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From safety champion to Future Leader

Published on: 15 Oct 2021

    IOSH Future Leader Jessica Sales explains her journey from lab quality control apprentice to QHSE manager with global commercial real estate services and investment company, CBRE.

    How did you get into the health and safety profession?Jessica Sales

    My career began on a chemical intermediate manufacturing site, where I worked in the quality control (QC) laboratories. I started my chemistry apprenticeship and became involved with their safety champion group. This was where my interest in health and safety initiatives began. My role grew from being part of the safety champion team to leading on accident incident reporting and control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) for my teams. I knew then I wanted to follow a career in health and safety.

    Is there something about QC, and especially lab-based QC, that lends itself to health and safety?

    The environment is important. You are exposed to many quality, health, safety and environment (QHSE) management topics in the QC environment – you’re looking at COSHH in the sense of chemical management. I think a laboratory environment lends itself well to health and safety. Has starting with CBRE been a huge culture shock for you? In a way, yes, because I began with CBRE working on the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) contract across its events and shows; it was a completely different environment from lab work.

    Then COVID-19 hit, so all events and shows stopped. However, I have been exposed to instances at the NEC similar to working in a lab, such as subcontractor management and permits to work.

    Have you been involved in the return to events post-COVID-19?

    I’ve moved into a new role with CBRE, but one of the great aspects of being part of IOSH is that I still connect with people at the NEC who are IOSH members. They are busy putting measures in place for the return to events according to government requirements. My new role is as a QHSE manager for the logistics business unit within our UK national accounts division at CBRE.

    What has working in a health and safety role in real estate taught you about the OSH profession?

    I’m involved in lots of different contracts, and although they are all to do with real estate, each contract has very specific requirements. For example, one day I could be overseeing a cooling tower audit while the next I could be helping the technical team with a high voltage procedure for a client.

    What have been the greatest challenges on your OSH career journey so far?

    Probably balancing the needs between all departments, whether that is finance and cost management, or manufacturing and making sure that production still stays ahead. However, I really do like the fact that in QHSE we can work with lots of people in lots of different departments.

    What have been your greatest achievements or highlights?

    With CBRE, it was being part of the Birmingham NEC Nightingale Hospital build. Although it was certainly a challenge trying to get many people through the door in a short space of time while maintaining both social distancing and our standard procedures for permits, walking through the halls was surreal but a fantastic achievement. Outside work, one of my greatest achievements was being nominated as one of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 175 Faces of Chemistry for my work promoting apprenticeships in the chemical industry.

    How important are apprenticeships?

    Apprenticeships are a great way to get practical soft skills and theoretical knowledge. From my own experience, I couldn’t afford to go to university, so I had to find a way to get the career I wanted in a different way. That meant taking on an apprenticeship, and through that, I ended up doing my degree in chemical science at Manchester Metropolitan University while also working in the lab. People seem to understand apprenticeships in sectors like the construction industry, but there isn’t quite so much recognition for apprenticeships in areas such as chemistry. I did a presentation at the Think-tank Birmingham Science Museum to help spread the word about STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) subjects.

    You mentioned earlier about staying in touch with IOSH members – what other value do you get from membership?

    The main benefit that I have seen during lockdown has been attending all the webinars. I’ve attended a huge range, spanning from environmental waste to COVID-19. I also attended the Future Leaders virtual conference, which was great because I could connect to some of the speakers through LinkedIn and grow my own network of people within my areas of interest and local region.

    What lies ahead for Future Leaders in OSH?

    I still don’t think OSH or QHSE are necessarily seen as ‘go to’ professions for aspiring young leaders. I think many young people still initially follow a different career path – like I did – before getting into QHSE. So, rather like the value of apprenticeships, I feel that, as Future Leaders, we need to lead the conversation that says health and safety are valid and worthwhile career paths right from the start.

    Mental health

    Wellbeing champion Jessica has also taken on voluntary roles around mental health and wellbeing at CBRE. With World Mental Health Day taking place on 10 October, Jessica explains how she got involved.

    ‘I asked to become a wellbeing champion for my business unit. We look at physical, occupational, intellectual, social and environmental wellbeing and we’re trying to roll out an initiative that will promote wellbeing and good mental health among the entire workforce, whether they’re working at home or are engineers on the road. CBRE also has a team of mental health first aiders, so I did the training and became one myself. For World Mental Health Day last year, I suggested we follow the Mind ‘Do One Thing’ campaign. We had employees doing really small things, such as changing their Zoom backgrounds to show support, to people doing Pilates.’

    Read more interviews with IOSH’s Future Leaders here.