Introducing “HSEQ Career Column” with Olawale Ogunyebi.
The HSEQ Career Column is a weekly article series written by Olawale Ogunyebi, HSEQ veteran and the Managing Partner at MTC ENT. Dev. Limited. The purpose of this series is to mentor HSEQ career aspirants, narrating and drawing out lessons from the writer’s real-life experiences in the safety industry.
Seeking a career in HSEQ? Let me tell you about myself. Pay attention to pick up tips that would prove helpful.
I started a career in Occupational Health Safety and Environmental Care (HSE) based on a strong recommendation. I was a Production Shift Manager in a manufacturing plant. At the time, I already knew a bit about Quality, Safety and Total Productive Management (TPM). I was also good at driving productivity and communication, especially writing and enforcing rules.
Due to one reason or another, our site’s HSE Manager was relieved of the job. That was how I became the site’s HSE Manager. My first baptism on the job was an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Audit. I was scared to death. In that organization, failing an audit was a big deal. Fortunately for me, I got a lot of support from everybody and the corporate HSE team.
Early in my career, I discovered that the HSEQ Manager’s strength is his knowledge of the relevant standards and applicable legislation. Like a Prophet, he must have the foresight and hear the word from “God” (the HSE Standards); like an evangelist, he must have a voice and be able to proclaim the gospel of workplace safety for the safety of every employee; like a teacher, he must be able to teach, train and coach.
The HSE Manager is a general manager called to lead by influence.
In the early days of my career, I found these responsibilities intimidating, more so, in an environment that regarded safety as a priority. You could lose your job due to negligence in Safety or Quality irrespective of your position in my former company.
To win the trust and confidence of my line managers, I read the applicable standards and legislation like a degree student. When I speak, it was thus saith the standard.
Initially, the line managers would argue with me and to be sure I wasn’t just becoming overbearing, they would say, “Wale, show me the standard. I want to see it myself”.
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At plant meetings, the more senior line managers would challenge my presentation and disagree. I didn’t argue with them, I would simply state the relevant standards and highlight the benefits of compliance and of course, the consequences of non-compliance.
Once I do that, the Plant Manager, on whose head lay the overall responsibility would ask: “How do we comply?”.
All these challenges made me devour the standards the more, to seek best practice and stay on top of my job until I became a walking reference point.
In our environment, the work of the HSEQ Manager is a very challenging one. Our cultural beliefs towards workplace accidents, our low-risk perception, inadequate legislation and poor enforcement by agencies, poor safety awareness etc. place occupational safety and health at the mercy of who is in the top management.
Quality has a little better deal because of its visible and immediate direct impact on the product and bottom line. To succeed as an HSE Manager therefore, you must keep all these in mind. Understand the pressure on your line managers and top management and develop your people’s skills.
SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!