A health and safety apprenticeship has been the perfect choice for me!

Case Study: Faye Harrison

Faye Harrison is a Health and Safety Apprentice at Caerphilly County Borough Council. In this interview Faye explains why she has chosen to pursue a career in health and safety and the training and support she is receiving during her apprenticeship.

For many, health and safety is a second career, but you have chosen it as your first. What attracted you to Health and Safety?

I did a week of work experience with a pharmaceutical company while completing my GCSEs. I got to spend time in various specialist departments, including Health and Safety, which I particularly liked.  When I chose my A-Levels/BTECs subjects I picked subjects that I thought would help me in the departments I had enjoyed.

The health and safety profession appealed to me because there are so many ways your career can develop. You can work in lots of different industries and specialise in so many ways if you want to.  Most importantly, I knew health and safety would be rewarding because you keep your colleagues safe and well.

What programme of learning has been put in place as part of your apprenticeship?

I have undertaken a range of training as part of my apprenticeship. This has been a mix of formal qualifications and internal training provided by Caerphilly County Borough Council.

I completed an introductory health and safety course before progressing onto the NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety. It helped me understand essential legal health and safety requirements and improved my knowledge of common workplace hazards and how to control them.

My employer has also provided valuable in-house training on a range of topics including DSE workstation assessment, lone working, manual handling, asbestos awareness, first aid, risk assessment, safe use of ladders, control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH), defibrillator training, and fire awareness and warden training.

I also receive ongoing advice and direction from my colleagues including the Principal H&S Officer who also provides day-to-day line management support.

Are you enjoying your apprenticeship and what activities do you get involved with?

I am really enjoying it and have got involved in a wide variety of activities. I have shadowed Health and Safety Officers and Fire Officers undertaking site inspections in various Council-occupied sites such as community centres, libraries and schools.

I help to maintain the Council’s incident recording database by uploading accident/incident and violent incident reports. I make sure that each record includes all the necessary paperwork and supporting evidence and the remedial action identified has been undertaken. This task helps me learn because I see why accidents have occurred and the steps that have been put in place to prevent a reoccurrence.

One project I particularly enjoyed was shadowing my line manager in the run up to the Council’s largest public event which took place in the grounds of Caerphilly Castle. I gained a useful insight into the risk assessment process for large-scale events, the wide range of health and safety risks that must be considered and why communication is so important to ensure events run safely and smoothly.

Throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns, I have delivered free school meals packages to children in our area. This task has been so rewarding because they make a massive difference to the families who receive them.

At 19, you have just passed your NEBOSH General Certificate! How did you find it?

I completed the course by two-week block release. I really enjoyed it and learnt so much, but I didn’t pass the assessment on my first attempt. I originally took the old format invigilated paper and I found it a challenge to absorb and retain everything, which let me down in the examination.

For my re-sit, the assessment format had changed to an open-book examination. Instead of recalling information, I needed to show that I could apply what I had learnt to a scenario. I got advice on how to approach this new exam style from a NEBOSH trainer I connected with on LinkedIn. She gave me advice on how to structure my answers and I found her help and support invaluable.

For me, ensuring you are prepared for the open book examination is essential. I invested time going through the course book and captured the key information for each unit in a PowerPoint. This meant I was more relaxed during the exam because I knew where to find everything fast.  I liked the open book examination format. It gave me the opportunity to apply the practical knowledge I gained from the course rather than simply recall facts. It seemed more like real-life to me.

Has the qualification helped you in your role?

It is early days as I have only just got my results. However, since passing the examination, I have received the great news that my apprenticeship has been extended by 12 months. This will enable me to further my knowledge and experience  things that the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented so far.

What are your long-term career aspirations?

I would like to continue my learning  and development and hopefully become a Health and Safety Officer at the end of my apprenticeship. 

What's next for you in terms of your personal development?

Like many people trying to kick start a career in health and safety, I would like to keep learning by taking more qualifications. I want to develop my skills and knowledge to ensure I am able to work to the best of my ability.

I'm currently a student member of IOSH but will be using my NEBOSH General Certificate to upgrade this to Associate Membership. My target is to become a Chartered Member within the next 5 years so I will be enrolling on a Diploma level qualification to achieve this ambition.

What do you enjoy most about working in health and safety?

It is 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 enjoy the variety that I have 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 NEBOSH qualification is internationally recognised so if I want to work overseas this is 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 health and safety profession which is exciting and allows endless learning and career development.

Your choice to enter the health and safety profession at such an early age is unusual. How do you think the industry can encourage more people to follow your lead?

I think school leavers should receive more information about apprenticeships and their benefits. Many are unaware of the different apprenticeships that are available and wrongly assume they are only available in the construction, engineering, and retail industries. 

I think the health and safety industry should encourage more businesses to offer apprenticeships too. I didn’t want to go to university because of the cost and there is no guarantee you will secure employment when you graduate. I like the opportunity that apprenticeships give you to gain hands-on experience and recognised qualifications. It has certainly worked for me.