Continually learning and enhancing your skills makes being a H&S professional enjoyable: you’re on a continuous journey to be an expert!

Case Study: Simon Steele

We spoke to NEBOSH Best Candidate Simon Steele, who shared his top 5 tips for anyone starting their health and safety career.

Simon, can you tell us about the organisation you work for and your role within the company?
I’m currently employed as a Senior Health and Safety Advisor for a unitary authority, where I support teams who are responsible for the delivery of all local government services within the city including education, highways, housing and social services – around 250 services in all. Given the number of services, the role certainly provides a large amount of variety and I can honestly say no two days are ever the same, which helps to keep me on my toes.

How did you first get into health and safety?
My interest in health and safety began early in my professional life when I worked in the leisure industry. After starting as a lifeguard I worked my way up to operational management level, which meant that I gained a good level of knowledge and hands-on experience of health and safety management.

There have been people working within the sector who have put in admirable efforts to keep people safe and they definitely influenced my journey into health and safety. I also gained confidence when I achieved a distinction in the NEBOSH National General Certificate.

After my time in leisure, I secured a role as a Facilities Manager. It was whilst in this post that I was approached by a national landscape maintenance and construction company about a role that ‘was right up my street’. I applied and it resulted in me getting my first job in a health and safety advisory role - a Quality, Health, Safety and Environmental Manager to be precise! I joined a small team that provided health and safety advice and support to the organisation’s contract management teams based across England and Scotland.

You completed your National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety in 2021 and were presented with a Best Candidate award at the recent 2022 NEBOSH Graduation – congratulations! Why did you take this qualification?
I undertook the NEBOSH Diploma as, when I first started with my current employer, it was required for those employed in a H&S Advisor role. This added a little more pressure, and I had also heard that it was a tough but valuable qualification to obtain. However these pressures only made me more determined and motivated to ensure I achieved success.

Did you enjoy the course?
I enjoyed undertaking the qualification, but I suppose as I have a keen interest in health and safety, I may have a slightly biased view! I like to think of the journey with this qualification as a bit of a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs along the way – but enjoyable nonetheless.

Studying during the COVID-19 pandemic made things interesting, as I’m sure others found! As critical frontline services had to continue to operate, my role got busier as the business looked to me for support to ensure they could be delivered safely. This meant I was busy at work, whilst also trying to study.

I studied via distance learning, which offered some flexibility, but meant I had to remain dedicated to my plan to ensure my studies fitted in around my work/family life (and my passion for water polo). Setting targets and celebrating achievements along the way was a really helpful way for me to keep motivated. My success was largely influenced by the massive amounts of support my partner and children provided. For me, they equally deserved to be on the stage during the Graduation as I couldn’t have done it without them.

How did this qualification benefit you? Did it help you to shape or improve your company’s approach to health and safety?

Successfully completing my NEBOSH National Diploma qualification has had many benefits. I suppose I would summarise them as:

  • Being able to put my increased knowledge into practice and share it with others within the organisation to help them to keep themselves and others safe
  • Having more confidence in my own ability to make well-informed decisions that will positively influence organisation-wide health and safety performance
  • Obtaining a more senior role within the organisation
  • Enhancing my soft skills including time management, communication and resilience

What do you enjoy most about being a health and safety professional?
For me the enjoyment of being a health and safety professional sits firmly in having the ability and influence to prevent individuals being harmed or suffering ill-health.

Health and safety professionals often reflect on the impact of a colleague not returning home at the end of the day, or having to live with a life-changing injury/condition as a result of them being involved in an accident or repeatedly exposed to an uncontrolled hazard when they are at work. I also routinely consider this scenario and think about what the impact would be on my partner, children, and wider family members if it were me in that situation. So for me, making a difference each and every day to avoid others finding themselves in that position provides a humbling amount of satisfaction.

The need to continue to learn, refresh knowledge and enhance skills also makes being a health and safety professional enjoyable: you’re on a continuous journey to be an expert!

For me this is not a sit-at-a-desk role so being able to get out and about and collaborate with others at all levels within the organisation certainly helps offer variety and avoids a set daily routine of tasks – that’s not for me.

What would be your advice be to anyone at the start of their health and safety career?
My 5 top tips for anyone at the start of their health and safety careers:

  1. It’s ok to not always know the answer immediately and/or to ask for help – We can’t know it all. Sometimes it’s worth doing some research and asking for support from others before making a decision or offering advice if you’re unsure in any way. From experience, the health and safety professional community is great at offering help to peers – ultimately, we’re all here for the same reasons after all.
  2. Make sure you’re directing your attention at the significant risks - Your time and effort should be more focused on the activities/tasks that could result in more serious consequences and ensuring the control measures (where hazards can’t be eliminated, of course) are in place and remain in place. Go and check and then check again!
  3. Continuous improvement applies to you - Don’t ignore the value of a CPD plan to identify knowledge and skill gaps for you to focus on. It helps to ensure you’re striving to be the best you can be.
  4. Don’t underestimate the importance of building and maintaining relationships - To be effective health and safety management needs to be a collective effort by everyone in the organisation, so having an excellent rapport with others will ensure people seek your support when needed. It will also make it easier when it comes to influencing others or addressing weaknesses in health and safety management arrangements.
  5. Build your own health and safety team - This isn’t about creating more roles in the health and safety team, but being someone who routinely provides knowledge to others and equips them to be able to manage health and safety – even when you’re not around! I would much prefer to find out about (and celebrate) the positive actions that have been taken by someone, rather than deal with the consequences of a lack of action due to someone not knowing or doing something that they should have.