"I believe this community can really shape the future of health and safety”
Advice and knowledge from our Future Leaders
Our Future Leaders bring you new and interesting insights on a regular basis including news, opinion pieces and guidance.
“The health and safety community has plenty of inspiring professionals ready to support anyone who asks.”
Samantha Banfield GradIOSH, IOSH Future Leaders Steering Group member
Read Samantha’s full article and other Future Leaders’ stories below.
With my two-year anniversary of being a safety adviser fast approaching, I have started to reflect on what I’ve learnt in these early years.
As I begin the next stage of my career with a new team, here are four tips I hope to bring with me to future roles.
1. It’s okay to step back
I became a safety advisor fresh out of university after studying an MSc in Safety, Health and Environment. After doing various jobs in my 20s, I finally found an industry that I felt passionate about and could not wait to apply my newfound knowledge.
With this came an eagerness to apply all I had learnt in my studies very quickly at work, in a bid to prove I could do the role. During my first weeks, I would ensure I spoke in every meeting offering ideas. While this sounds great on paper, often my ideas would fail to gain traction as I didn’t yet know the needs of the organisation.
Taking the time to step back, researching the background and beginning to understand the organisation and what teams needed before making suggestions enabled me to offer ideas with substance over quantity.
Stepping back meant I could really listen and digest. I could hear what was being said about safety and, just as important, what was not being said.
From this, I could action ‘quick wins’, be that creating easier-to-read safety content, resourcing PPE that met the needs of the team or making a planning form more accessible. All of these contributed to making the day-to-day activities of my teams easier and safety being more visible and achievable. This, in turn, helped support implementation of the bigger safety changes with team buy-in and support.
3. Talking safety
When it did come time to talk safety, initially I would approach team talks with all my safety buzz words ready to go, as if a point would be awarded for each word.
Then one day, I sat in the office kitchen having a coffee and talked to a team of colleagues doing the same. We got to know one another’s roles and the team told me how they were planning their work activity for the day. Once the team left to travel to their worksite, it dawned on me that one of my best safety talks had just taken place without an agenda and no points on my scorecard.
4. Support is always available
The health and safety community has plenty of inspiring professionals ready to support anyone who asks. Having support from a Mentor, IOSH and its Future Leaders Community has meant I’ve never been alone on this journey.
A lot of my early year learnings have stemmed from being new and finding out how to navigate my passion into a working environment. I now enter the next stages of my career a little wiser but with plenty of room to learn more.
The recent Future Leaders Conference highlighted some of the pressures and concerns that future leaders have about developing their careers. While I don’t have all the answers, I wanted to share my experience of managing upwards, which may help my fellow Community members.
In my career, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive team and have had line managers who have been invested in my development as a safety professional. This has helped me develop the skill of managing upwards – something I was not fully aware of until my manager pointed it out. I’ve always been honest with my line managers and felt comfortable enough to express my opinion and ask questions. By asking questions I have been able to better understand the desired outcome and my managers’ expectations. These are all key components of managing upwards.
Managing upwards is essentially understanding the expectations and requirements of your manager and using this knowledge to make their job easier. For example, if you know your manager must give an update on a project you’ve been working on, make sure you prepare a brief in good time for them. It’s about having a positive relationship with your manager that benefits you both. As an employee, you help your manager meet targets and you make yourself known as reliable.
I use every opportunity to learn from my line managers by watching how they approach different situations and engage with stakeholders in our business. This allows me to think about the kind of leader I want to be. It also gives me further insight into the needs of my line manager and enables me to anticipate work they may expect of me, allowing more time to prepare.
Working with an IOSH Mentor increased my confidence and abilities and played a key part in my personal development, which allowed me to manage upward more effectively. I started to hold people accountable for actions they were tasked to do (including my line managers!) and ask more questions. This has helped me to understand how safety progression is managed in business and help ensure that those responsible for safety contribute towards its improvement. It's about striving to support the continuous improvement of safety, even if it means being the person that’s nudging things along in the background and asking awkward questions of those who influence decision-making.
By managing upwards and having a positive and honest relationship with your line manager, you can gain more opportunities to develop your career. You’re able to openly discuss your aspirations and areas you feel you need to work on. It’s key to stay curious – it’s the best way for us to learn – so don’t be afraid to question the norm and keep asking why. Being open and inquisitive helps to highlight us as the future leaders we are. It allows us to work alongside and learn from current leaders, equipping us with the skills and knowledge we will need to be leaders in the future.
Read more about IOSH Mentoring.
Recently, I got the opportunity to research physical, mental and social wellbeing. I learnt many new things, which I’m summarising here to help my fellow Future Leaders.
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” – World Health Organization (WHO).
Economically active people spend, on average, about a third of their time in the workplace. Employment and working conditions have powerful effects on health equity. Good workplaces can provide social protection and status, personal development opportunities, and protection from physical and psychosocial hazards. All of these can improve social relations and self-esteem of employees and lead to positive health effects.
Some common health risks in the workplace, such as heat, noise, dust, hazardous chemicals, unsafe machines and psychological stress, may cause occupational diseases and other health problems. These include respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, noise-induced hearing loss, skin problems, cardiovascular diseases, occupational cancer and depression.
Employees working under stress or with precarious employment conditions are likely to smoke more, exercise less and have an unhealthy diet. Our bodies and minds are profoundly interconnected, so if you suffer from mental health issues then your body will also feel the impact in more ways than one – and vice versa. As an example, when an athlete has a sports injury, their mental health might be impacted by the inability to play or follow their usual daily routine.
If we are overwhelmed, stressed or overthinking in any way then our mind will alert our bodies to that fact, and the body will do its best to alert us and encourage us to pay attention to what is going on. This can be exhausting for both the mind and the body, and so we will feel that in a physical way as well as on a mental level.
Check out these statistics from WHO.
- Certain occupational risks account for a substantial number of chronic diseases:
37 per cent of all cases of back pain
16 per cent of hearing loss
13 per cent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
11 per cent of asthma
8 per cent of injuries
9 per cent of lung cancer
2 per cent of leukaemia
8 per cent of depression.
- Annually, 12.2 million people, mostly in developing countries, die from noncommunicable diseases while still of active working age.
- Work-related health problems result in an economic loss of 4 to 6 per cent of GDP for most countries. The basic health services to prevent occupational and work-related diseases cost, on average, between US$ 18 and US$ 60 (purchasing power parity) per worker.
- Research has demonstrated that workplace health initiatives can help reduce sick leave absenteeism by 27 per cent and health-care costs for companies by 26 per cent.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and hazard-free workplace, and they have a duty of care to promote employees’ health and foster a healthy work environment. Maintaining a healthier workforce can lower direct costs such as insurance premiums and workers’ compensation claims. It will also positively impact many indirect costs such as absenteeism and worker productivity.
To improve the health of their employees, businesses can create a wellness culture that is employee-centered; provides supportive environments where safety is ensured; and provides opportunities for employees to engage in a variety of workplace health programmes that can reduce health risks and improve employees’ life quality.
As an employee, when it comes to physical, mental and social wellbeing, there are many factors within your control. Here are my suggestions.
- First and foremost, your nutrition has a profound effect on your energy and state of mind. Reduce ultra-processed foods and refined sugars, increase fibre and phytonutrient-rich foods that improve the health of the gut.
- Exercise can have both instant and long-term effects on your mood – and you can start small. Walking more and getting just 20 minutes of strength or cardio-based exercise per day will have a significant impact if you’ve previously been more sedentary.
- Meditation and other holistic practices that focus more directly on the nervous system have been shown to improve both mental and physical health.
- Make a conscious effort to go out and see friends and family. Make plans to be out of the house, even if it is just to join a friend for a walk.
- Take up a new hobby, perhaps join a club where you can meet people, or learn a new skill at home. With so many virtual training classes available now, this is a great way to break up your day and lift your mood.
“So many people spend their health gaining wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health” – A.J. Reb Materi
Thinking about it, health and safety are two distinct and complex areas of work, which have become integrated into the OSH role we know. And OSH job titles, duties and skills vary greatly between organisations and industries. Anyone new to the industry will soon realise it often involves a lot more than the already intricate topics of health and safety at work. There are many hats to juggle!
In plenty of organisations, the OSH person may be responsible for everything from environmental management and corporate risk to maintenance, operations and even human resources. And the list goes on.
The variety is perhaps never more prevalent than when it comes to soft skills and duties undertaken.
Each day, we use several different skills and play a number of different roles such as educator, record keeper, observer, influencer, investigator, spokesperson and leader.
One day can be focused on behavioral psychology and the next on legal compliance. One week the role may require an investigator, the next a data analyst.
This can be overwhelming, especially in a space where we are all aware of our own mental health, feelings of imposter syndrome and so on.
So how can we, as OSH professionals, balance the many different roles, responsibilities and skills required of us?
These keys tips and reminders will help.
- Network with other professionals to share experiences and knowledge.
- Acquire a range of technical skills beyond your core set of qualifications through IOSH webinars and training courses.
- Develop transferable soft skills that are useful in all roles using the Career Hub.
- View it as an opportunity! We can be involved in many areas of our respective organisations and, as a result, influence change at all levels and help to develop a sustainable culture across the board.
- We are not going to know it all and nor should we. It is fine to say, ‘I don’t know’. This was something I struggled with, but eventually I realised the solutions I subsequently provided were more effective, more business savvy or better communicated.
- Recognise your development will take time. You’ll get some things right and will learn from the rest. This continual development will be invaluable to you becoming a good people manager, an effective leader and an exemplary OSH professional.
Does this mean, however, that an OSH professional is inevitably going to become a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’?
To begin with, that is how I felt. But as my career has developed, I found areas I can try to master. So, take hold of opportunities to delve deeper into areas that are of particular interest to you or would be truly useful for your organisation and most relevant to your industry.
Some of our duties seem to conflict slightly, for example, how can the OSH pro ‘toe the company line’, protecting the company and directors, while being the voice and champion for the worker? This is where more skillful juggling is needed. The Future Leaders Steering Group webinar on the art of reading a room and being assertive discusses this really well.
With the Future Leaders Virtual Conference coming up, I’ve been thinking about my past conference adventures.
When you’re new to the industry, attending a conference can be intimidating and overwhelming. Experiencing new places, faces, names and concepts, innovative ideas and thought-provoking topics can be exciting but exhausting. If you’re a ‘first-timer’, I recommend you do your background research and preparation. Choose your field of interest and plan your journey from the conference programme.
With experience, you will gain confidence and feel more part of the ‘community’ – especially when it’s as supportive and welcoming as Future Leaders.
You will begin to filter your interests and interact with the field experts you find particularly engaging. I recommend being actively involved to get the full benefits of attending. I also encourage you to find a genuine topic of interest and be inquisitive about it. Observe, listen and ask many questions.
Last year’s IOSH Future Leaders Conference was among my first fully virtual conferences, where technology advancements allowed global interaction. This inspired me to become part of the Future Leaders Steering Group. So, look out for opportunities to take part and contribute to the future of the OSH profession.
Always be genuine and initiate conversations with a simple introduction, for example who you are, your interests and why you have decided to take part. Remember, others are attending for similar reasons so don’t be shy to take the first step. From a personal point of view, I find initiating a conversation very natural, however, I highly value practising these skills with my mentors.
Throughout my journey, I have been fortunate to develop a fantastic network of peers, supportive colleagues and fellow professionals. My mentors have been extremely passionate about the profession and introduced me to topics that continue to fascinate me. Consider finding an IOSH Mentor to help you develop your skills.
Here are my recommendations to get the most out of a conference.
- Preparation – know your ‘Ws’ (who, what, where and when).
- Observation – immerse yourself in the environment (both virtual and in person).
- Introduction – practise your communication skills and break-the-ice techniques.
- Networking – connect with fellow colleagues (via LinkedIn, Swapcard, etc) and find a mentor.
- Tell a story – have your notepad ready and record your thoughts and questions.
Stay on POINT and reflect on your experience using the simple Continuing Professional Development (CPD) technique below.
- My objectives for the activity and my approach.
- Summary of the activity and understanding gained.
- Reflect on and evaluate your skills and approach you took.
- Future application of the knowledge and/or skills gained.
Overall, conferences offer a chance to gain understanding, share knowledge, learn new skills and become a part of community. I’m looking forward to networking and connecting with you soon.
If you asked someone about their weaknesses, they’d likely identify them quickly and roll off many examples. But ask about their strengths and they’d probably think long and hard, ultimately saying one or two things. This reaction can create a lot of self-doubt and creep into other parts of our lives, adding to insecurity and imposter syndrome.
Those new to the OSH profession or in the early stage of their career will do a lot of work on the technical side to make improvements, to be the best in the job, skilled, knowledgeable and, ultimately, more experienced. This is great, so why don’t we reflect on what it is we’re really good at and why we’re good at it and celebrate our achievements more? Often, instead we’ll look at the mistakes and what could have been. As the world around us changes and the demands on an OSH professional are increasing, it’s important for us to find our true strengths and acknowledge these as who we are. Sometimes, being seven out of 10 is the best we’ll be and that’s fine. For an academic grade, that would be 70 per cent and classed as a distinction!
Trying harder to fix weaknesses will ultimately result in them remaining a weakness and in negative thinking outcomes. What we need to do is find our strengths by reflecting on the good we’ve done. These strengths will complement the bits we can do but just not quite as well.
I recognise that I could improve on time management, but I get my work done and to a high standard. I also know I could be better at keeping up to date with all that’s happening in the health and safety world, but I do enough to stay on track with most issues that matter most. It’s okay not to worry about these things. My strengths are engagement with people and building trust, being there when needed and ensuring requests are met. When I focus on my strengths in my job, the things I don’t do so well haven’t mattered.
In the OSH profession, let’s concentrate on finding strengths and celebrating these. It’s okay not to always be the best. If we’re ever worried about the things we can’t do as well, find others who have them as strengths, so together you become the best.
And check out IOSH Mentoring. Sign up as a mentee and you’ll be paired with an experienced OSH professional mentor who is happy to share their knowledge to help you progress, improve your skills and gain confidence.
When I was asked to share three things I wish I knew early in my career for a previous article*, one of my comments was on how to achieve a work-life-study balance. It’s something that affects us all and so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk more about it.
The important thing to remember is that it is possible to balance a full-time job and your training with a social life. It takes time to achieve that balance, but it is so worth it. As OSH professionals, we pride ourselves on being able to facilitate others to do what they want, so how about you remove the barriers for yourself to facilitate your own future?
These are a few things I like to do.
- Start a calendar and keep a log of key deadlines, work meetings, exam dates, etc. Having a visual representation of my day/week really helps me to prioritise and manage my work and study commitments.
- Keep a to-do list of daily tasks to stay on track. There’s something really rewarding about ticking that last box on a list and sometimes it’s the small wins that motivate you most.
- Look after yourself, have a day or two to yourself to do the things you enjoy. Working and studying all the time is not good for my mental health and I usually set aside at least one day a week to go for a nice dog walk, see friends or family or watch a whole series on Netflix. My fellow Steering Group member Joshua Callaway wrote an insightful piece on mental health that gave some excellent tips on how to have good mental health. You can read his article on this webpage.
- Set barriers. Understanding your own limits and setting personal barriers is something I have struggled with in the past. But, once I set my own it felt freeing, and I suddenly found myself more focused and dedicated to the task I was completing. Small things like shutting your emails or setting your phone to DND can go a long way to removing easy distractions.
Last year’s lockdown in the UK meant that 46.6 per cent of people in employment did some work at home, according to a 2020 Office for National Statistics survey. Almost a third did more hours at home than they were contracted to do. It’s so important to have balance and set yourself boundaries between working and non-working hours to give yourself the space to separate the important things in your life.
*Read the full article, ‘3 things I wish I knew early in my OSH career’, in the ‘Future Leaders talk about their experiences’ section of this webpage.
The coronavirus pandemic has taught us about the importance of prioritising psychological wellbeing within the broader spectrum of physical and mental health.
As 10th October marked World Mental Health Day, I wanted to continue the discussion and reflect on how we, as OSH professionals, can be champions for kindness, compassion and inclusivity within our communities.
How we can look after ourselves
Good mental health is not merely the absence of diagnosable ill-health, but rather a psychological state of wellbeing in which a person realises their potential, is fulfilled, motivated and ready to learn. Here are five ways we can prioritise positive mental health.
- Talk, talk, talk – openly talking about mental health can help to lighten the burden. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a positive first step in taking charge of your wellbeing.
- Keep active – whether mentally or physically, doing something you love can brighten the day. Exercise produces mood-boosting endorphins, while a personal hobby creates space for fulfilment.
- Eat and drink sensibly – you get out what you put in! Caring for our physical self can ensure we get the right nutrients to start the day well and keep going.
- Know when you need help and ask for it – this is certainly far easier said than done. However, none of us are superhuman so whether you need practical help, a listening ear or local services, please ask.
- Look after yourself by caring for others – we are all in this together and, by helping those around us, we can bolster our own wellbeing. A conversation may be all it takes to be a critical intervention for someone struggling.
The role of the OSH professional
OSH professionals play a critical role in the physical and psychological wellbeing of our teams. We must, by mere vocational necessity, always be looking at new and creative ways in which we can engage workers with their own mental health and that of others. A healthy, fulfilled employee is undoubtedly a safer one.
This necessity becomes altogether more pertinent when considered within the broader context of the industries and demographics we work in and with. For example, the construction sector in the UK has suicide rates 3.7 times higher than the national average. Similarly, suicide remains the single biggest killer of men under the age 45 in the UK. Here are a couple of personal thoughts on how to promote good mental health.
- Create an environment of openness – by promoting diverse and inclusive workplaces, we can ensure that everyone can bring their whole self to work. Eradicating prejudices and stigmas around mental health conversations can allow people to open up.
- Equip teams with the right tools and training – much like ensuring our teams have the right PPE etc, it is critical that we provide the right resources and training. Mental health first aid training, for example, not only empowers people to talk about their own wellbeing but also gives them the confidence to check in with others who may be struggling.
- Be creative – as in all elements of health and safety, OSH professionals should always look to push the boundaries for communicating messages. Why not try mindfulness sessions, team integration days or off-the-wall activities?
IOSH has a range of research and resources to help manage mental health and wellbeing at work and the Career Hub has helpful articles, videos and e-learning. Head to the Future Leaders Steering Group’s LinkedIn page to continue the conversation.
Workers are getting older. The UK state pension age will be 67 within the next seven years and the employment rate for people aged 65 and over has doubled in the past 30 years. These trends are set to continue. When accidents happen, older workers are more likely to incur serious injuries, permanent disabilities or even death. Workers over 60 account for a disproportionately high number of fatalities in the workplace – 29 per cent in 2020/2021.
The above makes for uncomfortable reading for any health and safety professional.
A government publication, Future of an Ageing Population, suggests that to adapt and overcome barriers to working longer, we will need to address negative attitudes, health needs, workplace design, technology, adaptations in HR policies and working practices. To implement these changes, OSH professionals need more guidance on how to positively influence each of these areas.
Furthermore, the report suggests that the shifting demographics in society represents a ‘fundamental change’. If this ‘fundamental change’ is mirrored in the workplace, then it would appear obvious that this challenge needs to move from the periphery to front and centre of all our agendas.
From my perspective, adapting to people working longer and health and safety’s role in this adaptation remain under-analysed and the answers are far from clear.
As Future Leaders, tackling industry challenges is an essential part of our roles. Planning, debating and producing solutions need to start now. Perhaps our role is to collaborate with the current crop of leaders to start actively discussing a long-term response and strategy. Personally, I think the industry needs to get more vocal. I want to see more whitepapers and research, including industry publications, webinars, roundtables and presentations. I’d like to see multidisciplined teams sharing their knowledge. I’d like to learn what best practice looks like.
Of course, there is already work being done in this area by certain organisations including IOSH, which recognises the need to support healthy extended careers and workability for all ages. IOSH is calling on employers to deliver proactive age management, as outlined in the employer toolkit. I suggest checking out its policy position and resources, which includes guides and online tools, consultation responses and research reports available to all Future Leaders.
If we sleepwalk into the inevitable changes caused by people working longer, we as a profession will miss the opportunity to grab the bull by the horns in helping to lead a successful transition.
Whether you are a new graduate or career switcher, chances are you will be looking to land your first OSH job this autumn.
I wanted to share my experience, hoping it can help at least a few of you.
I am a career switcher, having changed from hospitality to OSH. After completing my OSH qualification in summer 2016, I set myself a medium-term goal to find a relevant position by the end of the following year. I feared it would be difficult for me, as I had very little experience in OSH or even working in an office environment.
A couple of months into the process I came across a very interesting post. Although I didn’t quite fit all the requirements (pretty much a given at that stage), I decided to apply anyway. In my head even getting an interview would have been a valuable experience and therefore a win.
And that is how I ended up in my current job as a Health and Safety Adviser for the Royal Household. It’s worth pointing out that at the time I was offered a role as an assistant rather than adviser, as advertised. I considered – and still consider – myself very lucky. At the same time, it was my actions and decisions that made me stand out from the crowd, ultimately helping me getting noticed and hired.
When writing the application, I did my research and identified the following information.
- Some of the potential OSH challenges in my prospective workplace. I had very little technical experience, so I considered my strengths and experiences and identified transferable skills that could add value to the organisation.
- Vision, values, aims and ambitions. While looking to see whether the culture and values would work for me, it was important for me to understand how I could contribute to the organisation’s aims and ambitions.
I used this information in my cover letter and CV. I have been told that my ability to articulate how I could add value to the team helped me land the interview and I believe that addressing the latter helped me get past the initial HR stage.
I used the following tactics during the two face-to-face interviews.
- Once I was given the thumbs up to ask questions, I took the opportunity to find out about the OSH team, its goals and challenges.
- Question after question, while I was honest about my level of technical work experience, I continued to talk about what I could do for the organisation and how my seemingly unrelated experience could prove beneficial.
- When faced with two written technical scenarios, I nearly panicked when I had no clue about one of the subjects. Instead, I explained that as I didn’t have previous applicable experience, I would have done a lot of research to fill my knowledge gaps while seeking assistance and guidance from my colleagues and my manager as required.
Here are my six key tips to you (and my future self).
- Be selective and make sure you want the job you apply for.
- Research and prepare a good application.
- Be honest.
- Know yourself, your skills and how these can be applied in a variety of contexts.
- Acknowledge the negatives, focus on the positives.
- Don’t shy away from asking questions.
Exam results season is fast approaching. As this can be both exciting and stressful, I thought I would share my experiences of how I became a health and safety apprentice at Caerphilly County Borough Council.
After achieving my GCSE grades, I chose A-level/BTEC subjects to give me three possible career routes – IT, health and social, and photography. The first two have helped me most in my current role. My IT knowledge has allowed me to complete admin tasks comfortably, and I already know about personal care in care home settings and have a basic understanding of completing risk assessments because of health and social.
If you are a school leaver and trying to weigh up what is right for you, with options including university, apprenticeships and working full-time, you need to ask yourself which route will best help you achieve your career aspirations.
I needed a break from intense revision and coursework, which is why I opted for an apprenticeship. It allows me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and recognised qualifications.
Some people may feel pressured into going to university and/or think it will benefit them more with future employment. Although a degree is brilliant for some, when it comes to building knowledge, one size does not fit all. Some employers may also want you to display a level of experience alongside your qualification, so completing a degree may not guarantee you your dream role straight away.
My advice is to gain work experience while studying to give you that edge. And don’t be afraid to work your way up. Sometimes, starting lower down in the field/area in which you want to progress will lead you to endless opportunities and growth within the company/organisation.
My experience as a health and safety apprentice
I have found it so rewarding to have a career that allows you to protect your colleagues from injury and ill health, safeguard livelihoods and, ultimately, saves lives! I also enjoy the variety in my role. No two days are the same and you never know what is around the corner.
I like the opportunities that come from being in this profession. My OSH qualification is internationally recognised, which makes working overseas a possibility. I can also work in a wide range of industries for businesses of all different types and sizes. I feel that there are multiple avenues I can explore in the profession, which is exciting and allows for endless learning and career development.
I would also recommend joining IOSH, which helps to develop your knowledge and expertise. It offers courses for further career progression and provides free member benefits such as IOSH Magazine to keep everyone up to date with industry news. You can also boost your job prospects through the IOSH Career Hub and learn from experienced OSH professionals via the IOSH Mentoring platform. You may even be eligible for free Student Membership – check the criteria.
Have you ever felt the sting of loneliness because of what you do for a living?
Is there a world where the perception of health and safety is so strong that the allure of meeting the person responsible for it generates a gentle fizz of excitement at parties? A world without jokes about ‘health and safety gone mad’ and ‘banned balloons or bouncy castles’?
I was recently both saddened and comforted by the common responses of a few occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals to my first question. Intrigued, I asked my LinkedIn connections: ‘Have you ever felt lonely or isolated by virtue of what you do for a living?’ In one week, 76 per cent of respondents (n=108, ranging from graduates to directors) replied ‘yes’.
Loneliness can strike at any time of our careers at work or home. You might find yourself having strong conversations in work with like-minded and energised individuals, but at home your friends and family run the risk of fading into apathy if you tell them about your day. You may be at the start of your career yet feeling alone in the ‘education and facilitation versus enforcement’ debate.
For a profession so heavily associated with people, OSH can seem lonely, made worse in workplaces with deeply rooted perceptions of ‘clipboard culture’ or poor maturity. This might be further exacerbated if you must deliver on expectations in ways that isolate you from your own values and beliefs.
Now I understand the prevalence of feelings of isolation, I wish previously I had the confidence to ask my peers how they’re feeling, strike up meaningful and genuine conversations beyond the platitudes of pleasantries, and fill the void that many feel but few openly discuss.
As safety professionals, we are not alone. You are not alone right now. Although we might be an exclusive profession, we are working in an inclusive field (by its very nature, OSH concerns itself with all people). Your experience(s) fundamentally link(s) you with tens of thousands of other professionals across our industry, in tens of thousands of different businesses. With thousands of others who are reminding themselves what safety means to them in their role(s) and want to talk about OSH with others.
Reach out to your communities. In IOSH, this may well be your branch, group or the Future Leaders Community (FLC). This is a fantastic resource for young and emerging professionals to come together and talk about safety, and our LinkedIn Group now has 600-plus members engaging with regular posts and topics. With the June intake of the 2021-2023 FLC Steering Group, many more inspirational and profession-promoting activities and events are on their way.
No matter where you are in the world, in your OSH journey, or your chosen career, you are not alone when you are talking about health and safety. I hope that I, and my colleagues in the IOSH Future Leaders Community Steering Group, have the pleasure of meeting and talking with you soon in pursuit of your goals, and the pleasure of sharing the knowledge that we are not alone, together.
My career plan was simple – I joined the Army when I was 19 and wanted to stay for as long as I could. Unfortunately, I suffered an injury to my elbow, which resulted in me being medically discharged in 2017.
There had been lots of conversations around accident investigations and incident reports, which sparked my interest in occupational safety and health (OSH). But how viable was an OSH career? I did a course, which initially put me off because it was quite hard. Then I was offered an opportunity as an assistant CDM Manager.
I didn’t realise how hard I’d find being away from home in this first role, and there would be days when I couldn’t fully understand or process what was happening. I hadn’t quite built up the skills of how to deal with different things. Now, those issues have made me better. I didn’t see it is a failure but a learning opportunity.
If you’re new to OSH and there’s a point you’re not so sure on, you can maybe reach out to people you know and trust either in your workplace or the Future Leaders Community. But even if you don’t have someone who can offer advice, you can look at previous guidance offered by your company or on the IOSH website.
After about a year I moved back home, as the work-life balance didn’t suit my situation at the time. I thought I’d find something else easily, but that wasn’t the case. A couple of non-OSH jobs later and I applied for (paid) work experience with the principal contractor on a big project.
For anyone in a similar position, I’d also suggest volunteering to shadow an OSH professional or seeking out a mentor to boost your knowledge and skills.
The work experience was fantastic. If I pictured my perfect scenario when I didn’t have a job, this was above it. After a month, I was offered a permanent role and am now an assistant health and safety adviser. It’s gone from strength to strength. Every day there’s something different going on.
My manager suggested joining IOSH. I’d been building up my CPD on my own and became a Technical Member in 2019. I wanted to achieve Chartered status to make myself the best I could be in terms of qualification and status and was proud to do so in January. To me, it wasn’t a case of how quickly I could get there but about working hard to fill out the boxes correctly, so when I got there I’d be respected by my peers.
With IOSH, you can use your motivation to push on and improve yourself and your knowledge. If you can do this, you can also improve the site and the people around you. That’s really, really important.
My advice to anyone changing career is that your background doesn’t matter as long as you have communication skills. People will engage with you if you engage with them.
For the past two-and-a-half years, I have worked as a health and safety advisor in the energy industry and, on a regular basis, I feel like an imposter.
I suffer from what is known as imposter syndrome. This is when you feel like you don’t have the knowledge, skills or experience to do your job, and often you feel an ‘imposter’ when comparing yourself to colleagues. Sound familiar?
That’s because, without doubt, we have all felt this at some point, be it on day one of our occupational safety and health (OSH) professional journeys or as you progress and take on more responsibility in your career. What is important is to recognise the self-doubt and discomfort imposter syndrome makes us feel and then act upon this.
When I’m suffering from imposter syndrome, all I want to do is take a step back and let someone else manage it. However, it often means I’m just out of my comfort zone and this is when I can learn and grow the most. So, instead of taking a step back we must step forward.
When we step forward, we can be inquisitive and use the opportunity to learn from others. Ask what you think might be the ‘stupid questions’… Why? How? Explain to me?
These simple open questions generate a dialogue of learning, allowing you to develop, but also to share your knowledge and experience, which you might not have thought relevant at first. This open environment of learning, which you create by asking questions, allows for diversity of thought to be aired – this can then give rise to an environment of new thinking and idea generation leading to improved health and safety. Not only are you likely to gain from this interaction but those around you will as well.
Imposter syndrome gives us the opportunity to really concentrate on our competency and career development. Because when I feel like an imposter, it gives me clarity on the specific areas I need to focus my learning and development. This opportunity to prioritise means time taken to do training and-on-the job learning can be more valuable to you and the business.
Just know that you don’t always have to be right and know everything. Often, the best OSH professionals are the ones who ask all the questions. Therefore, embrace your imposter syndrome and see where it takes you.
Learn more about imposter syndrome, including why we experience it and ways we can deal with it, at the IOSH Career Hub. Sign up to take advantage of this free member benefit. Not a member yet? Join now!
Culture and values – when we hear these words, we automatically think about companies, the recruitment process and appraisals.
I’ve been working for more than 20 years and have changed careers to specialise in occupational safety and health. Looking back, when I researched previous roles, I looked on culture and values as a one-way street from the company and rarely took a step back to think about my own.
It doesn’t matter whether a company is big or small, private, limited or a worldwide corporation, they all have their own culture and values, even if they are not stated anywhere. In addition, I have found that the ethos of individual departments and teams can differ from the overall company.
Recently I have been going through my own professional development journey and have become much more self-aware of what is right for me and what I want from the company I am working for and the role I am doing. I have taken time to evaluate the different roles I have had and the companies I have worked for to identify why I excelled in some but, in others, felt like I was fighting a non-ending battle.
It occurred to me that the culture and values of where I was at the time played an important factor in these varying experiences. Roles I shone in and companies I excelled at shared the values I consider important and the culture matched what I am comfortable with. In contrast, the roles and companies where I felt deflated or frustrated did not exhibit the values to which I aspire, and the culture was not one I wanted to be associated with.
If a company’s culture and values do not align with your own, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong, or the company is bad – just different. For anyone starting their career, making a change or moving into a new role, my advice would be to stay true to yourself. Take time out to identify your own values and write down a list of your top three. At the interview for my current role I disclosed my values and asked the interviewer to do the same.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on a topic you feel strongly about or effective initiatives that you’ve been part of, so why not write your own feature for us to share with the OSH profession? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, job title, organisation, maximum 500-word submission and any supporting photos.
Future Leaders talk about their experiences
We’ve asked our members to share their thoughts on the Future Leaders Community. Our Future Leaders come from a wide range of backgrounds and have experienced varying routes into the OSH industry and IOSH Membership. Check out the stories below.
Having a baby can change many things in your life. For one member of our Future Leaders Community, it inspired an exciting new professional journey. Health and safety was the career I didn’t know I needed, writes Rachel Clark.
October is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month. So, it’s an ideal time to get the conversation going around neurodivergence in the health and safety profession, writes IOSH Future Leaders Steering Group member Kesi Randon.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a person’s behaviour. People with ADHD can display symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsiveness, often interfering with day-to-day functioning and development.
Most people are diagnosed as a child, but I found out at the age of 26, when I was two years into my occupational safety and health (OSH) career.
While I can look at my ADHD as something incredibly positive now, I didn’t always feel this way, and I’ve faced many obstacles as a result. I struggled with time management, organisation and burnout. Working in a busy office with constant distractions made it extremely difficult to focus. Just leaving the house can be momentous for someone with ADHD, so I was often late. This damaged my working relationships.
Burnout was something I suffered regularly. This only made my ADHD symptoms more difficult to handle.
So, I began developing self-awareness around my disorder, which was key to navigating the professional world. I joined ADHD BABES, a support group for Black women and non-binary people, which gave me the confidence I needed to manage my condition.
I also worked with a community employment adviser, who specialised in helping people with disabilities in the workplace and their managers. Having a supportive manager enabled me to experiment with reasonable adjustments – such as having a window of time to get to work, clearly communicated expectations, regular breaks and flexible working – which allowed me to find a pattern that was right for me.
I gained more confidence in my abilities and realised what had guided me into OSH were all traits of my ADHD.
People with ADHD have always been ‘different’ and this makes us compassionate and empathetic, so we are able to connect and engage with everyone in our organisations.
Our brains are wired differently, so we may discover risks or see solutions that a neurotypical person may not have considered.
Our real superpower, however, is our inherent hyper-focus. We can spend endless amounts of time and energy on projects we feel passionate about.
ADHD is still widely misunderstood. However, most of us with ADHD are working twice as hard as our neurotypical peers. With the right accommodations, this strong work ethic is an asset to any profession.
It’s been a long journey, but as I continue to embrace my ADHD I find more reasons to celebrate my differences. I do not thrive despite my ADHD, I thrive because of it and the strengths I bring to my profession.
Below are resources that may help people with ADHD and those who want to support a work colleague.
We’re asking our Future Leaders Steering Group member what they wish they’d known when starting out in safety and health.
- Don’t be afraid to push back – There are occasions when you hear the words ‘health and safety’ and it’s assumed that it’s your responsibility as an OSH professional. Don’t be afraid to push back on this belief. Health and safety is everyone’s responsibility, that’s the making of a good safety culture.
- Listen to your critics – Everyone has their opinions on safety in the workplace, and often you can dismiss those thoughts which go against what you’re trying to achieve. You need to listen to everyone, particularly those which disagree with you in order to implement changes which work (and have the buy in) for all involved.
- Inexperience can be your superpower – Just because something has ‘always been done this way’ does not make it the right way to do it. Your fresh ideas and new approaches to OSH are essential in ensuring that it continues to evolve into a forward-thinking profession.
- People are the solution, not the problem – In health and safety it can be very tempting to view employees as an accident waiting to happen. Always keep in mind that those responsible for undertaking work tasks in practice will almost certainly have the best ideas for how to do it safely. Make the most of people.
- Don’t be intimidated by seniority – Speaking to a Director or a Board member can be a little frightening. Remember that everyone feels unsure of themselves from time to time and they will also have been in your position. Generally, people are always more patient, understanding, and helpful than you would think.
- Be kind to yourself – Everyone makes mistakes but it’s easy to forget that’s the case. We’ve all done things that we would change in hindsight. Keep work in perspective and try to learn from anything that goes awry…and it will!
- Life will feel like a rollercoaster, you’ve just got to ride it - The job is about ups and downs and peaks and troughs. Being an OSH professional tests your planning skills and flexibility - you need to understand when your busy times will be and to ensure you create time in your diary for the unexpected things. And to know that it's okay to be quiet - nothing major can also happen.
- Rome wasn't built in a day - You shouldn't ever worry about trying to create, re-do documents or change everything at the start of your career or in a new job. Recreating the wheel is not required to get the job done! Use what is there as your foundation block and as you learn and do the job, put in the change and adapt processes.
- Give yourself some R E S P E C T - In the profession you'll work hard and always for others, not yourself... It's easy to feel like you don't get seen and that the reaction you hope won't come. But remember you've done your job and you continue to do it - always celebrate yourself and the important role you play.
- Don’t memorise legislation – I spent so much time stressing because I couldn’t remember all the legislation from the top of my head. Familiarise yourself with the important information but you’re not a failure if you need to check your facts.
- Empathise with others–People can be resistant to change but that has no weight on the validity of your ideas. If you feel your company has an outdated way of thinking regarding health and safety, always put your ideas across, but don’t be disheartened if they are not picked up straight away. Positive change is a marathon not a sprint!
- Trust your gut – If something feels wrong, explore that feeling. Maybe ask a question or stop work. Most importantly, just take a moment to slow down and re-evaluate the situation. Your gut instinct is a powerful tool and learning to trust mine made me much more self-assured.
- Crossover - An OSH career is certainly not boring; no two days are the same. We know our career is intrinsically woven into all sectors, but what I didn't anticipate is the exciting opportunities that I would be presented with. Being involved in other sectors has been interesting and a real learning curve.
- Work-Life-Study balance - Having a full-time job, a family and a life whilst trying to study isn't easy, but it is possible, and you’ll learn to balance your priorities. Balance can be achieved whenever you begin your OSH career
- Say yes! - When presented with the wildest activities, my initial reaction used to be “HOW are we going to do that? No”. Now I am a Yes woman – “Yes, but how do we do that safely?” It's all about facilitation, not barriers.
- Take a perspective check - Every high risk is not a catastrophic risk waiting to happen, and not everything can be completed straight away, especially not by yourself - that’s okay! Take a breath and a perspective check to save yourself unnecessary stress; a ‘SMART’ plan that you share (clearly) with your manager will get you a long way.
- Health and Safety is more about performance management - Actively listen and reflect on how and why people do things such as planning and monitoring. Understand their cycle, bring others in to learn together, and don’t forget to celebrate your wins (however small)! People learn to perform differently, and you’re no exception. Ask yourself how you learn best and leverage this experience to facilitate others’ growth.
- Ask questions - don’t be afraid to reach out to wider senior professionals in pursuit of an answer. Curiosity is your strength, and community your catalyst. Ask questions of yourself, processes, and others. Envelop yourself in the debates that thorough cognitive and background diversity brings, and don’t forget to enjoy them!
- I recently heard: "A document without any views on implementation is just an essay." If you are going to write anything health and safety based, make sure you know there is a view to implementing it and that you know how this will be done. If there isn't this view, ask why it needs to be done. Remember, health and safety is not just about producing a piece of paperwork, it should be in practice and should be having an impact.
- People will often come up to you saying, "I've got a big problem!" Firstly, don't feel like you need to tackle this there and then. Ask them to explain the problem and think about how serious this is. Make a quick assessment and prioritise accordingly. If it presents an imminent danger, deal with it. If it isn't, book a time to address it when you can. Don't try to jump to the solution. See the problem, address any immediate issues, then do your research. Once you have all your information, come to a collaborative, well thought out solution.
- Don't be afraid to say you need to find out. Don't guess. There are so many documents you will be aware of. It wouldn't be reasonable to memorise everything. You will know the key information and will be able to draw on this, but one of the key skills of an OSH professional is knowing where to look.
- When willing to begin your career in Health and Safety, you should know that the definitions of health and safety have moved from a concentration on injuries and accidents, and now emphasise the need to prevent people from being harmed by work or becoming ill by providing a satisfactory working environment. This shift brings important consequences in how this job is perceived and what’s expected from HS Professionals.
- You will soon understand that this topic has no boundaries. It’s such a multidisciplinary subject. You can apply its principles and aims to any field. It means that you’re not only free to choose/look for your desired field of implementation (type of company and associated level of risk), but also means that within the same company you will apply the HSE principles to many aspects of the working life.
- To navigate the modern transformations, which the pandemic has only accelerated, we need, together with resilience, and to make it operational - another quality, which acts as a "connective tissue": transilience. Transilience is an essential concept in the modern world, with its dynamics, interconnections, speed, information, and the need for continuous improvement, and is intimately connected with the ability to read (and manage) change, with the innovation, lateral thinking, and a resilient approach: qualities that make the difference.
- Effective Operational Health, Safety and Wellbeing is first and foremost about relationships. Infinitely more can be achieved in a 5-minute conversation on site than through endless reams of paperwork. Being an authentic and adaptable communicator is crucial.
- Data analysis is only as effective as the way it is communicated. Insights into trends in leading indicators can be made immensely powerful when accessibility and relatability are prioritised. Our teams have succinctly embedded Safety Observation data around situational hazards into our daily operational huddles, and the results are astonishing.
- An optimised business structure is dependent on an engaged safety culture. If you are looking to streamline plant, process, or procedure; an engaged and participatory front-line that feels included and supportive is necessary. Dial in on feedback loops and quick wins to make the biggest impact.
Join the upcoming Future Leaders Community webinar on 02 September, hosted by the Steering Group and featuring an expert recruiter to answer critical questions about furthering your career.
The Future Leaders Community provides me with the opportunity to network with other like-minded Future Leaders and to involve directly in the shaping of the community.
As a Future Leaders Steering Group member, I was encouraged to share my views in the shaping of the community which helps IOSH to establish contents that are relevant and invaluable for Future Leader members’ personal and professional developments.By attending the conference, you are supporting young members’ involvements in Health and Safety.
The Future Leaders Conference in November 2019 provided myself and other members the opportunity to gain information on the key skills required in becoming the Future Leader. The conference provides the opportunity for members to learn from the speakers, exchange ideas / experiences with other members as well as to seek advice from other senior members.
The Conference is an amazing opportunity to meet and network with other members from various industry. Above all, you will be able to meet the IOSH team who work relentlessly in making the community a big success as it is right now.
Cindy Bell | SHE Advisor (North Region)
If you’re thinking of joining the Community, don’t hesitate! And don’t have any nagging doubts.
There is a forum where we can introduce ourselves and from there the world can be our oyster.
IOSH has provided us with a platform to meet like-minded and passionate people who can work together to become the future face of health and safety,” she explained. “The more people who engage with the Future Leaders Community, the more of a powerful position we’ll be in to make a real difference to the future of the profession.
I would recommend the Future Leaders Community to any new professional out there. The community is an incredible platform for new and aspiring health and safety professionals.
Together, over the years, I believe this community can really shape the future of health and safety and this is such a perfect platform, one which I am so thankful to be part of. Thank you IOSH!
Joanne Lund | Interim Site Health and Safety Projects Coordinator with Allied Bakeries Stockport
IOSH has been a crucial support throughout my journey right from the start. There is so much support available: from regular news, magazines and information updates; local and national events; competency assessments; and mentoring opportunities, you couldn't really ask for a better support network within an industry community.
I think IOSH's Future Leaders Community is a fantastic initiative to promote, influence and support fellow OSH professionals emerging into the industry.
Health and safety can feel quite intimidating when you are just starting your career, but this fantastic community helps you to develop and build life-long support networks and enhance your skills and knowledge.
Dominic Jackson | Health and Safety Advisor at Dyson
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