A temporary job led me to the career I love!

Case Study: Gina Biggs - Group Health and Safety Manager - SEGRO

NEBOSH recently interviewed Gina Biggs, Group Health and Safety Manager at SEGRO about her career and the part NEBOSH qualifications have played.

This year you will have worked in health and safety for 10 years after securing your first role shortly after finishing university. What attracted you to the profession?

I think like many other health and safety professionals the words ‘fell into it’ probably reflects how I came to find health and safety. After completing a geography degree at university, I did not have a specific career in mind, I just knew I wanted to help people. Whilst I fully investigated the options I had shortlisted, which included teaching, supporting children, and customer service, I secured temporary work. One of the posts that I found I particularly enjoyed was supporting the health and safety manager at a manufacturing company. It was the variety and mix of tasks that I liked. When I found out there was a vacancy to join the team on a more long-term basis, I applied and the rest as they say is history. I became a permanent employee in October 2011 and started my NEBOSH general certificate the following January. Working in health and safety was not on my radar initially but, as I approach 10 years in the profession, I cannot think of a career that would suit me more.

You completed your NEBOSH General Certificate in 2012. Why did you choose this qualification and how did you find it?

My manager recommended I take the NEBOSH general certificate, but I also did my own research. From the options I identified, it seemed the most appropriate for the level of knowledge I required, and its industry reputation was evident too. When I looked at professionals in similar roles, it seemed to be the qualification most had chosen.

After considering how I like to learn, I booked a one day a week classroom course, which meant I completed it over a few months. I valued the tutor support and interaction with other learners this option gave me. Having weekly lessons also meant I had time to digest what I had learnt whilst building practical knowledge in my workplace at the same time.

After four years, you moved into a health and safety consultancy role supporting the television and film industry. Was this as enjoyable as it sounds?

It was great! After working in manufacturing for four years, I had decided I needed a new challenge. I wanted to expand my health and safety knowledge and confidence, and the TV and film advisor role achieved this.

It has always been a personal goal to do everything I can to ensure that health and safety is viewed positively. Through my actions l try to dispel the myths that sometimes surround our profession. We are not the fun police, the department that always says no or the team you approach to get an excuse to justify not doing something! In my TV and film role, we were never a barrier and instead worked with the production teams to ensure they could get the shot they needed in a safe way. It was never a ‘no you can’t’ situation and I loved this collaborative approach.

 Your next role saw you work in the travel industry. Was this role interesting?

Again, this role appealed because it offered a different angle on health and safety and allowed me to expand my knowledge and remit. I was auditing hotels, tour operators’ safety management systems and delivering training to allow others to assess the risks of hotels, activities, or providers they were choosing to use. There was a bit of travel involved too, which is always a bonus!

I can see that it was during this time you completed your NEBOSH National Diploma. What was the motivation for taking this qualification and did you enjoy it?

It had not been required for the roles I had held up to that point, but I felt if I wanted my career to progress further, I needed to gain a Diploma level qualification. I looked at other health and safety professionals and again the NEBOSH Diploma seemed to be the qualification most had opted for. It also appeared as a mandatory requirement in many job adverts for the types of roles that would be my next step. I self-funded this qualification and did it via remote distance learning.

I thought it was a great and well-rounded qualification. The modules touched on a lot of my previous experience, but also covered a few new areas that I had no experience of which I had to study a bit more for. As I had opted for remote learning, I had to study in my own time and sometimes it was hard to squeeze it in whilst working as well. My tutors were great though and offered help and support whenever I requested it. I was very chuffed when I passed as at the start it seemed like a mountain of things to get through, but it was worth it in the end.

In 2018 you joined SEGRO and, earlier this year you were promoted its group health and safety manager. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about the company, its health and safety ethos and the part you play specifically?

SEGRO is a leading owner, manager and developer of modern warehouses and industrial property with developments located across the UK and Continental Europe. Health and safety is central to all its business activities and the organisation’s ethos is that health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. Employees are encouraged to play their part in keeping this business a safe and healthy place to work. The health and safety team is a support function, which offers advice, develops and implements policy and procedures and works with the business to improve and enhance current processes.

A key focus for me is ensuring we deliver our health and safety strategy. There are many aspects that I look at including employee communications, how we can raise competence and standards and how we can support our contractors and customers.

SEGRO’s Health and Safety and HR teams work together to support employee wellbeing. It is something that is talked about openly and training is provided to all line managers and employees. Over the last 18 months we have strengthened our wellbeing provision whilst the team have been working from home.

During your career you have switched between sectors a few times. How easy did you find this?

I think the skills and knowledge you develop as a health and safety professional are transferable between sectors. I think sometimes the hardest part in making a move is securing an interview. For some roles employers look for specifics for the sector but from my personal experience, I think someone with a varied background can do the job equally as well. They come with fresh ideas and a new way of looking at things. The sector and company specifics can be learnt whereas the health and safety skills need to be developed and refined over time.

Looking at your experience, developing and delivering training seems to be a constant! Is this something you particularly enjoy and what tips do you have to ensure success?  

When I left university, I seriously considered becoming a teacher, so I suppose delivering training is a way to still do this. I enjoy it because it’s a way to help others achieve their best. I love delivering training that gives people the knowledge and skills they need to keep themselves and others safe.

To be a good trainer I think you must be approachable, be able to think of ways to deliver content in an engaging and accessible way and include some practical activities in your courses too. I think my favourite training I have developed and delivered so far was manual handling, which featured biscuits and marshmallows to demonstrate vertebrae and discs! They provided a great addition to the coffee break too!

How have your NEBOSH qualifications helped your career?

My NEBOSH qualifications have helped me get to where I am today as without them it would have been difficult to progress in the manner that I have. NEBOSH is industry recognised so having these qualifications on your CV really helps.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the health and safety profession?

I still love the variety and challenge, which is what persuaded me to enter the profession when I had my taster at the start of my career.  Not every question you get is easy but sometimes the more challenging ones end up being the most rewarding once you identify a suitable solution.

Whilst health and safety is a separate function, I love that you get to work across the business to support and advise others. This opportunity to work with others is something else that I value.

What would your advice be to others considering a career in health and safety?

I would recommend it. If you like helping others, problem solving and are up for the challenge then give it a go. There are lots of forums or events you could attend to get a feel for what health and safety is like. As I have mentioned a lot of people that I have spoken to seem to have just discovered health and safety by chance, after it is added to their job role. I suppose this is what makes everyone’s experience unique, as we all have such varied backgrounds.