If you are new to Safety or any job, it can be a little terrifying. You are constantly worried about doing the right things and if you doing enough. Chances are if you have a good head on your shoulders you will most likely do good enough but how can you be so sure.
Safety is so wide that not one person on this earth knows it all that is why it is good to specialise in general industry and if possible a specific industry like maritime, construction or the famous oil and gas.
If you are inexperienced or untrained in a particular industry, I beg you in God’s name don’t even try to offer advice or consulting when you are not even sure of yourself. When I started in Safety, I started as a trainer and also went out occasionally for inspections and audits for my company.
A colleague of mine who just stumbled into Safety training, and had no basic training in Safety decided to take on a construction client when we got an enquiry. I had to beg her to not do the job and leave it for the line manager who was deep into construction. I (trained and fairly experienced) couldn’t do it and was wondering how on earth an untrained and inexperienced person was going to pull it off.
I am going to say the same thing to you today. If you are untrained and inexperienced then don’t handle that task alone. Look for someone at work who can shadow them and learn from fast. After a couple of times, you will have gained some knowledge which can be built upon as you continue working and gaining experience. People learn better by “doing”.
In Nigeria, thanks to a few enquiries I have got that led to me writing this post, many Safety workers are the only Safety Officer in their organisation. Technically, they have no Safety Manager so are left to just fend for themselves. This kind of people meet lots of resistance from management as they have no real understanding of what it takes to keep a workplace safe.
To not suck at your new role, here are a few tips.
Safety unlike most professions is about protecting lives. That is a huge deal and can often leave one pressured. As a Safety professional, you are responsible for preventing accidents and injuries in the workplace and ensuring that a safe and healthy work environment. But how can you make sure of this when you have only just started?
1. Do your research
Yeah by all means go online. There are too many free resources and guides to help you get started. Search for industry specific info and just get started however you can. There are some really easy tasks you can start with. The UK official HSE site is a good resource centre.
You can also visit health and safety blogs like mine and the bountiful others. Some sites I like to visit include safetyrisk.net and safeworkers.co.uk
2. Risk assess the workplace
Do a mini assessment for your own sake /record. Just so you know where to start or what to do. Go round and observe the workers – make sure they know it’s not an official observation if not they will act like saints. Flow with them so they see you as an ally. Let them know you are just checking them out so that you can help yourself do better at ensuring safety. Take notes
Look around you. Use common sense. Don’t over analyse it or try to come up with ridiculousness all in the name of being a Safety Officer. What do you see?
Trailing wires? Remember Slips, Trips and Falls and write it down.
Overloaded extension box? Think Fire, sparks, and all the things that could go wrong. Write them down.
Workers welding with no face shield or gloves? Speak up immediately and advice them to use the appropriate protective gear. Explain why. Make a note of this. Call for a TBT immediately or as soon as possible and talk. You should be prepared to talk a lot as people will try to break the rules sometimes no matter how great you are at the job. I have seen this a lot and sometimes I just wonder what planet they are from.
When this happens, do not worry much. Keep talking and explaining the importance of them being compliant. Do they keep at their non-compliance? Then enough is enough. Issue a query. Issue more queries and let there be a “punishment” (a fine maybe or lunch for the team – let it be agreed by all what the punishment should be so they don’t get rebellious). Without the punishment, each query you give will just be another piece of paper to them. One day they will just have to conform.
3. What does your gut tell ya?!
Ok you have attended training. Even if it means you had to cram to pass the NEBOSH or HSE competence training, you cannot tell me that you have nothing in that your head. You surely have heard of health and safety policy, risk assessments, emergency planning, first aid, fire safety, COSHH? Start with them.
Find out what the Health and Safety policy of the company says. Don’t have one? Then create it. There is a template by the UK Health and Safety Executive you can start with! As you gain experience, I promise you, you will get better.
Use what you learnt immediately. Research has shown that people learn better when they practise or train others on what they have learnt. So yes get practising even if nobody asked you to perform a task, do it for your own good. Google is your very good friend – if you search well, you will find useful guides.
By all means have ToolBox Talks (TBTs). TBTs are informal safety meetings where you discuss certain topics related to your job/tasks such as hazards or even case studies and unique actions required on your site. They are not meant for only construction or high hazard sites. I have them all the time with my staff (teachers) and we work in a school!
Organise short training and train the staff on basic Health and Safety using your workplace processes and tasks as examples. Don’t train on Health and Safety and be talking about oil spill or work at height if it has nothing to do with the job, tasks or site. Let the talks and training be specific to what your workplace does.
4. Go back to the basics
Don’t assume you need to get all scientific with Safety. That is where most people get it wrong. There are basic stuffs every workplace should ideally have. This should go on your to-do-list. This list will get bigger and longer as you work each day and gain experience especially if your workplace is new to Safety.
- 1. Emergency plan and procedure. Is there any? You need to create one fast and train the workers on how to act if there is a fire or an emergency.
- 2. First aid. Are you first aid trained? Any first aiders there? First aid box? Defibs? First aid box fully stocked?
- 3. Contractor questionnaire is a highly overlooked area. You get an electrician to come work on your site and you don’t bother to ask questions or check his competence. You need to find out their experience, qualifications, their knowledge of HSE, if they’re insured etc.
- 4. Specific risk assessments should be done. DSE(Display Screen Equipment), COSHH, Fire, lone working (if applicable), violence at work (is the risk is evident) and basically a risk assessment of all your tasks and processes. That is where the JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) comes in. I won’t delve into JHA in this post – most likely in the near future.
As a Safety Officer, you have lots of responsibility on you to ensure everyone is safe. If things go wrong whether it is your fault or not, you will be blamed. Safety is really a life and death matter no matter how you choose to look at it. Do more than is required of you. That is the only way you can excel in any profession.
5. Get a mentor
Choose an industry expert or someone with lots of experience who can guide and support you. Someone who genuinely cares about your growth and doesn’t need you to fill a lengthy application form before you can see them (sarcasm but hope you get what I’m talking about).
Mentoring can also be done covertly. That is, you could watch and follow those you admire in the profession. Don’t wait for a physical mentor. Move with the times 😁. With social media, there is so much bring shared by many professionals. I have people who read my articles or follow my work closely – most of the times, I don’t even know they are until they give me feedback.
6. Keep learning
You can never stop needing training. When possible, attend relevant seminars and training. This way, you are improving yourself and working on your professional development. Attend courses that challenge you to do better. Don’t stay too long in comfy zone. This brings me to the course I am working on specially for those new to Safety or inexperienced. Inexperienced to me, means you could have worked as Safety Officer for the last 3 years but have not improved in skills or knowledge, or have not been involved in meaningful safety tasks.
What do you think? Anything you can add to the list?