Helping people stay safe by choice, not chance!

Case Study: Ilgin Atalar

Ilgin Atalar is a Project Manager and Health and Safety Leader for Golder Associates in Turkey. This global organisation employs 6,500 people and provides environmental consultancy, design, and construction services to its clients who mainly operate in the oil and gas, mining, manufacturing, power and infrastructure sectors.
In this interview Ilgin talks about her career and shares the advice she would give to those starting out in our profession.

Why did you choose a career in health and safety?

I was coming to the end of my Masters studies as an environmental engineer and decided I wanted to enter the world of work rather than embark on a PhD. I started to explore the career paths open to me and the one that appealed most was to combine health and safety with the environment. On the deadline day for my Master thesis submission I was invited for a job interview for a EHS Engineer position by one of the biggest construction companies in Turkey. I successfully secured the project role supporting the construction of a Container Terminal Berth in Qatar. My health and safety journey therefore began back in 2008 on the north-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and I found I really loved it straight away!  

Why did you choose NEBOSH qualifications?

In my first job in Qatar, I was very lucky that my manager was a great mentor who helped me learn health and safety in the field and guided me towards the right qualification. I was encouraged to take the NEBOSH International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety and passed with distinction in 2009. I really enjoyed my NEBOSH Certificate course and as it helped me so much in the field, I promised myself that the NEBOSH Diploma would be next.

How did you juggle work and studying?

I found I could easily balance work and study when I completed the NEBOSH International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety.  In 2010, I returned to Turkey after the project in Qatar ended and joined Golder Associates. This kept me very busy and then I had my baby! Years later, in March 2018, I realised that if I did not take action, I would never keep the promise I had made to myself. So, before I had chance to change my mind, I applied for the NEBOSH International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety.

I completed my Diploma in one and a half years, and I kept on track by sticking to a schedule I made for myself. I studied at night or early in the morning before work and on the weekends. There were times when I could not fit my studies in because of business trips, but other than that and with the support of my family, I managed to keep on track. My Operations Manager has always supported me during this journey as well. Despite the long break from formal study, I found I was able to catch this pace again which encouraged me even more.

What impact has having NEBOSH qualifications had on your career?

I am currently working as the Health and Safety Leader at Golder Associates.  Since working in the consultancy sector, I am in contact with clients in many different sectors and deal with a wide range of environmental and occupational health and safety issues for them including conducting impact assessments, due diligence, and compliance assessments. My Diploma studies helped me gain more detailed knowledge of potential risks for specific sectors.

I also find that my NEBOSH studies have given me a broader perspective on health and safety which I have been able to apply internationally. I have conducted several Environmental Health and Safety audits which include site audits and system implementation audits in Turkey, France, the UK, Spain, Poland, Germany, Guinea and Tanzania.

Overall, I would say my Diploma studies have improved my safety knowledge, my decision-making process and confidence. I can also see that my NEBOSH qualifications are highly respected by colleagues and clients.

Can you explain what your current role is and how your responsibilities have changed due to COVID-19?

I have worked closely with my Operations Manager and we established COVID- 19 team to make sure that all necessary control measures are implemented in our office. I developed the return to work policy in line with the national government advice and my company’s corporate guideline and I share relevant guidance information with our staff, such as safe working from home instructions.

What do you enjoy most about your health and safety career?

I love everything about health and safety, but I would say supporting people is the part I like the most. I enjoy delivering health and safety training especially to new graduates who are at the start of their work life. I try to make our training interactive and enjoyable to get people involved.

The most rewarding part of my job is improving people’s awareness of and attitude to health and safety. I enjoy my job when people are safe by choice not by chance!

My company organises HSSE Awards and my country have won this a few times in recognition of our team member’s effort and achievements, which is awesome.

Are there any aspects you do not enjoy?

I have been very fortunate to work in companies with the management that always supports me. However, I can see that some of my colleagues have difficulties in companies in different countries where the management does not prioritise occupational health and safety, environment and also quality issues. This both makes the practitioners’ job difficult and causes them not to enjoy their role.

What advice would you give someone who is considering health and safety as a career?

Learn as much as you can and find the best qualifications for you. NEBOSH qualifications helped me a lot to extend my health and safety knowledge and increase my confidence. However, it is important to remember that formal training needs to be combined with experience. If you do not know how machines or equipment work, ask someone who knows! Experience is priceless!

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