IOSH Future Leader and HSE systems manager Jordyn Aitken explains how time on Alltech’s graduate programme and as a lab coordinator has given her a unique insight into the company’s health and safety needs.
You started your career at farming and food technology manufacturer Alltech, but not in health and safety. What prompted you to move roles?
My previous role at Alltech was as laboratory coordinator. As part of the quality assurance team, I led the set-up and development of a new quality assurance laboratory at our UK site. We identified that it would be beneficial for me to do some formal health and safety training, so I started with an IOSH Laboratory Safety course.
Then, 18 months into my role, I completed my NEBOSH national general certificate. It was during that I discovered a passion for health and safety – there was so much more to it than I’d ever realised. A few months later, there was an opening in Alltech’s health, safety and environment (HSE) team. With the lab almost set up, and my newfound passion for health and safety established, I was ready for a new challenge.
What skills have you been able to bring from your previous role?
An in-depth knowledge and understanding of the production and quality functions within the business. Manufacturing our products and testing them in the quality assurance lab are two of the highest-risk areas of the business, and it has been really beneficial to my HSE role to have a good understanding of what those processes involve and where the hazards are. It also helped to confirm the fact that the people carrying out those activities are the experts, and that to keep people safe and healthy it’s important to have collaboration between them and the HSE team.
You were lucky enough to go to the US to work at Alltech’s HQ in Kentucky. What did you learn from the experience?
I experienced many different facets of Alltech, including spending time working on the production line packaging goods. I was also able to work with many different departments, understanding what they all do day-to-day.
It gave me the opportunity to see how health and safety was managed in a different part of the world. Working for a global company, I have learned that health and safety culture can look different in different continents and countries.
You’ve been in the OSH profession for more than two years now. What do you enjoy most about it?
The best part about being in the OSH profession is being able to have a positive impact on the people I work with – and hopefully beyond that too. Seeing someone happier and more comfortable because I’ve been able to advise them on how to tweak their workstation to improve their posture or helping a site to identify their improvement in safety performance through data analysis. Knowing that I’m doing my part in helping people to go home safely is incredibly satisfying.
What challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I’ve encountered is people’s perception of health and safety. It’s often blamed for unfavourable rules and we can sometimes just be seen as the people that tell you not to run with scissors. I wouldn’t say I’ve ‘overcome’ this challenge – it’s ongoing – but it goes a long way, simply having conversations with people, getting across to them how much I care about their wellbeing, and explaining the ‘why’ behind procedures and processes.
How important is the ‘environment’ side of your HSE role?
Really important, and I care a lot about sustainability. Part of my role is to advise and support sites with their environmental management systems and ISO 14001 certifications. We know that the health and safety of employees is absolutely essential, and to complement that we must ensure that the environment is also looked after while we go about our work.
What has been your biggest achievement?
The role I’ve played in collecting and analysing our HSE data for the whole business. When I began my role, this process was somewhat disjointed, so I’ve spent many long days creating consistency and meaningful reports out of the data we collect. Numbers don’t tell you the whole picture when it comes to health and safety, but they play an important role.
Any advice for those new to the profession?
Be a people person, not a paper person. People are the most important part of every organisation, and it’s so important to be genuine and authentic. Take time to get to know people and what they do.
Where do you see your current role taking you? What are your ambitions?
I have many learning opportunities within this role, so it is setting me up well as I gain experience. My main ambition is quite simple, although it may be a lofty one: I want to do what I can to ensure the health and safety of as many people as possible.
Are there any sectors you’d particularly like to work in?
I’m drawn to agriculture and sports, which I’m passionate about. Agriculture is one of the highest-risk industries around the world, especially at farm level. So I think there is a great opportunity to explore how health and safety can be improved there, in a way that serves those involved rather than being a burden.
What does the future hold for Future Leaders in OSH?
The future is bright for Future Leaders in OSH, and they are essential to the development of the profession. While experience is important and valuable, I think that Future Leaders can bring fresh perspectives to the table. The combination of the two will have such a positive impact.
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What makes a good Future Leader?
Someone who is collaborative and open-minded, and understands that people are the most important part of any organisation. You need to be willing to give things a go, and also capable of reflection and self-awareness to ensure you’re leading in the best way you can.