Saba Alai CFIOSH discusses how the experience of dealing with new workplace hazards and challenges provides OSH professionals with CPD opportunities.
When I left university with a degree in environmental science, jobs in the field were few and far between. I started my working life in an occupational hygiene lab analysing asbestos air and bulk samples.
I learned a lot and after a year I moved on to work as a scientific officer for Haringey Council where, with another colleague, I ran a small asbestos lab and carried out the asbestos survey programme.
I decided to test myself by sitting the BOHS Preliminary Certificate in Asbestos exam – passing it without attending the course made me realise how much my knowledge had grown. In 1989 I became a specialist member of IOSH because of this competence and its evaluation was to safety, and represented the Council in early meetings of the CHAS group, becoming a CHAS assessor.
When an opportunity to study for the NEBOSH diploma came up, I took it and learned more about general safety issues. Not long after getting my diploma I started working at Cambridgeshire County Council – straight in at the deep end as the property department safety officer. I think my manager saw the ability and willingness to learn and took a chance on me.
The “new” CDM Regulations were coming out and in the next few years I learned about the risks of construction, archaeology, highway construction and other county council services. At the same time, I developed my personal skills in training, presentation, planning and communication through attending courses and learning from colleagues. I also served on the IOSH CPD Committee to help improve courses for members.
My manager encouraged me to maintain my CPD, and I did this through recording what I learned in my job and by attending courses. I became a fellow of IOSH in 1998 – it tickled me to receive the certificate while eight months pregnant and clearly not a “fellow”!
After the county council, I worked for several years for a waste management and recycling company. I went through a steep learning curve as not only was I becoming familiar with the risks of this work, but was also tasked with taking forward ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 accreditations for the company, which we achieved in 2008. I continued my CPD through the research I did for this, as well as attending specific courses and seminars to keep up with current knowledge on topics like managing bioaerosols. To make sure I understood the business better, I became a chartered waste manager.
In June 2015 I started a new job as safety officer at the department of physics at the University of Cambridge. Although the basics of safety management systems are the same everywhere, I now deal with some previously unfamiliar risks in an academic environment.
My CPD record had fallen behind, but about this time I was approached by Brenton from the IOSH Membership Development team, who showed me the basics of a simple, clear and concise CPD record. Our discussion made me think clearly about what further competence I needed for the job, and how I would get it.
In the past few months at Cambridge, I have learned about the safety aspects of using lasers, radioactive substances, cryogenic and pressurised gases, and biological organisms. I’ve also been lucky enough to attend training in communication, presentation and other personal skills – very handy in our line of work. The training, though excellent, is free to members of the university and therefore finances have not become a barrier to my attendance. I have also learned much from colleagues, my immediate predecessor, and specialists at the university.
Occasionally I hear people say that CPD is difficult as it involves attending courses and IOSH events. Some events have indeed increased my knowledge – for example, the East Anglia branch annual seminar is always thought provoking and makes me think about strategically important topics. However, there is so much more to CPD than attending courses and IOSH events. Writing the CPD record has made me reflect on learning by other means, such as discussions with colleagues and my own research.
Continuing my professional development has helped me grow as an individual and a professional. It has given me the confidence to apply for different jobs, and stopped me feeling stuck when a job no longer suited me. I love learning anyway, so CPD is one of the fun parts of my job. Work is never “just a job” to me. We all spend so much time at work that we may as well enjoy it and feel we are doing something worthwhile.
I am very fortunate to be in my current position, working for a world-class department in a world-class organisation. I want to make sure our safety management is always world-class too, which means I can’t stop learning and developing either. Using the IOSH CPD record has made me think more clearly about gaps in my expertise and how I will deal with them.
My advice to any members who read this is that CPD will help you become more effective, and will only help your career, not to mention making life more interesting and less routine.