A journey to a safer land

Gary Flatley BA (Hons) PGCE CMIOSH

My Journey to a Safer Land

As ‘man and boy’ my safety journey started in my early working life during the mid 80’s adjusting to life as a YTS - Youth Training Scheme (not young, thick and stupid as was nicknamed) with a large multinational organisation called ICI.

Imperial Chemical Industrials were very much regarded as a world renowned safety conscious organisation with tight risk controls in often high risk, hazardous sites. We would categories sites like this these days under COMAH.

As a YTS and subsequently a junior works operative we were very much treated as a naïve young persons with a great deal of H&S training put into us. H&S meetings and toolbox talks were the norm as was reporting hazards, near misses and sharing with the workforce summary H&S details and reports. The safety culture is definitely what I would describe as a positive one. In 1987, I was involved with a working party to implement BS5750 or the old quality standard again, ICI being early adopters of quality and safety standards.

So now my mind was clearly programmed in a safety focused way, I found myself viewing foreseeable and less foreseeable risks differently.

I’ve experienced other high hazardous industries such as offshore gas and oil, large scheme civil construction, working at height within telecommunications and power transmission & water utilities. I studied the NEBOSH Construction Certificate in 2005. My employer at the time within telecoms sponsored me to do it with a view to represent the business as a safety advisor on top of being the project manager. You could say I was a reluctant H&S advisor at this point as I was unable to focus my mind on safety and manage the day job and a multimillion pound build contract.

I eventually took a fulltime role as a Health & Safety Advisor around 2006 within the gas and oil sector on and offshore. This is where I really started to understand what safe systems of work looked like and learnt on the job quickly. I was surrounded by good people working for major clients such as BP, Total, Maersk etc… to name a few. It was a steep learning curve but I decided this was the career path I wanted to pursue. I also decided to join IOSH around this period as I wanted to formalise my new found skills and combine it with my experience and knowledge.

IOSH’s website and chats with their head office advisors in Leicester made it clear what I needed to do, to further my career as a safety advisor. I knew that becoming a chartered member would cement my position as a safety practitioner but I still had some way to go.

In 2007, I took on a role as the group HSE Manager within a water utilities main contractor. My career path was at this stage put on hold as I was consumed by a huge task of organising and running the HSE function. I recruited a number of H&S Advisors to help me deliver the safety strategy and I would say it is from 2007 to 2011 that I probably learnt the most in terms of safety management, again being surrounded by good people who I soaked up all their knowledge and experience. I was also exposed to other major utility companies who were very keen on working as an alliance and sharing best practice in terms of H&S. The problem I now had and was acutely aware of was my H&S qualification for such a senior role were at an entry level and my peers were all charted members of IOSH.

I decided to fund myself for the first time in a level 5 vocational NVQ in occupational safety and health. I have been lucky throughout my working career, having been sponsored to do my Bachelor of Arts in Business, Post Graduate Certificate in Education and many vocational skills training courses such as high risk confined spaces, new roads and streetworks, City & Guilds quality assurance, C&G assessor and BSI Lead Quality Auditor.

Once I’d passed the NVQ in occupational safety & health I immediately updated my CPD and became a graduate member of IOSH. I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel I had elevated my status as a safety professional as I was already doing the job to the best of my ability. However what I did understand, my peers could acknowledge my H&S skills & experience was now recognised in the form of a City & Guilds diploma recognised by IOSH.


Finding myself back in telecommunications in 2012, I also found myself in a highly demanding job which forced my delay to step up to chartered IOSH status. In 2018 however, I did manage to program some time due to an industry slowdown and register for IPD and answer the two online questions. I’m normally ok at answering exam type questions and did what I considered some broad research prior to collating my responses. I was surprised to read a few days later that I had just scraped the minimum pass rate.

I booked my IOSH panel/peer review straight after my online exam and only waited a few months before I could be seen. The guys on the panel were brilliant, they put me at ease straight away. I had prepared a ten minute presentation and covered what I thought was a broad brush of my knowledge and experience. It turns out ‘I can talk a bit’ and was reminded of the strict ten minute presentation. (We did eventually settle on around 13 minutes)

The remainder of the review was made up of none technical questions pitched by the panel and asked to relate them to my real life H&S experiences. I gave a reasonable account of my experiences, relating to the H&S framework suck as statute, regulations, Approved codes of practice and guidance just to add weight to my responses. I felt the Q&A session went well and we all parted with a smile.

A week or so later I received a letter confirming my skills, knowledge and experience was enough to meet IOSH’s standards and be accepted as a chartered member. This was a proud moment for me as it capped off a 13 year career as a safety advisor.

I have always worked to the best of my ability, in a professional manner, enjoyed many successes and always tried to learn from the failures along the way.

My personal motto is ‘Ancora Imparo’ or Latin for always learning. However my newfound charted status in my opinion outlines to my employers, employees, suppliers, clients and other interested parties that my role as a Health & Safety Advisor is backed by IOSH and the highest professional standards in occupational safety and health available.