Keller UK HSEQ advisor Laura Williams spoke to Safety and Health Practitioner about her passion for all things health and safety related and about how to attract more young people into the job.
Warm clothes and thermal underwear – two important bits of kit for any construction worker and the first essential purchases Laura Williams, an HSEQ Advisor for geotechnical solutions specialist Keller Ltd, advises newcomers to the industry make.
“Building sites can get pretty darn cold, after all,” Laura says, and she should know – she has braved rain, snow and everything in between while working on largescale national construction projects for nearly a decade.
Laura may know all the tricks of the trade now, but she didn’t always plan on working in occupational safety and health. In fact, like many in her profession, she “sort of fell into it”.
“Not many people wake up at the age of 14 and announce that they want to work in health and safety,” Laura admits, reflecting on her own childhood dreams of being a marine biologist and, after a particularly memorable holiday to the beach, a lifeguard.
While Laura admittedly doesn’t often get to traverse exotic beaches looking for swimmers in need of assistance, her role still channels her inmate desire to safeguard others. Working for Keller on major building sites around the country, including on projects such as the A14, the Redrow Project in Luton and on the London Tideway sewer system project, Laura’s job involves conducting safety checks, providing advice and protecting the wellbeing of workers involved in ground improvement piling, speciality grouting, heavy foundations, earth retention and post-tensions systems.
While this has at times made it difficult for her to switch off, and often results in heated discussions with family members who aren’t quite as passionate about the subject as she is, Laura really gets a kick out of encouraging safe practices, protecting people's health and identifying hazards that could potentially put people in danger.
"I genuinely love my job and I’m proud of the work I do. Once you start looking at what can go wrong and the life-changing injuries that can occur, you suddenly want to make a difference and help other people," she says. "I'm particularly passionate about the health side of my role. When people suffer injuries to their ears, hands, lungs and other body parts it affects whole families. We need to do everything in our power to stop this from happening."
Laura's passion for helping others is seen in her commitment to her own professional development. She is a Technical Member of IOSH and plans on achieving Chartered accreditation. As a frequent participant at IOSH events and conferences, Laura views the Institution as a valuable way of enhancing her career, keeping her finger on the pulse of best practice and meeting like-minded individuals who share her passion for safety and health.
"IOSH is good for exposing you to parts of the industry you wouldn't usually get a chance to engage with," she says. "It is the gold standard for safety and health and keeps you on track professionally. Continuing professional development opportunities provided by IOSH are an important motivator for me and help to keep you at the forefront of the sector."
Laura is also passionate about challenging preconceived notions around what it is like to work in safety and health – an industry that can be much more exciting and adventurous than some people think.
"I think there is a lack of young people choosing to go into safety and health, partly because the industry isn't generally seen as being a particularly glamorous area to work in." Laura admits. "Things are improving, but more could be done to show the benefits of working in this area and the positive influence you can make. There are opportunities in the industry to get involved in some really exciting projects that can change your life."
"Safety and health is innovative, progressive and is changing fast. Working on big projects, meeting new people and being a positive influence on others is infectious. You want to do a good job and to be at the top of your game as the work you do benefits the wider public."
This drive to help is important. Figures released this year by the Health and Safety Executive show that in Great Britain the construction industry accounts for the greatest number of occupational fatalities from an individual sector, as well as having has more suicides than any other profession.
Thankfully, an increasing number of employers are responding by providing safeguarding measures to protect the physical and mental wellbeing of their workers.
"If you have a passion for making things better then health and safety is a great industry to get into." Laura says. “You can influence so much and question why things are done the way they are. When people are doing the same things day in, day out, it's possible to become complacent, and this can lead to avoidable accidents occurring.
"By staying diligent and striving for excellence you can really help to save lives and make a difference. Just don't forget those thermal pants!"