I Caught the Safety Bug
Rachel Whitehall, an Astutis Health and Safety Consultant shares her career experience to date.
I entered into the world of health and safety by complete chance nearly 13 years ago and I have been lucky to have worked for a wide variety of organisations with some inspiring and excellent safety practitioners. The road hasn’t always been smooth, but the journey has certainly been worth it!
How did you start your career?
I would like to say it was all part of a grand plan but I rather fell into my safety career beginning many years ago when I was working in a local firm of Solicitors as an Assistant Facilities Manager.
The Facilities Manager at the time was less than keen on safety and asked me if I could take it on. I was more than willing, but was keen to secure a qualification. So after some research and applications for funding, NEBOSH Diploma Part 1* was underway – the rest they say is history.
Did you always want to work in health and safety?
I caught the safety bug and haven’t really looked back, once I completed NEBOSH Diploma Part 1, I quickly signed up for Part 2 and I have spent 12 happy years working in this profession.
Sometimes fate just leads you down the right road, rather than some well thought out route map!
What would you do differently?
One of the most notable aspects of my career to date I think is the extreme variety of roles, sectors and companies I have experienced. In fact, there aren’t many types of industry left that I haven’t worked within at some point in time: construction, retail, events, aviation, education, leisure, food manufacture, agriculture and arboriculture are a few of them.
I would honestly not do anything differently, as I think you become the by-product of those choices and whilst I can cringe looking back sometimes, I am better for the experience and I would not want to change where I am now.
How have qualifications helped in your day to day roles?
Experience can’t be bought. Depth of knowledge and practical experience is the overall challenge, but I think it is only right to support it with relevant qualifications, because this supports your credibility.
In the field of health and safety, we are always referring to competence and the proof that the right people are assigned the right tasks and quite frankly this would be a huge contradiction if we didn’t have the qualifications to back up our professional standing.
What has been the biggest health and safety challenge you have experienced to date?
I think my first dedicated safety role was perhaps the most rewarding and fondly remembered, gaining valuable experience in my safety career thus far. That said, I think it was the one that challenged me to the extreme, fast tracked my ability to cope with pressure, and pushed me to take a leading role and face challenges and hold my own.
Before the age of 25, I became acting Divisional Safety Manager which having only been qualified for a few years, was pretty challenging teamed with developing a group initiative of a behavioural safety system and changing the culture into one of safety is everyone’s responsibility not just the dictating by the safety team. This proved my hardest challenge.
What advice would you offer someone developing or switching to a career in health and safety?
I am now a firm believer that life is too short; if you have a desire, that you are serious about, go for it. Better to have tried and failed than not tried at all. Equally, motivation is an amazingly empowering driver, so I firmly believe where there is a will, there is a way, but don’t expect it all to be easy. It will require hard work too.
Value the skills you have developed from other careers. I frequently draw upon examples from previous jobs. Health and safety embraces so much more than you realise as it underpins everything we do so cherish and use these nuggets of wisdom!
My final thoughts revolve around two points:
- What keeps me motivated is at the very heart of why I do it. I strongly believe that our work should focus on the ability to do a job and not to get injured. And...
- Drawing on Henry Ford’s famous quote, “If you always do what you have always done, then you will always get what you have always got.” Be prepared to learn from what is, and is not working and find the motivation to unlock positive change.
*(the former NEBOSH Diploma was split in to Parts 1 and 2)