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Journey from Armed Forces to Health and Safety

February 2018

Meet Chris Flynn who after a successful 12 years in the UK Armed Forces, made the decision to reinvent himself and embark on a career more suited to his changing lifestyle. Using his Enhanced Learning Credits to undertake NEBOSH training, he began his journey to become a qualified health and safety practitioner, working in the UK, Australia, US and Dubai. 

Where it all begin?

Having been persuaded by my father at the age of 17 that the Parachute Regiment could wait and obtaining a trade was initially a wiser approach, I embarked on a career in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). It turned out my father understood a little more about life than I did at that stage and his advice was solid for a young man unsure of where to direct his energy.

After completing military training and a further year in the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, I was posted to an infantry battalion workshop as a Junior Craftsman. Engineering workshops, particularly military ones, are inherently hazardous places to work and for me, this is where my intro to workplace safety began.

In 1999 when I arrived, UK Forces were still operating under an exemption of certain legislative requirements, beneath the title of Crown Immunity. Partly because of this as well as the hazardous nature of the job, accidents were not uncommon. As a young Craftsman it was certainly not my place to raise these concerns, which to me, I found frustrating. This combined with my desire for more led me to think of other options. I stuck out the post during a few operational tours then decided to pursue a more physical role as a gym physical training instructor (PTI).

Four years in and following earlier aspirations to hurl myself out of aircraft, I applied for the airborne forces infamous P Company selection course, to become a para trained soldier. In a desire to eventually move into a new role again and combined with a ton of chocolate, sweat and tears, I secured the top student position and was posted to 16 Air Assault Brigade. Although still wearing the REME cap badge and now back in the workshop, I was in a better position to transfer into more specialist fields of the military, but not before a few endeavours in the middle east.

During tours of Afghanistan with the airborne, I was introduced to the now highly utilised role of Forward Air Controller (FAC). That was it, I wanted to be one and after little deliberation, I applied for transfer to the Commandos to pursue this aspiration. Two years later and having passed the Commando course and the FAC selection course I was now embedded with 42 Commando as one of their company FACs.

The FAC role is a highly pressurised and technical role, requiring the controller to coordinate and deconflict multiple air assets in very restricted airspace, whilst also operating on the front line. The safety element was paramount and with such high risks and huge potential severity, the procedures for effective and safe operation were critical. It taught me how to compose myself during conditions that seemed impossible and I carry this through into civilian life today.

Switching to Health and Safety

After over 12 highly rewarding years and approaching 30, I decided it was time to reinvent myself, ready to enter the civilian world. A close friend at the time was a senior Health & Safety Manager for a university and I’d observed her as she underwent the various NEBOSH courses out there on the market. I came to understand that the principles of leadership, perseverance, diligence and discipline were attributes that would carry into such a role. Deciding that I had obtained a few of these during my service, I used my Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC) to complete the NEBOSH General Certificate. Although no walk in the park, by dedicating my time, effort and copious cups of strong coffee I was successful. That allowed me the confidence to then go on and complete the NEBOSH fire and construction certificates, as well as a few others.

By now I was in full swing and heading for a career in health and safety, so decided to use my remaining ELC credits to complete the NEBOSH Diploma. At this point, I had moved to Australia and managed to secure a temporary role as a site safety advisor on a construction project. Because I had moved abroad, I had decided to go down the online approach in completing the diploma, which is a challenge in itself. 

Whilst plugging away at the online course, a job opportunity presented itself in Dubai as a HSSE Manager for an international shipping and logistics company. I was at the time, inexperienced and under qualified for the role, but had confidence in my abilities to learn on the job, so applied. My potential employer was highly aware of my lack of civilian experience, but because the NEBOSH qualifications I had acquired are highly recognised internationally and also because many employers buy-in to the ex-military brand, I was successful and landed the job.

I spent almost 5 years with the Dubai Shipping company, which saw me take their HSSE systems from barely existing, to one of legal compliance and in some areas beyond. It was by no means an easy task, but armed with previous knowledge and the CV I had now built-myself, I managed. 

Upon returning to the UK in 2017 after a brief spell in the US, Astutis offered me the role as HSE consultant for the London and South East, which I was pleased to accept. Now in the post for the last 5 months the role sees me delivering NEBOSH, IOSH and bespoke training courses to businesses and organisations across the area, as well as consulting them on how to approach aspects of HSE management. I am exposed to new people from different backgrounds on a weekly basis and the opportunity for growth is outstanding. I often teach ex-forces people whose background, like mine, allows them certain abilities not immediately obvious in others. 

The NEBOSH qualifications I’ve obtained over the years have provided me a new trade and that, coupled with experience, has launched me into areas I may otherwise not of discovered. The skills NEBOSH courses can give are applicable across most industries, which I find rewarding. Under the guise of health and safety within a business, you are able to delve into most areas of the organisation and speak with all levels of employee, from bottom to top. I have recently worked for Hawkeye, a branch of Sony, Chelsea Football Club, Heathrow Airport, London multiple transport providers amongst others. This has exposed me to elements within the businesses that most jobs are not privy. As well as office based/training room work, there is opportunity to dig into corners of site operations within businesses, which is great exposure and mixes the role up nicely. 

My advice to service members thinking of pursuing a career in health and safety, or supplementing a career with health and safety qualification, would be to read up on the NEBOSH course structure and what it can offer. The qualifications are very transferable and will help compliment all you a have done during your service. They also touch on subjects and areas of the working world you perhaps have never considered, which is a great head start when leaving the isolated world of the Armed Forces. Best of fortune!

Enhanced Learning Credits

Astutis is an approved and registered partner of Enhanced Learning Credits Administration Service (ELCAS) providing financial support to Armed Forces' members for nationally recognised qualifications, such as NEBOSH qualifications

The NEBOSH General Certificate is a great way to progress to a career in health and safety as a first step!

Click the button below to view our funding options for armed forces.

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