We've got to be able to challenge each other and challenge ourselves - Scholarship Winner Interview

Tuesday, 16 May 2023

We met with Chris Brown, a recipient of the first Michael Adamson NEBOSH Diploma Scholarship in 2021.

Naomi: I'm Naomi Gill, Content Engagement LEAD here at NEBOSH and I'm here today with Chris Brown, who's health and safety advisor at the Children's Hospice in the South West.

So, Chris is one of our winners of the inaugural NEBOSH Diploma Scholarship in 2021. It's a scholarship designed to help learners develop the knowledge and practical skills they need to succeed in the workplace, advance their careers, and keep people safe from harm.

Winners of the scholarship are awarded paid for online study fees and the assessment fees for the NEBOSH diploma in Occupational Health and Safety Management.

Chris, I just wanted to say thank you for agreeing to share your experience of the NEBOSH Diploma and Scholarship and the Diploma itself with us. And congratulations from NEBOSH on achieving that first Diploma unit.

Chris: Thank you.

Naomi: And it means it's a really great time for us to talk about your experiences, and look back at winning the scholarship, and catch about how your studies been going. So, could I take you back to 2021 and ask how you heard about the NEBOSH Diploma Scholarship?

Chris: You can. I can't remember where I heard about it first. I know, eventually, I saw it on the NEBOSH website. I think I was linked to that. I think it was in The magazine sent to NEBOSH members, I forget what it's called…

Naomi: The learner's newsletter, I think.

Chris: Then yeah, I think it was that one, I just saw it, an article about a scholarship for the Diploma, and the Diploma is something that I've been wanting to do, you know, ever since I did my general certificate. It was always the logical next step - I just didn't know exactly when I was gonna do it because it involves, obviously, an awful lot of time, and sorting out of funding, and all that sort of thing…

So, it was on the list, but it wasn't something that I was trying to tackle straight away. And then, when I saw the fact that there was a scholarship, I thought it, you know, it’s definitely worth looking into a bit further.

But often, scholarships are only available to certain people, or you have to meet certain criteria. But actually, I looked at it and realised that this was available to anyone to apply for. You just have to fill in the forms and state why you want to do it: what your reasonings are, why it's important to you and all that sort of thing. Then, it just seemed silly to let an opportunity like that go. You never know if you don’t apply. It’s like, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Naomi: Yeah, if you're not in it, you don't win it, do you? It's all of those.

Chris: Yeah, you gotta shoot to score, haven't you? So yeah, I thought, yeah, I just would go for it. And you, you never know…

Naomi: And can you remember where you were, and what you were doing, when you found out you'd won?

Chris: Yeah, I think I was on holiday. I was on leave and so I wasn't actually at work. My boss, who had written the reference to support my application, I remember talking about it with her the week before I went on holiday and saying I should find out about it the next week.

So, I was actually on a walk in a local garden with my wife and kids. And I just saw it pop up on my phone -  I was a bit dumbstruck really! Because, I mean, I don't know how many people apply for these things, but I know it was the inaugural once and maybe there wasn't as many as there would be in subsequent years, but I assumed there would be a hell of a lot of competition. So, I guess you never really think realistically that you're gonna get it, but obviously I was very happy to find out that I did!

Naomi: Yeah, I've been looking at your application as part of my research for this interview and it’s really such an excellent application the supporting information as well.

Naomi: Could we just have a chat about how you found studying at diploma level?

Chris: Yeah, it's hard. It's difficult this. It's time consuming. There's a lot. There's a lot to it, but it's definitely rewarding.

The thing for me, personally, is that it’s practical, if you know what I mean: it’s relatable. So, especially if you are doing this sort of job or you're practicing professionally in this field you can immediately see that what you're learning whilst you're going through all the theories.

You engage with the theory behind what you're actually doing. So, it explains a lot of the reasoning and the background and the legal aspects behind stuff that that you're already doing, but perhaps you don't actually know why you're doing it.

For me, it means that the study, although hard, and although there's a lot to learn, that it works for me because I can see the point to it: I can see the practical application.

I've never been the best at studying for the sake of studying, you know, when it’s just theoretical. But I'm learning this because it's so relevant and I want to learn it; I need to know the reasons why and that’s where I’ve found I’ve been able to learn it - I can see how it’s applied.

Naomi: It gives you that 360 picture, doesn't it? The kind of learning that gives you the missing links. Does it it feel like that?

Chris: Yeah, exactly. And you can say something abstract, and it can go in one ear and out the other ear. But if you understand the ‘reason’ and the ‘why’ then you understand how this is actually going to affect you in practice: how it's gonna help you. Then I find it sinks in an awful lot better and it makes you able to answer questions far better when it comes to assessments, because you can put a practical, real-life scenario behind it.

Naomi: And I think that's it especially so isn't it with that that first diploma Unit on workplace health and safety principles. Are you applying that back your work?

Chris: Well, all the time because we do loads of stuff and Health and Safety is involved in everything. We’ve got lots of different departments, lots of different operations and lots of different activities – it’s huge.

Naomi: Yes, it sounds very, very, varied. You’ve got retail, haven’t you? As well as Hospice care?

Chris: Yeah, and fundraising activities and offices for everything. But Health and Safety cuts through all of these and is needed for all of those.

So, when I when I came into this role, we had my predecessor who’d done a fantastic job of setting up a lot of systems to manage and monitor health and safety and ensure compliance.

And I inherited those systems. I didn't set them up. So, there's a lot of things that we're doing and I'm then making sure we keep doing them - I'm monitoring and I'm managing them, but previously I probably didn't fully understand ‘why’ we were doing them.

And that's fine to a certain extent, but then if you want to sell the ‘why’ to someone, you need to really understand it. And if I'm talking to managers and saying “you know, actually we need to maybe change this or do something a bit better, or not do something…” then it comes across far better and you’re far more likely to get a positive response if you can explain ‘why’.

It’s not just “we're doing this because you need to do it” or “because that's the rules”. If you can say, “there’s this specific legislation that we have to comply with” or give some reasons why this makes it safer or this why you know people are going to work better, it’s much more positive and effective.

Naomi: I totally see what you mean, if you’re the “expert” in your area within your organization, being able to explain to people is absolutely key, and communicating it in a way that they're going to understand it and apply it and buy into it.

Naomi: Have you got a specific example of how your studies have made an impact in your workplace?

Chris: I can't think of anything specific off-hand. I mean, it's a bit through everything. I know something that we're planning to do now is to change things a little bit into more of a proactive safety model, following the Sidney Dekker health and safety model. This is something I had come across a bit in the General Certificate and have, obviously, come across it more and more in the Diploma. That’s given me the motivation to be able to say, “actually I think we can change things a little bit”. We're going to slowly work on that now across the coming 12 months to become more proactive, rather than looking at some of the reactive results. So, hopefully, maybe if we talk again in the year's time, I'll have a better example for you!

Naomi: Yeah, absolutely. It's all about making the journey, isn't it? And it all kind of takes time to come together and especially when you're making quite a shift. You've got to take the time to make that change. It's quite a shift in terms of how everybody's going to respond and think and pick things up, isn't it?

Chris: Yeah, it's huge. Yeah.

Naomi: I was just going to ask a little bit about how your how you personally balance studying for the diploma with your professional role and the rest of your life, your family and just everything, just how that works for you..

Chris: I wish I knew sometimes, really…

Naomi: Lot of life is like that, isn't it?

Chris: Yeah. I mean, work are really good. They've allocated me some time to actually go and do some studying and then to work on the assessments. Other than that, it's just using every spare minute. I've got a four-year old and a 20-month old, so they also keep me pretty busy. And then I do a bit of work in the evenings.

It’s about working out when I can be flexible. I mean, you do need to make sure you allocate enough time, especially for the assessments, to read them through properly, and they do take a lot of time to do - they’re quite labour intensive. I wrote a lot of words for the ND1 assessment!

But yeah, I couldn't really tell you how I do it. It's just I just work as much as I possibly can when I need to, really. There’s no new secret.

Naomi: I think it sounds like you know that it's a thing that you have to – like a lot of things in life – let it be the thing you give priority to sometimes and also give it the time it needs.

Chris: Personally I've been spreading the study out a bit, so I'm only doing 1 module each year so that I can focus on it for a period of time but then I can also put it on hold for a while and catch up with other stuff.

I know that you can really go for it and do two modules a year and get the whole thing done in a year and half if you want to, but I’d rather give it the time it needs and try and make sure I pass each assessment the first time if I can rather than do re-sits because they are so big. I’d rather not rush it.

Naomi: Yeah. And I think, you know, you're working full time - I talked to Courtney the other winner and she is taking her studies at a similar pace. Also, sometimes the learning goes better if you’re not cramming it in and you’re pacing it.

Naomi: Have you got any advice, if somebody was about to start studying the NEBOSH diploma, what would you? What would you say to them?

Chris: I would say don't leave it until the last minute. Set up a plan. Get started, and try and work through everything methodically; follow the plans that are in the training guides, work through as best you can and make sure you allocate plenty of time for the assessment.

Because I think the recommended study hours, for me, they were a bit less than what I needed to put into it so to be aware of the time it might need.

Naomi: That's really, really, good advice.

Naomi: And so, the diploma scholarships named after Michael Adamson, and he's an individual who lost his life in a preventable work accident. And we work closely with his sister Louise – she’s an ambassador for NEBOSH and a judge of the scholarship. Would you be able to talk about how Michael's story and stories like Michael’s and how they provide a motivation for you?

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Louise actually messaged me when I won the scholarship initially to say congratulations, and told me a little bit of her story, and we had a couple of emails back and forth, and that was lovely. And again, you now, quite inspiring and amazing to see that she can take something so negative and turn it into a positive and build that legacy for her little brother.

And I think that it’s very motivating, because it’s what health and safety should really be all about. Obviously, there’s the compliance side, and there’s the legal side of all that, but essentially it comes down to keeping people safe.

When you've got to try and explain things to people or, you know, sometimes try and keep people on board. Stories like that are just absolutely fundamental to be able to say: “This is why we're doing it. We're not doing this because we want to stop anyone, or we want to make life difficult, or we want give people paperwork for no reason.”

We genuinely want to - you know, at the pinnacle of it - we want to save lives. At the very least, we want to prevent accidents. We want to stop people getting hurt. We want to stop people having injuries that are going to make their life worse, you know, and when you do read these stories, you want to stop someone being hurt and even just do some training.

You might send people away from hearing a story like that and they might stop and think before they do something that could have caused an accident.

So, it really is good to occasionally read these stories, to hear about these inspiring stories. It’s a good reminder and it gives you that that little boost again. Yeah - that's why we do what we're trying to do.

Naomi: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And is there anything else in your own background that has provided motivation for your health and safety career?

Chris: I've found when I was younger, my first sort of roles out of school were mainly in construction. And obviously, I think everyone knows… construction is potentially quite a dangerous environment to work in. This was 20 odd years ago… and whilst construction, as far as I've known it, has always been quite tight on health and safety, and there's been a lot in place, I'm sure it's probably even better now than it was 20 years ago… I did see things and come across things that looking back, were inherently dangerous.

And I think what always surprises me again, and this is all with hindsight, because at the time I was exactly the same. I never thought anything of it.

But looking back, you think of all the people that walked past, that they knew better… and all the people that allowed that to happen and no one said anything. And I I would have been an 18 year old, 19 year old lad knowing that that was wrong, but wouldn't have had the confidence to speak up.

Naomi: Yeah, it's a climate, isn't it? The climate that's been created.

Chris: Absolutely. And it's very much, “This is the way we do things..” People carry on. People follow. And I've seen that numerous times and think that where you can get that inspiration and motivation to be able to speak up.

We've got to be able to challenge each other and challenge ourselves. And, if you can, you know.. because health and safety professionals are never going to be everywhere... But if you can get through to people , though, encourage people to be able to stand up and say: “Well, we may have done it this way for 20 years, but it's not right. I'm not gonna do it. And I don't think you should be doing it.” Then again, you know, you may have just helped someone else prevent a serious incident.

Naomi: Yeah, absolutely.

Naomi: And, just one final question. Have you got some words of advice for someone who's thinking about applying for the NEBOSH Diploma Scholarship in 2023?

Chris: Well, I've just got to say, go for it! I mean, I didn't think I would win, but I thought it was worth entering and sure enough, I did!

It's been amazing. It's a qualification that I've wanted to be able to get, and having it funded and having that support has allowed me to just crack on and do it far earlier and far quicker than I probably would have been able to do it otherwise.

And, you just never know you might win, so go for it!

 Applications are now open for the 2023 Scholarship. Find out more and submit your application online: Michael Adamson NEBOSH Diploma Scholarship 2023.