“High quality products mean a real investment in health and safety”

Case Study: Emily Elphick

We spoke to Emily Elphick, Health, Safety & Environmental Officer at Hotel Chocolat, to find out how she drives continual improvement in the business and ensures that all staff contribute to health and safety best practice.

Emily, you have worked for Hotel Chocolat, the luxury chocolatier, since 2019. Can you tell us a little bit about the organisation?
Hotel Chocolat has its main manufacturing site in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, its distribution site is just down the road in St Neots, and its Head Office is in Royston. It also has a vast estate of shops and cafés both in the UK and overseas in the USA, Japan and across Europe. Hotel Chocolat also has a luxury eco hotel based on its working cocoa farm in St Lucia.

All our products have to be of the highest quality, otherwise they aren’t allowed on our shelves. We pride ourselves on using top quality ingredients and use more cocoa than sugar in our chocolate; that’s what makes our products so luxurious!

Your role with the company is as a Health, Safety & Environmental Officer. What does this entail?
At the moment Hotel Chocolat is going through a period of expansion, so a lot of my time is spent working with the Principal Contractor to ensure that all contractors are working safely - I carry out weekly on-site audits and inspections to achieve this. I also get involved in factory acceptance visits for new machinery and lines and, once they have arrived on site, the commissioning of machines. I’m currently assisting with a new system implementation which will bring all of our processes, such as accident reporting, under one system. I also generate reports of accidents and near misses across the site and help with the day-to-day management of health and safety.

Before working for Hotel Chocolat you were a Facilities Supervisor. How and when did you start to pick up more health and safety responsibilities?
After a year of being a Facilities Supervisor I started to pick up more health and safety responsibilities. I joined the Health and Safety Champion team for our division, which involved regular trips to Head Office to take part in meetings where we trialled new technology, and discussed serious near misses and accidents and what we could do to prevent these from happening again. I would then relay what we had discussed to the team on-site and create related health and safety campaigns to display around the site.

You have completed your NEBOSH National General Certificate and NEBOSH National Diploma for Occupational Health and Safety Management Professionals. Why did you take these qualifications and did you enjoy the courses?
I decided to opt for NEBOSH qualifications because they are recognised globally and are respected by safety professionals. I really enjoyed the courses as they helped me continue learning and I felt I could apply what I had learnt in my workplace.

The qualifications have given me more confidence in my own abilities. They have also allowed me to join the NEBOSH Alumni group, which has given me access to like-minded professionals to share experiences and knowledge with, and to upgrade to CertIOSH status (formerly GradIOSH).

Can you explain how your role has developed after completing your NEBOSH Diploma?
My role is constantly developing as the business grows and more building works take place. Achieving the Diploma will help me without a doubt as I feel it gives me the right level of knowledge to ask appropriate questions and be able to understand our requirements from a client perspective under CDM regulations.

Hotel Chocolat has a reputation for high quality products. How does this affect your role within the health and safety function?
High quality products do mean a real investment in health and safety. We get a lot of support from all levels of management and the team to ensure that we are able to deliver our high quality products whilst still working safely. At the end of the day, if we’re working unsafely then it could stop us from running a production line which would impact our customers, so why tempt fate?

We are always looking at how we can improve our processes within Hotel Chocolat and encouraging our colleagues to come forward with ideas and suggestions. Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean it’s how it should always be. We believe that the best people to help us improve our processes are the people who follow them all the time as they’re really aware of the nitty gritty details of a process. I can’t tell you the minute details of how a depositor works, for example, but colleagues who use it daily will!

At the moment we’re working to install a manual handling system in our central ingredients area, which will be the first of its kind across the business. We want to make sure that our staff are comfortable when they’re working and we believe that this system will also improve productivity in that area. If it’s a success, we would like to install the same system across the business.

We’re also currently in the process of implementing ISO 45001 and ISO 14001 as an integrated management system. This should help drive continual improvement through worker consultation and participation.

What do you enjoy most about being a health and safety professional?
I enjoy the challenges that I’m presented with and every day is different, which keeps it interesting. Yes sometimes things can get quite tough but the satisfying feeling I get when I’ve come up with a solution more than makes up for it. You get to interact with people from all different aspects of the business which gives you a good insight into how other areas of the business work. I also enjoy it when people present opportunities and solutions to me as it feels as though the culture is in a really positive place, which I feel I’ve had a part in developing. The opportunities available to me as a health and safety professional and the people I get to meet are also a big draw. I love being able to learn from people across all industries to see if we can apply what they’re doing in our own business.

What would be your advice be to anyone at the start of their health and safety career?
My advice would be to try and get as much experience as possible. I know people wonder “well how am I meant to get experience?”. You could start by being a Health and Safety Champion for your organisation or by joining the Health and Safety Committee. This will give you good exposure in the workplace. Show your manager that you have an interest in health and safety and ask for more health and safety responsibilities. Attend as many health and safety webinars as possible. You can find these on the sites of professional bodies and trainers or even on LinkedIn and they include a wide variety of subjects. If you can, try and attend some small health and safety courses to give you the basic knowledge which you can then develop. Don’t be afraid to ask people about their experiences or for their advice. We quite often learn from the people around us and we should draw upon their knowledge and experience. I have found this to be such a rewarding career.