Hayley Spinks dreamed about becoming a fighter pilot. When her eyesight prevented her from realising her ambition, she turned her passion to a career in health and safety.
Last year, she focused her energy on studying for her NEBOSH National Diploma with the British Safety Council, which she completed as NEBOSH Best Candidate for Unit C.
Hayley Spinks has been a health and safety professional for 14 years. She is currently a health and safety business partner at WSP. The Canadian-owned company, with nearly 50,000 employees worldwide and more than 8,000 in the UK, is one of the world’s leading engineering professional services consulting firms.
It provides technical expertise and strategic advice to clients in sectors such as property and buildings, transportation and infrastructure, power, energy and the environment.
Hayley describes her role at WSP and what winning the NEBOSH best candidate means to her:
“The company’s engineers manage high-profile projects around the world. I focus on the ones based in the UK, Europe, Africa and Asia, which makes my work very interesting. My role has a strategic dimension, which means that I have a very wide range of responsibilities; from liaising with operational and business teams to identify and deliver local divisional strategies, to undertaking safety tours, audits and incident investigations.
I ensure that the businesses I support deliver safe working practices for WSP staff, our contractors, clients and others affected by our work."
"I also monitor and support the improvements of our safety, health and wellbeing culture and applicable safety arrangements to assess whether they are fit for purpose. This gives us an opportunity to promote good practice and recognise people who deliver it. It is all about continuous improvement."
“I travel widely around the UK and often visit multiple sites in any given week. This week I am attending one of our large construction sites where I will liaise with the construction manager and discuss what works are taking place and then plan safety inspections or audits as applicable."
"This will include selecting focus areas such as permit to work systems, contractor management, working at height, plant and people interface or fire and explosion risks. The following day, I am delivering a training course, the first of three such courses this week."
“The courses are focused on conflict management. The session provides unique skill sets to our staff who may be operating on projects where it’s likely they’ll encounter members of the public who might be aggressive towards them. The primary focus of the training is to help people recognise signs of conflict before negative interactions escalate to aggressive behaviour, and either appropriately diffuse the situation or to safely withdraw. A key aspect of the course is post-trauma management."
“In any other week I can be carrying out incident investigations, having conversations with colleagues around mental health or engaging with our wellbeing manager to deliver our wellbeing initiative, Thrive. We are currently planning a wellbeing stand down day in October where the whole of WSP’s workforce in the UK will stop work to focus on our personal and collective wellbeing. This variation makes my job exciting."
“I think my work is proof that health and safety is not about spending the whole day in the office, doing lots of paperwork and going on-site to pick up problems. I learnt to focus on the positives and on how you can deliver change. Health and safety professionals drive improvements, influence culture and affect behaviour. By suggesting new initiatives and improvements, we are making people safer. That’s what makes the job fascinating. There is obviously an element of paperwork but the role is so much more than people realise. I’m proud to be a health and safety practitioner and I love my job.”
Hayley’s path to health and safety
“My family had a timber business which was focused on vegetation management on railways. It handled large contracts and was very high risk. From a very young age, I was aware that when things go wrong the consequences can be tragic. Safety considerations were instilled in me early on in my life.
“However, my life’s ambition was to be a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF). When my mum took me to the library, I didn’t go to the children’s section but would choose books about military aircraft, aerospace and defence. There is also the fact that our house backed onto an RAF base in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately, my eyesight was below the required standard and I had to change my life plan.
“I went from job to job, working within aviation for British Airways to roles within the fitness industry and insurance, looking for a position that would capture my interest. Then I found a job with G4S in an immigration detention centre near Gatwick airport, which was a truly fascinating environment.
My role there focused on facilities management but I worked very closely with the head of health and safety and I learnt a lot from him. Physical safety was the frontline focus in that environment, as well as issues related to mental health. In that role, I had my first contact with the British Safety Council (BSC). The company has achieved the Council’s Five Star Audit, which I supported, as well as the Sword of Honour.
“Then, I moved to an American aerospace defence company called Rockwell Collins, which designed and manufactured avionics and information technology systems for government agencies and aircraft manufacturers. We manufactured equipment such as simulation, head up displays for fighter jets. I looked after their safety as they installed simulation systems in countries across the world. As a result, I had access to the international safety community very early on in my career.
“My next step was the post of assistant facilities manager and head of health and safety at Immediate Media, an offshoot of the BBC. We produced and published all the BBC magazines, including Sky at Night magazine, Radio Times, Top of the Pops and Match of the Day. My role was extremely varied as the journalists travelled across the world to do investigative journalism, so again, there was an international health and safety aspect there. We managed large media events, such as Top of the Pops. We even sent The Stig from Top Gear around a race track on a Honda lawnmower, which was an interesting event from a health and safety point of view!
“Another memorable job was a year-long contract role with the Royal Opera House. I was responsible for the health and safety of the building, as well as the engineering team. I worked alongside the Royal Opera House team who oversaw the health and safety aspect of the operations, including the ballet dancers and opera singers. It was a fascinating environment to work in and I was very proud to be a part of a team who were looking after such an iconic building. My next role was with WSP.”
Towards the NEBOSH Diploma
AR: Why did you decide to study for the NEBOSH National Diploma? Why with the BSC
My company is very supportive and although I had many health and safety training courses under my belt, I wanted to study for the NEBOSH National Diploma to broaden my professional knowledge. It was the platinum standard of training for me. I chose the British Safety Council because I had a good experience working with the organisation some 10 years before.
I saw that the Council had a very high pass rate and the training was delivered in a bespoke training facility in its offices in Hammersmith, not a hired classroom somewhere in the country. I also noticed that the organisation didn’t have an endless selection of courses which meant that there was a focus on the tuition, the tutors and their expertise. I also loved the location and the opportunity to walk alongside the Thames during breaks.
The training centre also had a great catering facility. The friendly catering team served good quality food, which was always welcomed after a challenging study period.
I began studying in September 2017 and submitted my assignment in November 2018. The classroom work finished in June 2018, so the course ran for the equivalent of an academic year. Seven weeks of study was classroom-based in Hammersmith. It was three weeks for Unit A, two weeks for Unit B and two weeks for Unit C, as well as a prep day for Unit DNI for the assignment. Of course, this had to backed up by self-study. There was more selfstudy than I expected because of the sheer volume of material. There’s also an element of fatigue with learning, especially when you haven’t been studying for a while and you are also holding down a full-time job. I was very lucky because my company gave me up to two days study leave a month, which greatly helped me.
I look back very fondly on this period of my life. It wasn’t just about passing the diploma but about improving my skills and knowledge, which I was able to immediately apply to my job. I was constantly challenging myself to look beyond the learning and the textbook.
AR: What was most challenging
The assignment was the most demanding aspect of the course for me. It was a long piece of work, some 17,000 words, and the NEBOSH guidance material was not too specific. We received an example of a past report but this wasn’t particularly useful as the assignment had to relate to our business and a particular set of challenges. However, the BSC provided us with a guide that helped me structure my assignment effectively. I was working on my assignment for over three months.
I often worked the whole weekend, drafting small components of text rather than trying to write large chunks. It was like assembling building blocks.
The assignment was basically a business case. I realised that I could use that approach – the format and process – to deliver reports to the senior management of my company.
After the first week of the course, I found myself thinking differently. I didn’t have to wait a year to be able to use the new set of skills and the knowledge I was gaining. I had more confidence, particularly when I had to confront various challenges. I was able to reach different people and change my approach to the business. I think that confidence was a huge takeaway for me from the course. Also, the information I learnt helped me to deliver the results much faster.
AR: What support have you received from the BSC
David Burton, our class tutor, is a great credit to the organisation. During any training, a certain level of fatigue creeps in quite soon and David managed to keep us energised and engaged for the whole day, every day of the course.
He spent time with everyone, talking and interacting with every student. He started from getting to know us individually so that he could understand us as people and students, and adapted his training to our needs and individual learning styles. We all had different experiences, backgrounds and levels of academic knowledge, and he adapted his teaching to address our individual needs.
He also introduced fun to the learning. At the end of the day when we grew tired, he would ask everyone to stand up and go to the wall on which he would put up pieces of flipchart paper. He would split us into groups and ask us to discuss various aspects of the material we had just learnt. Then he would switch us round. When the weather was nice, we went for a walk along the river.
David inspired me not only as a trainer but also as a person. I learnt a lot about myself from working with him. I couldn’t have achieved what I did without him. He was very positive and supportive of everyone. He showed us that if something wasn’t working one way, we needed to find a different approach.
In terms of exam advice and preparation, David made it very clear that we didn’t have to know everything. He explained to us that exam technique was key. We started preparing for the exam from the beginning of the course. He gave us mock tests throughout the whole learning period in the classroom. He would ask us to do a 15-minute question in five minutes, so that we could get the outline of it down on paper. Then, he would review it with us and check our understanding of the issue.
Every time we moved to a new topic, we were also improving our exam technique. David advised us not to aim for 10 marks because you’ll spend lots of time trying to get 10 marks and in the meantime, you’ll lose time which you could have used to answer other questions. So, during the exam, I attempted to hit seven or eight marks and then moved on to the next question.
He also gave us an exam tip: if we suddenly remembered something that we needed to add to a previous question, we should note it down in the margin (to be crossed out later) and carry on with the current question without losing our train of thought. We could add this information at the end of the exam if we had time left. It may be worth an extra mark or two.
AR: What was key to your success
I don’t think I can pinpoint it to one thing. David’s enthusiasm was driving us. He boosted my confidence. I had doubts about my knowledge and he often reassured me and mentored me.
My notes were hugely beneficial. I had a new notebook for every week of study and this proved a great help. I bought notebooks with different designs for each unit. This ensured that my material was segregated into learning weeks and was clearly laid out. For example, case studies were written in black and they had a star with an orange highlighter, so I was able to easily identify them when I flicked through my notes.
The BSC provided us with the textbook, notes and slides. Even so,
I took my own notes, which helped me to process and memorise the material. Now, when I am working on a particular topic, rather than searching the internet, I use my own notebooks as my first port of call. The class discussions were excellent because we got an opportunity to hear what other health and safety professionals think and to learn different approaches and perspectives.
AR: What is your opinion about the mental health aspect of the course
I am a qualified mental health first aider but I still learnt a lot from the mental health component of the course provided by the BSC. Mental Health First Aid England’s training was about the first aider’s role and the understanding of the challenges faced by those affected. The British Safety Council’s training focuses on the relevance of this information to your business, its employees and your work. The course also included an opportunity for students to discuss their own experience of mental health. David’s approach was very sensitive and considerate. He’s aware that the people in the room may have experienced mental health challenges or may have close friends and family with mental health issues.
Find out more about taking your NEBOSH with the British Safety Council here
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