At HSE Recruitment we work to develop long lasting relationships with our candidates and clients alike, and nothing delights us more than seeing someone's career progression and success.
HSE has known Mark since he was at DS Smith. He has a wealth of senior HSE experience; moving from working in the military, to aviation, to where he is now - championing the strategic side of HSE for Essentra Plc.
So Mark, how did you get started in a career in health and safety?
I actually started in Aviation. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the overlap of Aviation and Safety is huge – many things that are now accepted practice in H&S actually started out in Aviation, such as the latest thinking about dynamic risk assessments, human factors, and just culture. After 16 years in the Army Air Corps, I’d amassed a considerable amount of experience and training on many safety topics. I was also exposed to the consequences of poor safety, including first-hand experience of the aftermath of a fatal accident. I think most safety practitioners will be able to point to a defining moment in their lives where they became advocates for safety, and at that moment it becomes a vocation as well as a profession.
“I was also exposed to the consequences of poor safety, including first-hand experience of the aftermath of a fatal accident”
What paths did you take to get into health and safety?
When I left the Army, I went to work for a large packaging manufacturer. I initially worked on a number of different corporate projects, one of which grew in scope to become a full-time role, looking after Sustainability. This required me to work collaboratively with the company’s site-based QHSE managers, although the work itself was very much focussed on establishing robust systems and processes to support the Sustainability agenda. Having had a largely Environmental portfolio for my first three years, the opportunity arose in 2015 to take charge of the H&S function and to align the H&S, Environment and Sustainability processes throughout the organisation. This was the moment that I realised that my previous experiences in Aviation were very closely aligned to Safety in a manufacturing setting.
Can you tell us about your job now?
Now I am the Group Health, Safety and Environment Director for a large global manufacturing company. Leading a corporate function is actually far less about technical H&S matters, and more about navigating a path through corporate objectives, goals (and politics) and to help create the conditions that allow our site-based H&S advisors to deliver the most added-value.
What are the biggest challenges day-to-day for you as a health and safety professional?
I think that almost all issues we face share a common element – which is the challenge of understanding and defining what is ‘reasonably practicable’. I’ve never known a safety problem that couldn’t be better addressed by doing more – whether that be more training, more CAPEX, more audits. The challenge is to discover and communicate throughout an organisation, the point at which it is appropriate to focus on other sometimes competing objectives because we’re confident that we’ve done enough.
“understanding and defining what is ‘reasonably practicable”
What do you find most rewarding about working in health and safety?
It sounds cheesy, but we save lives. Or, perhaps more commonly in less hazardous settings, we demonstrably improve lives by reducing the incidence and severity of injuries and illnesses. In my current company, we’ve reduced the Lost Time incident frequency rate by 42% in a year, which equates to thirty people who weren’t injured at work so badly that they couldn’t come in the next day. That’s something to be proud of.
“Reduced the Lost Time incident frequency rate by 42% in a year”
What do you feel is the most important thing when trying to get people on board with health and safety?
As a profession, we need to get better at talking about the positives of safety. Our colleagues in Quality have long talked about the cost of poor quality, and the value that a good quality management system can add to an organisation. I think that in Safety we could perhaps reduce the emphasis on the legal risks to company directors, and spend more time talking about the potential for good safety to be a driver of exceptional business performance. This would chime better with the middle management, who perhaps don’t always see a risk of prosecution as a threat to themselves, but who are on the front line of delivering on the organisation’s strategic goals and objectives.
What would be your top tips for someone about to start out in health and safety?
Working in H&S is a noble profession – and it’s great to have a qualifications framework that recognised the breadth of our portfolio and the expertise needed to do the job well. However – we should resist the temptation to create barriers between ourselves and those who don’t hold formal safety qualifications. I’d say that a company is hitting the right notes when every single person working in production, procurement, logistics, finance, or any other function, understands how their role contributes to safety – rather like my formative years in Aviation, where I never thought of myself as a safety professional … I just knew that doing my job safely was fundamental.
What (in your opinion) makes a good Health and Safety professional?
Someone who asks “Why”, all the time, and who doesn’t accept the first answer, but really tries to get to the root cause of an issue, will thrive as a H&S practitioner. Actually, they’d also thrive as a leader in many other functions. I’d turn this question around and say that a good approach to H&S makes any professional a better employee, or a better colleague.
“Someone who asks “Why”, all the time..”
What is your career plan over the next five years?
I’d like to see H&S roles becoming a normal and natural part of a varied career path that encapsulates other functional areas – I don’t see any reason why a spell as a H&S practitioner should preclude subsequent roles in general management, production, finance, HR, customer services, engineering, procurement, project management, or IT. And likewise, I think that expertise gained in these areas can be hugely beneficial to the H&S function – so I guess I should practice what I preach, and lead by example. I’d love to work in General Management some day and to bring my experiences of H&S to bear in a leadership role.
Thanks so much Mark for taking the time out to speak to us - if anyone has any questions for Mark, pop me a direct email ( firstname.lastname@example.org )