Gaetano Cristiano CMIOSH, head of QSHE for the UK at Urbaser
Friday 2nd February 2018
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
My father wanted me to study law. He was concerned there was no money in palaeontology, and there was always pressure from my family and peers, so I did a law degree. But when I was 26 and living in London, I started a degree at the University of London in environmental science, majoring in geology.
To support myself while I was studying, I took a job in a laboratory that did asbestos analysis, anthrax testing and surveying. I got the job basically because I knew how to use a microscope! After a while I was promoted to head of the laboratory. The increase in salary made it more difficult to think about pursuing a career in palaeontology but I went on to do a postgraduate degree in environmental change to keep my options open.
During this time, I was promoted again to quality manager and head of department; I did ISO 14001; and I got married. It was by then difficult to give up my management role, which I enjoyed. I had two options: to do a PhD or to pursue palaeontology as a hobby. In the end, whenever there was a time in my life when I could have enrolled on a PhD, something happened to stop me -- either I didn't have the time, or perhaps I didn't have the courage at the right moment -- so palaeontology became my hobby.
I used to travel to the Dorset coast -- to Lyme Regis or Chesil Beach -- every weekend, looking for fossils. I love the smell of the open air, the smell of the rocks. It's a fascination with things that are old. Most people don't understand it; they will say: "Rocks are so boring." But when you open up a rock and see an organism inside that populated Earth millions of years ago, it's amazing. When I moved to Kent, I started going fossil collecting on the Isle of Sheppey, and my wife and first child would come with me sometimes.
I have three children now and once a month we go to the Natural History Museum. I first visited the museum 17 years ago, and I've probably been 200 times. But every time I go I still have a childlike excitement.
Seven years ago we moved to Cheltenham in Gloucestershire when I took a job in the area. We're surrounded by the Cotswolds, which are hills from the Jurassic period 201-145 million years ago. I live near Cleeve Hill, and I spend a couple of hours there every weekend. What I enjoy most is the excitement of rediscovery: putting the puzzle together; imagining what the environment would have looked like.
If you want to go fossil hunting, the best time is just after a storm when the rocks are exposed
I'm now a QSHE [quality, safety, health and environment] professional, and I use my knowledge of reading rocks and apply it to what I do at work. It's a way of thinking; it's about being analytical. I look at the bigger picture. I look at each facet of a problem to reach a conclusion. I think: Why? How? Where? If you speak to a lawyer, they might think in terms of years and decades; an archaeologist or historian might think in terms of thousands of years. But if you speak to a geologist, they think in terms of millions of years. We look at the whole picture: the people and the environment.
If you want to go fossil hunting, the best time is just after a storm when the rocks are exposed. In Dorset or on the Isle of Sheppey you can easily find something interesting. Exposed bivalves and ammonites are everywhere; it's down to luck what condition they are in and their size.
What is funny is that I have never found anything memorable. Yet, whenever I go with a friend, they always find something. In 20 years, despite my knowledge, my friends or my six-year-old child will just stumble on a perfect trilobite (extinct marine arthropods that first appeared about 540 million years ago).
Because of my day job, I’m used to thinking about bad weather and safe working loads and thought: “This shouldn’t be too hard!” In fact, it was more difficult than I had assumed, but I kept turning up. You need crew to help you to inflate the balloon, so I helped with that and with balloon inspections.
I did many operational tours during my 25 years’ service. One of the main reasons I got into safety after leaving the army is because everything in the military is about safety: you check, check, check. Your job in the army is to protect your country and it’s similar in safety: you go to work to protect people, to keep them safe.
I served 18 years in the army and when I left a friend suggested health and safety as a career. I did my NEBOSH certificate as part of my pre-release and joined Hampshire police as a civilian station duty officer, later becoming the Unison union's local health and safety lead. I worked as a local authority inspector for four and a half years, gained my NEBOSH diploma and then moved to the National Health Service (NHS), where I’ve been for 16 years.During this time, I started running 10k races.
At that time women’s rugby wasn’t as popular in the North of England as it is now, and there weren’t many rugby union teams in the area. In my first year playing, we organised for five local clubs, all of which were struggling to front a full team, to get together and we started playing as Yorkshire Ladies’ Barbarians. This enabled us to play matches and recruit more players. Three of those five clubs now have teams playing in the same league, which shows how fast women’s rugby is gaining in popularity.
We followed an online powerlifting programme, then my husband found a novice competition in London. We contacted the person running it and he said we’d either love it or hate it. We really got into it.Powerlifting is different from Olympic lifting and weightlifting. It’s made up of three techniques: squat, bench and deadlift, which are all very technical.
I’m not great when it comes to going to the gym. I find it fairly repetitive and tedious, so I’ve always done classes to keep fit. A couple of years ago, the teacher who took most of the classes went on maternity leave so someone suggested we try going to an aerial studio.
My first experience of the Pennine Fells was at junior school. A group of us went on a camping trip to Hathersage in the Peak District: we tried potholing, climbing and abseiling. It was my first ‘outdoors’ experience.