So you want a career in Health and Safety? (Part 1)

I like other web publishers and bloggers monitor traffic on my sites. I really like to know how many visits I get in a day and where the traffic is coming come. I also like to know what keywords people use for their google searches that sends them to my site. So recently, someone searched using this statement – “where can I volunteer as a Safety Officer in Nigeria?” So one of you made a search on how to start a Health and Safety Career and it led you straight to my site. Nice! Honestly, I wasn’t surprised to see this as it is an area I know many people have problems with. Many want to get into Health and Safety and do not have a clue how to go about it. Employers want you to have a million years experience which sometimes is ridiculous.

I have had chats with people who are frustrated with not being given the chance to show they can do the job. One thing they fail to realise is that Health and Safety is such a special and delicate field and no employer wants to get it wrong especially with the staff they put in charge of it. It is the same way you would choose one doctor over the other and will frown at the student doctor who the experienced doctor sends your way. You are thinking – hell no, don’t use my life to practise your medicine, right? You prefer if they stayed next to the experienced doctor and just watched right?

The same thing goes for Safety. One way or the other, people’s lives are involved and shouldn’t be messed with. Have you ever thought of Safety that way? Or do you see it as a means to an end? You just need a job, right? Or everyone seems to be studying NEBOSH and you feel you want to be just like them right? Or maybe your friend is a trainer and he gets paid thousand of dollars per training session (or hundreds of thousands of Naira as the case is in Nigeria) so why should you miss out on this, right? Wrong!

As I said earlier, Safety is special and delicate and must be your career choice for really good reasons. You need to have a passion for it and it must be evident. Friends have often told me that when I talk about my role in Health and Safety, they see a glow – not sure what they are on about but they say they can see I really love my job. They see I love and know my stuff (to be honest, I don’t think I know enough lol). Can people say the same thing about you?

Still want to go into Safety? If yes, then let me tell you what you need to do to get there – but first let me tell you how I made my first break. The first break is all you need and the rest is history.

How I started my Safety Career

I studied Biomedical Science at University of Bedfordshire. I did that for 3 years and really wanted to study Medicine once I was through with Biomedical Science but this was not to be. In my 2nd year at Uni, I knew Medicine wasn’t for me even though I had dreamed of becoming a Doctor since I was a child. After graduation, I tried to get a job with the NHS to work in one of their laboratories but in my heart of hearts, I didn’t want to work in a hospital environment. I didn’t want to see people sick especially if they weren’t going to get better. I didn’t want to do tests and confirm they had Cancer or some incurable disease. I was never shortlisted. I bless God for that.

So I decided to do a Masters and change my field completely. Bioinformatics seemed to be in vogue but one day while reading the papers, I saw an advert for HSE inspectors with the UK Health and Safety Executive. I researched the role and liked what I saw. Wow, I thought the job was me and I was the job. I have a tough side and can’t tolerate complacence. I really wanted to make a difference. I applied for the job but I wasn’t shortlisted for an interview. Ah well. There will be other opportunities I said to myself.

I then applied for a Masters in Occupational Health and Safety Management at University of Surrey and Brunel University. Went for an interview at Surrey University and gained admission to both Universities. Now I needed to make a choice. Surrey was so far away and although Brunel was a little far away especially by train, I settled for Brunel University as it was nearer and I would save on transport – both tuition fees were nearly the same. It was a tough decision to make because Surrey is a top UK University plus they, unlike Brunel called me in for an interview to be sure I was right for them and the course so naturally, they were in my heart but I had to think of transport and the journey.

Due to my experience with searching for work, I knew that experience was more important than my certificates so I sought out to gain experience while I studied for my masters, even if it was a part time role. I searched online and found a volunteering opportunity with Prism Safety Management and was quickly accepted but was working from home since they were far away in Doncaster. With Prism, I did mainly risk assessments, policies, created health surveillance questionnaires and related tasks. I started 2months before my Masters programme was to take off.

Some 6 months later, I then subsequently found a job vacancy to work at the London Hazards Centre as a part time Health and Safety Advice and Training Worker. I applied and was invited for an interview and though they had to settle for someone with more experience, they offered me a chance to volunteer once a week. Oh my goodness! I grabbed this opportunity and did it for about 18months. Of course, I had a part-time job working as a Support Officer in Housing and Social Care so of course my rent and bills were kinda sorted.

On days I was free from Uni and work, I would meet with one of the Safety Officers and go on inspections with him. I was given the chance to be more involved in their work not the typical volunteer role of doing menial admin tasks. I created an asbestos information pack which they thought was epic but now when I look at it I think it was really crappy lol. My new me can certainly do better lol. I would write articles and factsheets for their quarterly newsletters, update their database with client info, jobs and enquiries. At the same time, still helping Prism out.

I was learning fast.

One day, 2 of the safety officers at London Hazards Centre got sacked – I heard it was because they weren’t doing their job. Honestly, the job came with lots of freedom since you were meant to be out visiting clients and making new ones so it was easy to fall short if you aren’t strong willed. I guess they were victim to this freedom. So yes one day I got a call asking me if I wanted paid work with them. Hell yeah! I resumed immediately to work part-time of course and without an interview. I just hate interviews as I think I never do great at them. I was told I did more as a volunteer than both of them put together. So my hard work and dedication paid off? Honestly, I never expected to get paid work with them. I was going to get experience as a volunteer and go else where to work but I guess God had other plans.

That was in 2011. I have never looked back. I was mainly involved in our quarterly publications, research and writing, training, audits and inspections, risk assessments and developing policies of many kinds. It was there I started writing Health and Safety articles. After over 3 years of working with them, I went freelance since their funding situation was shaky and had to let us go. I started freelancing as I was now used to having control over my work and needed it to stay that way. The rest is history.

I will stop there.

Oh Professor Ike, I get it but you talk too much sometimes. Why don’t you just tell us how we can kickstart our own career in Safety?! 🙂

How you can start a career in Health and Safety

Ok. Ok. I hope you read the above especially where I go into great detail telling you how I started in this beautiful profession and what I did to help myself gain the necessary skills and knowledge. Did you pick anything out? Let me give you 5 minutes to re-read it and highlight 5 areas you think helped me excel.

You done? Not so fast tiger. I really want you to ponder on my story so I am going to give you a couple of days and then I will tell you how you can maybe imitate me and maybe even be better in my next post. I am going to pick out the main points from my experience and build on it. Here is a disclaimer 😉

I am not guaranteeing you will get paid work if you decide to volunteer. Even when you volunteer and do all Jesus would do, employers might not care about it enough to keep you on. Always have this at the back of your mind

More to come soon. Till then, stay positive and read this article on how to excel in Health and Safety.