation between the two, with health and safety been regarded to some degree as ‘the enemy’. Having a better level of cooperation on a daily basis resulted in a far more fluid and adaptable relationship between us and the operational teams.
“It has also allowed us to become more flexible and adaptable in the way in which we discharge those duties. Inductions have become far more targeted and specific around individuals and the tasks they carry out. It has also now become the norm to connect with people online, which means that advice and support is far more accessible than it has been.”
Speaking on his reaction to being announced as SHP’s Trailblazer in Health and Safety for 2021, Dave says: “I was quite surprised! Initially, when I found out that my nomination had gone through I was quite confident, and then I saw the line-up of the other nominees, and there was some real power houses in there! There is some absolutely fantastic stuff coming out of health and safety at the moment, so to even be shortlisted was such a privilege.”
Dave used his knowledge and experience to identify a lack of understanding in the safe use of Cable Avoidance Tools. He then went on to design an award-winning training programme, which was recognised by Highways England (Now National Highways) for achieving ‘Excellence in a new training initiative, which significantly improved attendees’ skill and confidence in the scope and application of the equipment’.
When discussing his hopes for the future, Dave comments: Right now, I’m working with a fantastic team of individuals to tackle one of the UK’s greatest challenges around construction health and safety, and we’re really looking forward to producing some great results this year.
“I’m really excited to be doing what I’m doing right now, and if I can just continue doing that, that would be a very good place to be”.
With his route into the profession being far from traditional, Dave concludes by sharing this piece of advice for anyone considering a career in health and safety: “The most important think you can do in my book is to establish good relationships with people, to treat everybody with respect and show genuine curiosity.
“I would encourage people to seek collaboration and co-working rather than judgement or policing. This job is about supporting the fantastic men and women who are out there doing amazing things. We’re there to help them, and we can do that best if we’ve got great relationships with people.”