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Chris Pollington CMIOSH

A Career Started in the Forces Can Transfer to Safety

July 2018

Read about the experiences of a health and safety professional whose career began with the Armed Forces. 

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 and his advice was sound 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 introduction to workplace safety began. Due to the hazardous nature of the job, accidents were not uncommon and as a young Craftsman with aspirations, it led me to think of other career options. I stuck the post during a few operational tours then decided to pursue a more active role as a gym physical training instructor (PTI).

Transferable Skills Developed in the Forces

During the remainder of my career in the Forces, I began to develop vital skills and a real understanding of the importance of safety, invaluable when I switched to safety management. The role I worked in was a para trained soldier for the airborne forces at 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 forces, I was introduced to the now highly utilised role of Forward Air Controller (FAC) 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 use this in civilian life today.

Change of Career to Health & Safety

After over 12 highly rewarding years and approaching 30, I decided it was time to reinvent myself, in preparation 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.

Qualifications to Develop my Career

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.

 

My Health and Safety Career Begins...

It was a full steam ahead at forging a career in health and safety, so I decided to use my remaining ELC.
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 knowledge acquired on the NEBOSH courses I was in a much better place to manage the work.

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 I had confidence in my abilities to learn on the job, so I applied for the role. 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 as many employers buy-in to the ex-military brand, I was successful and landed the job.

Upon returning to the UK in 2017, Astutis offered me the role as HSE consultant for the London and South East, which I was pleased to accept. This role sees me delivering NEBOSH, IOSH and bespoke training courses to businesses across the South East as well as supporting organisations on aspects of HSE management. I often teach ex-forces people whose background, like mine, allows them to put to use specific skills developed when serving but now in a different context.

The Positives of Working in Health and Safety

The NEBOSH qualifications I have obtained over the years have provided me a new trade and that, coupled with experience, has launched me into areas I may otherwise not have 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 employees. I have recently worked for Hawkeye, a branch of Sony, Chelsea football club, Heathrow Airport, London multiple transport providers amongst many others. This has exposed me to elements within the businesses that other jobs may not have done making my work much more interesting and varied.

What Next

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 involves. The skills you have gained are very transferable accompanied by the NEBOSH qualification will help compliment all you have done during your service. This course also touches on subjects and areas of the working world you perhaps have never considered, and it is a great head start when leaving the Armed Forces and entering civvy street. No wonder health and safety is such a popular career choice for service members. Best of luck!

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