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Dull? Health and Safety? Turns out the ‘fun police’ are fun after all!

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Published on 12 April 2019

Professor Tony Alabastor, Dr Sarah Pickup and Gary Dowell
Professor Tony Alabastor, Dr Sarah Pickup and Gary Dowell

Gary Dowell is Chair of Tyne and Wear Branch of IOSH, the Chartered body for health and safety professionals.

On a recent visit to the University of Sunderland Gary learned how simulation facilities in the Living Lab - designed for Nursing and Paramedic students - are now preparing Health, Safety and Wellbeing students for situations they will face in the real world.

“I think the facilities are absolutely amazing. Students will get such a lot of information from the immersive suite to support their learning and personal development. I have seen similar facilities, but nothing of this good quality, it’s a fantastic addition to the University,” said Gary.

Dr Sarah Pickup, Programme Leader for Health, Safety and Wellbeing, added: “Having Gary Dowell visit us, in his capacity as Chair of the IOSH Tyne and Wear Branch, is excellent recognition of what we are trying to achieve here in our health and safety programmes and demonstrates we are going in the right direction. 

“We’re making use of the simulation technology available to us in the Living Lab to develop the students by giving them very practical experiences, so they are prepared when they progress into work.”


So, health and safety has a reputation for being a bit dull, is that fair?

“In the health and safety community we are often accused of being the ‘fun police’ for bringing in measures that people may think are over-protective. But health and safety is actually about enabling people to do things in a way that does not harm them. It’s about providing proportionate responses to risks faced. The health and safety profession is a good one to get into because you’re potentially saving lives, on a daily basis,” said Gary.

“There are also a huge number of exciting and varied career opportunities, from working on construction sites and wind farms to sports grounds and festivals.”

Dr Sarah Pickup added: “Health and safety impacts people by reducing accidents, ill health and fatalities. I think we’re changing the health and safety stereotype, and certainly the industry is changing. We as a society are becoming a lot more tolerant and understanding of the wider issues involved in health and safety, and particularly the people side. As a Chartered Psychologist that’s something I’m very interested in - how we can motivate and influence people in new, fun, creative and innovative ways throughout organisations, from leaders through to people at the front line doing the job.”

Sounds quite interesting actually. Would you recommend it as a career?

“I would definitely encourage any students considering a career in health and safety to go for it. Being skilled and qualified in health and safety matters doesn’t only prepare you for a career in the UK, you can take what you know worldwide. I still get a buzz from going to work and looking after people, because nobody comes to work to get hurt. That’s what we all strive to do, is keep people safe. That’s what I advise students to do – look at their future, do a really good course and they can go out there and make a big difference in the workplace,” concluded Gary.

“I like to go around and talk to students about career opportunities”, added Sarah. “I’ve spoken to students studying a wide range of undergraduate degrees such as film and media about the relevance of their first degree, suggesting they consider a postgraduate degree in health, safety and wellbeing - combining the two things creates a niche.

“Let’s face it, if you’re an employer looking for a health and safety advisor in the film industry, you’re going to want someone who has background knowledge and a degree in film.

“I talk to a lot of students on undergraduate courses and show them that there are broader prospects for them and opportunities that they might not have thought about before. Health and safety is really interesting, it’s continually progressing, making it an ideal career choice for students who like to problem solve, work with people and be a bit creative in finding solutions.

“What we are ultimately doing is helping and protecting people and we do that in a number of ways. We’re giving students the technical knowledge and skills. The University’s simulation suite is an excellent resource to have, to be able to put the students in different scenarios, so they can really feel the different environments. These are concepts that you can’t always get across in class.”