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Career Profile: Meurig Williams

Profession: Managing Director, Williams Safety and Training Services Ltd

Qualifications: EngTech  DipSM  DipNEBOSH  CMIOSH  MIIRSM  FRSPH  MIET 

What careers, if any, did you have in mind when you left school?

Meurig Williams: I had absolutely no idea! My parents had sent me to a private school in North Wales and I left school after my ‘O’levels with little idea of a career. My main interest was to spend time with my friends having a good time….. Not surprisingly, my parents encouraged me to apply for a job and I started work with Robertson Research International as an unqualified Land Surveyor. The work was really interesting and I enjoyed travelling around the UK on survey work on projects such as a new motorway construction in Portsmouth and a hydroelectric plant in Snowdonia.

How and when did you move into health and safety?

MW: Like many people, my move into a health and safety career was completely by accident and I knew very little about it. Health and Safety was new to most industries as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 had only recently been enacted.

I met my wife to be in North Wales and when her family relocated to Reading I followed and started work with Thames Water in the Civil Engineering department as a Cartographical Draftsperson, updating maps and designing new water mains. Furthering my career, I applied for a higher position within Thames Water and at the interview was informed that the role included responsibilities for health and safety. I understood and enjoyed the health and safety aspect of the job so much that I quickly moved on to a full-time Health and Safety Advisor position, undertaking the professional qualifications and stayed with Thames Water for almost 3 decades in a senior health and safety role... And my wife to be? I married Ellen and we will be celebrating our 34th anniversary this year.

What would you say to someone who says that health and safety prevents people from enjoying themselves?

MW: The idea that health and safety laws prevent people from doing the things they enjoy is a total misnomer. The expression, “We can’t do this because of health and safety” is so often used to avoid doing the task in question. Accurate risk assessments allow you to do most things, with care.

As an advanced, and rescue scuba diver I have dived in challenging waters including swimming with sharks. I have done this by taking the correct precautions and weighing up risks.

I believe Lord Young’s “Common Sense, Common Safety”, adopted by the Government will improve the public perception of health and safety, but unfortunately it will take a while longer before the media stop using misleading health and safety stories as headlines to sell newspapers, giving a very distorted view to the public at large and damaging the health and safety profession.

How does working in health and safety in the UK differ to other countries?

MW: I worked all over the world within the companies owned by Thames Water and surprisingly, the country that differed the most in terms of health and safety from the UK was the United States of America.

Despite the language differences in Europe and South America, it was the cultural differences in the USA which presented somewhat of a challenge; although they have a similar regulatory framework to the UK, the litigious society of the USA can sometimes affect the advice given by their health and safety professionals. I also found that the attitude to health and safety and the culture altered from State to State and that was pretty demanding; for example workers in Texas had a different approach to those in New York and then California was different again. However, I found that everyone I dealt with in the States was very receptive to the UK standards I introduced and thought it made sense.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to move into the health and safety profession?

MW: I believe that the most important attribute of a health and safety professional is that you need to love working with people, and be passionate and dedicated to your profession.

An ex-boss of mine once said “You’ll never make friends in health and safety.” He couldn’t have been more wrong, as I have found the health and safety profession to be full of outgoing and friendly people and also as a trainer, I have met such interesting people who work in diverse careers.

You need to be prepared to train people when working in health and safety, so you will need to be a good communicator and feel comfortable standing up in front of a crowd, as you will also need to present from the board room to the shop floor.

I would recommend that everyone who is interested in working in the industry should start to study and qualify with the NEBOSH Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health and then progress to the NEBOSH Diploma.

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