After 13 years as a plumber, Scott Middleton switched career paths and became a legionella team leader for a local authority before taking on his current role as health and safety specialist in NHS Grampian’s corporate health and safety team. He also represented the IOSH North East of Scotland branch at last year’s IOSH Future Leaders Conference.
Q. You’ve been a health and safety specialist for two years now. What do you enjoy about your current role?
My role takes me to many interesting places such as large acute hospitals, remote community hospitals, hyperbaric chambers and even prisons. NHS Grampian is so large, so the role is very diverse and multifaceted, and allows me to engage with a wide variety of staff groups. The role itself can be challenging and is very different to other places where I’ve worked because, unlike some sectors, we operate buildings that are open to the public 24/7.
I have gained experience in areas you wouldn’t necessarily be taught in a health and safety course. For example, I was recently part of a multidisciplinary team that was commissioned to undertake an adverse event review – NHS Scotland’s terminology for an investigation – into a patient-related health and safety matter at one of our hospitals. That was a real eye-opener: when I was studying for the NEBOSH national diploma in OSH, I was aware that a key part of the OSH role would be to contribute to investigations, but I never envisaged that it would be in relation to a clinical matter.
Q. You were a plumber for 13 years before becoming a legionella team leader. How did that experience set you up for your current role?
I was never afraid to outline my intentions to become a leader and I took on my first team leader role when I was 29, heading up a small team responsible for providing a comprehensive legionella risk control, inspection and monitoring service for a large local authority. Although the primary objective of the role was to focus on regulatory compliance, I also had to look for ways to support and develop others.
Q. What skills did you bring from your previous jobs to the OSH role?
When I was an apprentice plumber, I was very lucky to have a great mentor who taught me not only how we did things but also why we did them. That is something that has stayed with me and something I still use today in my role as an OSH professional. If you are to become an effective OSH professional then you must follow up on your advice by explaining the benefits and what the organisation or individual will gain from your advice. Think of it
as ‘selling’ your advice.
Q. What challenges have you faced over the last two years and how have you overcome them?
In my previous role I specialised in only one element of risk (legionella), but due to the inherent nature of the health and social care sector, I’m now exposed to a much wider variation of risk, and I think that was my biggest challenge. This was overcome by ensuring that I explored matters further before providing support or advice. It helped that I have access to many internal and external topic specialists.
Part of my role is in the classroom, delivering health and safety courses. I’ve also invested my time engaging with staff at ward level. Although they understand why health and safety is important, seeing first-hand the day-to-day challenges they face has made me realise that reaching and maintaining those exemplary standards taught in the classroom can sometimes be a challenge to implement at the sharp end.
Q. Where do you see your current role taking you?
I’ve spent the last few years working full-time and studying for my NEBOSH diploma, and I’ve also been volunteering as an executive committee member at my local IOSH branch. So in the short term, I simply want to further enhance my practical skill-set. I have a passion for learning and I know future opportunities could be widely varied, so who knows where my role will take me? And even though things are very challenging at the moment, in terms of personal experience, I have certainly managed to take many positives from it.
Q. Are there any other sectors you’d like to work in?
What I’ve learnt since joining NHS Grampian is that my skills as an OSH professional are transferable. I believe that working in different sectors, particularly early in your career, is important as not only does it build your skill-set but it also shapes your future by enabling you to decide which path to take next. I’m no longer afraid to step outside my comfort zone, and when the time is right I would like to gain further experience in other sectors.
Q. What have you done to broaden your horizons?
During the early stages of my OSH career, I realised I had to think outside the box and learn more about wider organisation challenges, therefore my manager arranged for me to attend non-safety-related committees. That has allowed me to understand the wider issues that face the organisation.
Q. Tell us about the IOSH Future Leaders programme and your involvement.
Last year, my friend and IOSH North East of Scotland branch chair Andy McNair asked if I would represent the branch at the inaugural IOSH Future Leaders Conference, and I jumped at the chance. It made me realise that I’m not alone and there are many other like-minded OSH professionals out there who are all facing similar challenges as me.
My key takeaways: What lessons have you learnt from your career so far?
The OSH role is about empowerment and coaching, not quoting regulations and policing individuals.
We must focus on what’s actually happening at the sharp end and think about our staff in everything that we do.
Technical skills and qualifications are very important, but they can be achieved quite easily. Equally important and less ‘teachable’ are personal qualities such as listening, communication, patience and respecting others.