Sofiane Bentahar’s background as a teacher and a translator – and as both an IOSH student and a training provider – has proven invaluable to his OSH career.
There is no doubt about Sofiane Bentahar’s commitment to health and safety. He has been a member of IOSH for a decade and holds TechIOSH status. He is an approved trainer of the IOSH Managing Safely course with the Safety Training Council in Algeria. And within 10 years he has been promoted from translator to trainer, to training coordinator, to health, safety and environment (HSE) deputy project manager.
His journey to health and safety success was far from straightforward, but it proves that any skills learned or abilities developed are never wasted.
‘When I went to university, I studied law for a year,’ Sofiane says. ‘At the end of that first year, I changed my mind and spent the next four years studying to be an English teacher. Then, in my final year, I changed my mind again and became interested in health and safety. I found a trainer who was offering the IOSH Managing Safely course, so I contacted him, attended the course, and changed my idea of what I wanted to do.’
Right place, right time
The issue of health and safety is particularly important in Algeria, where the oil and gas sector accounts for about 20% of GDP and 85% of total exports. Focused on this new career, in 2011 Sofiane joined JGC Holdings Corporation (formerly the Japanese Gasoline Company), initially working as a translator.
‘There was some confusion – I thought I was applying to be a translator while the interviewers thought I was applying to be a health and safety officer. But I was still inexperienced in HSE at that time, so we stopped the interview,’ Sofiane says.
‘However, two weeks later, one of the men who was interviewing me – site manager Sasai Yasuyuki, who became one of the best managers I have ever worked with – called me back for a translator job. I took the job, and ended up working in the health and safety department anyway.’
From translator, Sofiane quickly became a trainer. ‘At the time, there was a manager who was conducting all the training himself. Every day he’d be training 35 to 40 people in induction, working at height, working in confined spaces and defensive driving. The manager got tired, so I said I could do it. He gave me the chance and, from 2011, I started conducting in-house training for the project.’
That first project involved the drilling of 52 development wells, the recovery of 16 existing wells and the construction of surface facilities. For Sofiane, however, it involved putting to use everything he had learnt as a teacher.
‘Because I spent a year teaching English to middle-school children, that helped me a lot with the methodology of classroom management. When I joined the HSE department in JGC’s oil and gas sector, I was the first person who had the skills to present training, to control the classroom, to develop the syllabus and to stand and talk in front of students.
‘The problem with safety is the topic is so vast, and you are having to deal with managers, supervisors, co-workers, different ways of thinking, different cultures and different mentalities. That is difficult because you have limited time and the people you are speaking to are busy. You have to be focused and try to use the time efficiently and effectively.’
A question of cultures
For an Algerian working for a Japanese company and training a global workforce, catering for different cultures and mentalities could have been a significant issue. But Sofiane says that aspect has been surprisingly easy.
‘Every nationality has a different culture, a different way of living. When you work with an international company like JGC you have to be open-minded and prepared to work with anybody. You have to be ready to help others to get the work done safely and on time.’
In 2016, Sofiane started on his third project for JGC – the South Satellite Revamping Project – which is developing and extending seven existing active gas and oil separation plants. Again, he spent three years providing project training but in 2019 was promoted to HSE deputy manager for the project.
‘My job now involves two important parts – office work and site visiting. The most tiring one is office work, attending daily management meetings, dealing with site managers and project managers and liaising with the JGC office in Yokohama.
‘When it comes to site work, I do random checks on the seven sites and weekly walk-throughs with management, subcontractors and HSE officers. IOSH training has helped me to understand there are mechanical hazards, chemical hazards and electrical hazards. That makes it easier for me to identify risks and the probability of injuries occurring.’
Sofiane is also able to put his IOSH training to good use in other ways.
‘In IOSH Managing Safely, there is a module about investigating incidents. When I studied this originally, I didn’t pay that much attention to it, but once I became an HSE trainer and then a deputy HSE manager, I used IOSH techniques to conduct investigations.
‘I am able to understand the management systems of the company, lead the department and deal with frontline management. I understand the importance of IOSH Managing Safely – it’s not just a piece of paper, it’s how to deal with people, how to listen to people, how to solve problems. Safety isn’t a matter of stopping the job
– it’s a matter of helping to complete the job in a safe way.’
Image Credit | IKON
Sofiane’s top tips
- Study as much as you can about safety and make sure you have all the relevant technical knowledge for the sectors you are involved in. Speak to people in the sector to get the benefit of their expertise and experience.
- Learn the techniques of teaching: how to stand, how to talk, how to present, how to prepare slides, and what resources to use.
- Go to sites as much as you can. Without real-world experience, the training will not be as effective. When you can tell your students with some certainty what they are doing on-site, it’s much more difficult for them to argue with you.