Making Sense of Health and Safety

Martin Mulholland reflects on a quarter of a century providing health and safety support to UK businesses.

I started in Health and Safety in 1994 after accepting a job reflecting my academic background – this being environmental management – and decided that a slight change of direction was in order. 

I joined TGF Consultants Ltd in Warrington and began my NEBOSH General Certificate – the best starting place for learning what is a very wide-ranging subject. Starting out can be very nerve wracking as initially you do not have the knowledge base available. This can be daunting when pressed by Clients for answers. It has been a long learning curve (and one that doesn’t stop) and I learned to be patient – that knowledge takes time.

Fortunately, with expert guidance from Alison Fletcher and especially John Tymons at TGF I gained invaluable experience in all manner of industries. TGF's background was nuclear safety so I was in good hands when it came to learning how to develop procedures and assessments and especially within a BS 5750 system now (ISO 9001).

Over the years we established a separate department within TGF – TGF Safety. The other departments were Software Development and Nuclear Safety. I embarked on my IOSH Diploma in Safety, Health and Environmental Management and continued to gain valuable experience in the field. 

I worked at Sellafield (for what was then BNFL) with Dave Goodill from TGF working on Plant Modification Proposals (PMPs) and HAZOP and HAZAN studies as well as conventional construction projects there. Other nuclear work enabled my environmental background to be put to good use in developing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the decommissioning of Trawsfynydd in North Wales for the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).

Chemical and process engineering experience has come from a wide range of sources not limited to Crosfield Chemicals in Warrington (now INEOS) and pharmaceutical experience came from work a number of companies including EC De Witt in Warrington and Chiron (now Seqirus) in Speke.

Working with Grendonstar and the Government’s Forensic Science Service (FSS) saw us trail blaze the development of comprehensive drug and alcohol testing services and associated policies and procedures across the UK, initially in the haulage sector. We still partner with what is now Clarity Occupational Health in Manchester to promote the use of occupational health management services.

Part of the work developing substance misuse policies saw me delivering training sessions at a vehicle manufacturing plant Craigavon in Northern Ireland. I quickly learned that sometimes policies weren’t as universally accepted to the workforce as I thought they should be! I constantly have to push the health and safety agenda to this day to get acceptance that “good health and safety is good business” and I call this process “attitude adjustment”!

We have seen tremendous successes over the years especially in the construction and allied trades sector. Clients have been able to adjust to the many requirements for compliance and have won major contracts with our support. With our training services we have hopefully prevented many injuries and cases of ill health. Unfortunately, there has been serious accidents along the way – including fatalities where, as a result of Clients not implementing my advice, has seen me interviewed under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) – a process I try and avoid at all turns!

I am thankful that have had so much support over the years from colleagues at TGF, then Adept 4 (now Cloud CoCo) when TGF was bought out. My business partner, Geoff Davies, came to work at TGF in 2006 and we worked well together – Geoff bringing a lot of engineering and health and safety experience to the consultancy. This was the start of a great team – eventually resulting in MD Safety Management Ltd.

We have also developed long term relationships with Clients. After we became MD Safety Management in 2012 our Clients came along for the journey with us. 

Geoff and I are fortunate to be able to continue to provide them with on-going, honest and trustworthy support. We pride ourselves on being realistic and meeting the real, practical needs of our Clients.

For anyone thinking about starting out in Health and Safety I don’t really have any specific advice but can reflect on what the job means to me. Running my own Company now means I have the freedom to control the work we get involved in but this has taken some time and a lot of hard work. Being willing to work hard is a pre-requisite as is the ability to analyse and assess situations. An inquisitive mind is essential – there’s always a lot of questions to be asked!

My background was farming, then agricultural contracting followed by domestic construction projects. This has been invaluable experience for me – having knowledge of what my Clients do is essential. We take great pains to understand the complexities of our Client’s operations. This generally means that no two days are the same. One day it can be a construction project and the next a recycling operation followed by a retail or leisure enterprise. This creates a rewarding environment in which to work.

I have learned that our Clients are unique. They have a myriad of compliance and operational issues and this can be often overwhelming for them. We try and divide up the issues facing them by listening to what their issues are. Creating “bite size chunks” enables delegation and easier management. We keep them on track by ensuring that Health and Safety Management remains an on-going feature of their daily business management duties.

Although there are unavoidable periods of being at a desk there is plenty of opportunity for travel and site work – especially now with technology changes. Being able to work remotely with a laptop and a smartphone camera is a far cry from a notepad and a pen to try and take handwritten notes and having to sketch site layout and operations.

When the phone goes, we never know where the enquiry will come from. We have assisted a dizzying array of businesses – not only our “usual” Clients (i.e. construction trades, property developers, recycling, agricultural/rural business, warehousing, engineering, pharmaceutical, etc.) but also nightclubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas, swimming pools, film lighting companies, textile companies, all manner of retail types and white collar industries.

From all of this experience I have learned to understand where my competencies are. I know when to say “no” if my skills mix is not suitable for the industry. For example, we don’t work with the offshore industry or get involved in the management of safety for music festivals (as we were asked last year).

It is the core philosophy of MD Safety that we provide services that are practical, independent and tailored to suit our Clients particular requirements at a reasonable price. Quite often what the Client asks for is not actually what is required so it is important to understand what they think they need and develop something that will not only tick an immediate “reactive” box but will also establish a framework that will anticipate future boxes.

Being a consultant is to be “of service”. I pride myself on being of beneficial use to our Clients, to be able to assist them in their development plans, both reactively and pro-actively, and see them flourish – all the while being more efficient and avoiding accidents and other losses.

I’ve recently become a father and have reached a milestone age bracket (don’t ask!) but am looking forward to what the future presents. 

It is important to have a growth mindset and be adaptable to what comes along and that is what we strive to do. I’m looking forward to what the next 25 years bring.

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