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.
Matt is someone who has been known to us for the last eight years - and who we were lucky enough to help get on the Health and Safety career ladder and throughout his career. He has recently been promoted to Global Head of Environment, Health and Safety within his company Evotec - so we spent some time with Matthew to ask him about his career so far, and to get some top tips for those looking to follow in his footsteps!
So Matt - how did you get started in a career in health and safety?
Whilst I would consider my journey to be unique, it is fairly typical in the industry in terms that I was touched by an accident which sparked an interest in health and safety.
My step father was a precision engineer and was working on a contract that had tight deadlines. Unfortunately his mind was not fully on the task one day when the project slipped and started to spin. Without thinking, his hand shot into the lathe to stop the metal moving and to save the work, and unfortunately he lost a chunk of his hand including his thumb.
“the impact on the family made me realise what the true cost of an accident was.”
The HSE investigation that took place fascinated me, and the impact on the family made me realise what the true cost of an accident was. As luck would have it at the same time I was working in an analytical chemistry laboratory and there was a role available for a Health and Safety representative (alongside the day to day lab role). I was looking to stand out amongst my peers and thought it would be a great way of adding value to my CV.
What paths did you take to get into Health and Safety?
At University I read Pharmaceutical Sciences, then got a job in the Pharma industry as a laboratory analyst. I became a health and safety representative followed by a secondment into to the Engineering department and then retrained in Health and Safety. From there I worked my way up from Advisor to Manager, to UK manager and most recently Global Head of EHS.
Can you tell us about your job now?
Currently I am the Global Head of Environment Health and Safety for a contract research organisation, based in Oxford. I Head up a team of EHS Specialists / Managers across multiple sites throughout EU and US. It is my responsibility to set the vision and strategy for Environment Health and Safety (and deliver it), and to advise the Senior Management Team accordingly.
What would you say are the biggest challenges day-to-day for you as a health and safety professional?
The key challenges are integrating a rapidly growing business and understanding organisational cultural differences. Each site has a complex past and reasoning to get them to where they are i.e. a completely different set of cultures and values. This gives rise to challenges when trying to develop and implement a set of Corporate Standards.
Pragmatism is also massively important as is trying to shake the perception that Health and Safety are the fun police.
What do you find most rewarding about working in health and safety?
Definitely being able to make a difference, and enabling employees, contractors, visitors and others to interact with the business and not get harmed ( to ensure that everyone goes home in the same number of pieces / condition in which they arrived minus a good days work). Whilst the sentiment may raise a smile, it really is that simple!
“When something happens that was expected and the control measures put in place work, that’s a good day. When something unexpected happens and the emergency preparedness holds and ensures a positive outcome that’s a good day. When an employee engages with Occupational Health and Safety and they tell their work colleague about it and you hear positive feedback that’s a good day. When you get to implement a new standard that changes thoughts and perceptions of an organisation and demonstrates added value that is an awesome day.”
What do you feel is the most important thing when trying to get people on board with health and safety?
Understanding and Patience, and having a thick skin. Everyone wants to do the right thing, but sometimes pressures from different areas means that their focus isn’t always on the hazards and what can go wrong. By taking time to understand how the individual works and their motivators this often leads to an understanding of how they are approaching the task. by then re framing the approach in their way of thinking it allows the delivery of a positive safety message.
In the modern working world efficiency, profit, delivery etc. are all drivers, and it is often the reason that Health and Safety is left behind, but this really doesn’t need to be the case!
“Good health and safety goes hand in hand with quality / good manufacturing practice, efficiency and lean ways of working.”
From a commercial viewpoint all the associated costs with investigations, and corrective and preventative actions means it’s not very efficient to be unsafe!
A thick skin is important because some reactions shouldn’t be taken personally. Sometimes you need to say no! Health and Safety is not a popularity contest however I have to admit that being liked is useful.
What would be your top tips for someone about to start out in health and safety?
If you want a job that you don’t currently do and it is a different career path to the one you are currently on, see if your current employer does a secondment type scheme, or ask to spend some time shadowing the person that does that role - have coffee / lunch with them and ask them about their job. Look for someone that inspires you and replicate their journey, modifying it to fit your current circumstances. Break down the journey into manageable chunks and take a little bit of action every day.
“take a little bit of action every day.”
Take calculated risks, and come out of your comfort zone. Progress was never achieved by sitting back.
Build a team around you of people that you discuss all aspects of OHS with, outside of your current workplace (By asking inside the organisation you are effectively in an echo chamber) Using IOSH Forums, SHP websites etc...
“Never accept the current status quo, life changes In a heartbeat and we are defined by our ability to adapt to change, so always be prepared to challenge your perceptions and work to changing others perceptions of you."
What (in your opinion) makes a good Health and Safety professional?
I think an individual that has worked in the field in which they are advising on is always good! This may sound obvious, but having real world lived experiences to draw from gives the professional the edge and a sense of authenticity that can’t be lifted from a webinar or text book.
I never really got it at the start of my career, but having made mistakes and learnt from them I look back now and realise there really isn’t a substitution for experience. (Once bitten twice shy)
What is your career plan over the next five years?
I’d like to consolidate my role as a global leader within my current organisation an industry, whilst delivering an effective and robust occupational Health and Safety Corporate Management System.
I would like to achieve my Chartered Fellowship and also an MSc or PhD in Occupational Health and Safety Management.
Thanks so much Matt for taking the time out to speak to us - if anyone has any questions for Matt, leave us a comment below!