As part of our ever popular Backstage Pass series, we speak to people who’ve ‘made it’ in their health and safety careers, asking them to share the secrets of their success and hopefully offer some words of wisdom. This month we’re delighted to talk to Anita Gough. After all, if anybody should be able to offer an insight into the challenges and rewards of a career in health and safety, it’s RoSPA’s very own Facilities and Health & Safety Manager!
Nobody likes a jobsworth…
It sounds obvious, but it’s really important you don’t come across as overzealous or officious. People are often naturally quite resistant to health and safety messages, so you should strive to use a proportional, level-headed approach when assessing risks. Most importantly, you need to educate people about the steps they can take to keep themselves and others safe and healthy.
The ‘Everest’ of Health and Safety jobs!
As far as challenges go, you probably won’t find more pressure than being responsible for health and safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The biggest challenge I face is ensuring that our policies and procedures meet everyone’s needs. Like most organisations, RoSPA is a diverse and varied working environment. Everyone is different, so a ‘one-size fits all’ approach is a definite no-no!
Colleague or friend – the same qualities apply
When I’m looking to recruit an additional person to join my team, I look for the same qualities as I do in friends. They need to be honest, with an outgoing, friendly demeanour. Most of all they need to be reliable. When you work in health and safety, people rely on you to keep them safe. There’s simply no place for cutting corners.
Killer fashion sense? Only joking. Positivity is a big one. There’s a danger that safety workers can be seen as the ‘fun police’, and in order to get people to engage it’s important you retain an upbeat attitude and a sense of fun. Related to that, you need to be approachable. Good health and safety relies on communication. You need to listen as well as speak, and if nobody feels comfortable talking to you, then you’re going to have a problem. Finally, it’s vital that you’re caring. You have to care about your job, your organisation, but most of all, you have to care about people. It sounds dramatic, but a safety manager’s job is to ensure people return home safely to their family each night. In order to be effective, you have to take that responsibility seriously, and be committed to keeping your colleagues safe and free from harm.
We might have a red door, but there’s no red carpet here!
It’s safe to say that I didn’t take my current role with glamour in mind. The least glamorous aspect of this job definitely has to be anything toilet related – there have been several very nasty instances over the years, which I’m sure you don’t need the details of here. Having said that, I have enjoyed the opportunity to oversee and manage larger projects over the years, such as the relocation of our HQ in 2010, as well as project managing our new training centre in Kings Norton. Of course, if it’s glamour you’re looking form, there’s always the annual RoSPA Awards…
If I wasn’t a safety manager?
I like to think that I would have gone into counselling of some kind, or possibly psychotherapy . Human behaviour and why people do what they do, fascinates me – although I suppose in a way that still directly relates to the work I do at RoSPA. After all, behavioural safety is a cornerstone of good health and safety practice.
‘Accidents don’t have to happen’
If I could leave you with just one message, it would be this. So many people seem to be under the impression that they have no control over what happens to them, that accidents are just an unpleasant fact of life, but it’s simply not true! Nearly every death or life-changing injury that happens in our society, be it the workplace, the road or the home, could be prevented, often as a result of the simplest changes. The good news is, more and more people are waking up to this idea, so I think things are going to change for the better. In the meantime, safety managers like me will be here to keep you on the straight and narrow!
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