It’s true. When I share how I got into health and safety, it’s fair to say it’s raised a few eyebrows. Understandable really. My family had the same reaction. That’s because a lot of them went into construction – particularly in the asphalting and felting of roofs. So you could say I’m the black sheep of my family, having chosen a career that was the antithesis of construction in the 1990’s.
However, that would be too simple a comparison to make. What I observed then, is what I observe now. People trying their best to do a good job and wanting to work to high standards, but not always having the necessary knowledge or equipment to be safe. And on top of this, there was usually a massive downward pressure to deliver complex outcomes with inadequate time and resources.
I was the first person in my extended family to head to university. I studied Zoology, with a focus on Marine Zoology. My intention was to work in the regulatory world, focusing on life underwater! But due to a total upheaval of the UK’s regulatory bodies in the early 1990’s, I had a shift of focus to Environmental Protection. It helped that there was lots of funding on this topic from the European Union.
I completed a Master’s degree in Environmental Protection and took my first proper job working as the Environmental Officer at SU Automotive. The company made the first ever carburettors. They went into all sorts of fabulous cars – Jaguar, Rolls Royce and Triumph.
In that role, I learned all about Management Systems and started to experience working with senior leaders and managers and introducing workers to their first ever – and I definitely mean first – Environmental Awareness training. It was challenging. I was fresh out of education and they weren’t! And they’d all got this look on their face ‘go on then, enthuse me’. It was here, during these sessions that the company learnt all about the laws they should be complying with. That was the only role I had which was fully focused on the environment. Since then, every role had a growing focus on Health & Safety.
My subsequent roles allowed to me to experience the aviation service sector, automotive, materials manufacturing, food and drink, packaging, construction materials and construction. What I learnt as I moved through each one, is that the core challenges were the same – we felt comfortable creating posters that said Health & Safety was our first priority. The problem was, at an organisational level, we often struggled to act in a consistent and persistent way that indicated we meant it.
In 2015, I was the Global Head of Health & Safety for Holcim, one of the largest manufacturers of cement in the world. I had nearly 20 years of experience by this time, in the world of work. Their merger with another manufacturer bought about the opportunity to take redundancy and at this point, my wife and I decided that we should start our own consultancy business.
The decision to start on our own has been massively fulfilling – and massively challenging. Up until the Covid 19 crisis, it never crossed my mind for a moment that I would have to go back into employment. We’re working hard to be a viable business at the end of 2020, but I don’t mind admitting that it’s been one of the toughest challenges that I’ve faced.
So, I never quite made it back to Marine Zoology. But I do enjoy lake and river fishing as my guilty pleasure when I get the chance.
Written by Darren Broadhead
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