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December 9, 2021

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Women in Health and Safety

‘Some people will hit a crisis level in their wellbeing, and we need to help them prepare for that’

SHP speaks to Tiffany Argent, QSHE Cluster Lead Manager UK & Ireland at DB Schenker, to give readers an insight into the varying impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing, and what employers can do to best support their workers. 

Tiffany Argent, QSHE Cluster Lead Manager at DB Schenker

Tiffany is currently a QSHE cluster lead manager with 15 years’ experience as a health and safety professional with CMIOSH status. She has a foundation in the science sector, and experience in both manufacturing and logistics industries.

Tiffany has proved that she can improve safety cultures within businesses through training, innovative techniques, positive communication, and empowering staff. Evidence includes, improved incident reporting, reduction in accidents, fewer non-conformances from external audits and site safety processes being used as group best practice.

This interview is part of a series for Women in Health and SafetyAs a member of the committee our goal is to amplify the voices of women in the profession. Some of the topics covered affect women more than men. Some are deeply personal. It’s our belief that we bring our whole selves to work and therefore should be able to talk about all sorts of issues that affect us, day-to-day, in a work setting.

Two things have struck us throughout this series. 1) We all have so much in common. 2) People are often very willing to open up, if they’re given a safe opportunity to do so with someone who is willing to listen without judgement. So, our hope is that issues discussed in this series resonate with readers, perhaps making some feel less alone, perhaps even giving some the confidence to share their own stories. We also hope readers will be encouraged to check in on colleagues, talk about the whole selves we bring to work and be there to listen.

Can you start by giving us an insight into your career journey so far?

“My degree and initial career was in research science. After I my first child, I had the opportunity change roles and become the safety advisor within a laboratory-based business. It was a challenge to change roles within the same company because I was often told, ‘what do you know about health and safety, you’re a scientist.’

“Then I took some time off after my second child to be a mum. I was able to further my studies in health and safety and volunteered my skills at a local children’s centre, but I quickly realised that I knew too much about Teletubbies and in the Night Garden, so I needed to go back to work.

“I went back in a contract job in a manufacturing site within an aerospace business, and I really enjoyed being able to keep people safe in a high-risk environment. After the contract ended, I decided I wanted to return to full-time permanent position. At the same time, I’d separated from my husband and I’d become a single mum. I got another role at a rubber manufacturing site; manufacturing excites me, I love seeing products get made with the large-scale machinery and the skilled operators using them, I want to be able to keep them safe whilst doing it.

“I work in typically very male-orientated workforces, and I learnt I couldn’t go in and be dictatorial without understanding the risks associated with the processes. I demonstrated to them I could get my hands dirty. I sat in each of the work areas to understand how they worked and the risks they took. I was working with people, changing mindsets and cultures and it was great.

“I moved to the freight-forwarding industry in 2014, which is where I am now and have been for 7 years.

“I look after 26 facilities and 1800 people across the UK and Ireland area and report directly to the senior management team. I used to work on my own but now I have a small team across the UK and Ireland. I also support part of the European advisory board and the global advisory board with safety and environment.

“Because my team is spread across the UK and Ireland, we’ve never all been based in one office, so when the pandemic hit, we were already used to working as a remote team. It changed when they couldn’t travel anywhere though.”

Unrecognised burnout

“When COVID first hit, me and my two teenage girls were at home. My team were having to learn so much so quickly to support the business. Hours were long and hard. I suddenly became an ‘expert’ in COVID like many other safety professionals and, like many other parents, also had to support the girls with their schoolwork. I didn’t recognise how hard I was working, and I ended in hospital for two nights. Initially the doctors thought I’d had a stroke, but it was burnout – pressure and stress.

“I didn’t recognise some of the things that were happening to me. It really dawned on me that if I didn’t look after myself, there would be no-one to look after my girls, so I knew I had to start looking after myself.”

How have you built resilience in remote teams?

“The team would maybe get together three times a year but, with the pandemic, we started to virtually meet fortnightly and then monthly as the pandemic moved on. We’ve really developed together as a team, which is great.

“We call it the COVID legacy. We look at the positive outcomes of the pandemic and how we have developed our processes, the way in which we work now and the support that we provide to the business. One of the advantages is we are now a closer-knit team.”

“Wellbeing was handled reactively prior to the pandemic but during the winter months in 2020, with continued isolation and the second lockdown, we thought we had to do something proactively for our colleagues. We were looking at what wellbeing meant and how we could support teams, not just from a mental health perspective, but holistically, looking at physical, mental, emotional, financial, and social wellbeing.

“We completed a resilience course with the Red Cross, supporting yourself and others. It helped us to recognise when somebody else could be hitting a crisis, or a low point within their working day, and then how we can then support each other.

“At first, we had a very limited budget, so we did everything from freely available resources, such as the NHS and Mind, or contacts we already had within the business. We asked people what they wanted, and we did our best to deliver.

“We had chair yoga sessions and we asked our pensions provider to talk about finances and pensions. Every Thursday lunchtime we had a quiz to get people together socially, we did online yoga sessions, chats and ‘call a friend’ days. All these things we used within our team and then could expand and deliver externally to the to the rest of the business as well.

“After the 16-week initial initiative, we were given a budget, which is another aspect of our COVID-legacy. We were able to develop a full wellbeing program Now we have a program integrating wellbeing into onboarding and everyday work, empowering managers to say, ‘it’s alright to stop for half an hour, let’s all just sit and have a cup of coffee and talk’.

“Looking further forward, we’re thinking of having events throughout the year, based on different wellbeing pillars. We’re looking at how we can support working families and timetables of parents who maybe don’t have time after work for these things and feel during the working day they shouldn’t be taking time out for non-work activity.

“If we can practically help people at work, it will go into their homes too. For me, this is a passion I didn’t know I had. I’ve always focused on proactively managing physical risks in the workplace. And yes, we look at emergency preparedness, but we look at proactive aspects now too.

“Some people will hit crisis, whatever you do, and we need to prepare for that. Providing signposting opportunities for those who feel they can’t, or don’t want to, approach colleagues is an area we can also support.”

As a working, single mum, how do you find time to look after your own wellbeing?

“I’ve made myself find time. The guys at work are fed up with me talking about Joe Wicks, but he inspired me during the second lockdown.

“I’ve brought what I’ve learnt about wellbeing into my home life now and use some of this technique with my two teenage girls. We’ve done meditation, yoga and listening to calming music or just talking before bed rather than TV; it has really been a benefit.

“I told everyone at work, I will not be having meetings between 12.30 – 13.30 because I will be having lunch. And on a Friday, I’ll have limited meetings after 15.00 because I’ll be reflecting on the week we’ve had, catching up on emails and preparing for the following week.

“I said, I will not start work before 08.30 and I will not work past 18.00. So, if you want to contact me outside of those times, you can message me, but unless it’s an emergency, I won’t action it immediately.

“Sitting in that hospital was like a slap around the face. I wasn’t being proactive. I’ve really made a very conscious effort to compartmentalise work and family life and time for myself. Now, I’m happier and more productive, and most importantly my girls are happy.

“Our key role as health and safety professionals in a business is risk-based thinking. We’re seen as spending department and the benefit of wellbeing wasn’t seen being financially beneficial. I’m hoping to see absenteeism drop and an increase in morale because of what we’re achieving.  Even if we help one person avoid reaching a crisis level in their wellbeing, I feel we have been successful.”

For more information about the Women in Health and Safety network see our hub page here.

To learn more about the Women in Health & Safety Network workstreams and mailing list, click here.

Read more from this Women in Health & Safety interview series.

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