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A day in the life of Dr. Julie Riggs

12 April 2021

Each issue HSM puts the spotlight on a health and safety worker by speaking to a member of the British Safety Council about the challenges and rewards of working in this field. This time we speak to Dr. Julie Riggs DProf.

What is your job, and where do you work?

I am senior head of education at the British Safety Council.

What motivates you to get out of bed on a workday?

This sounds cliché, but the knowledge that you are making a difference is a constant motivator. Look at photographs from Lewis Hine or the haunting photo of the ‘Final Embrace’ from Taslima Akhter of the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, how can we not be moved to try and make a difference. I believe that health and safety has the power to bring a country stability, equality, economic value and the ability for wealth creation. The starting point for this change is through education. 

What does a typical day entail for you?

A typical day is varied. One moment I will be talking with students about how to use skills such as reflective practice or active learning within their studies. Thereafter I might be exploring with a colleague how we create further engagement in our products, particularly in this digital landscape. We have already invested in VR and AR technology and are constantly looking at new innovated ideas to enhance classroom/digital learning experiences.

What is the top priority on your work agenda at the moment?

We are currently developing our Learning Zone, which is a digital platform that supports our eLearning programmes. We have some exciting launches this year, including a new look Learning Zone, new student hub and new content, look out for our ‘Study Hero’ series.

What skills are key to your role?

Whether you are working as an advisor, or you are delivering training to delegates, you are always communicating the importance of health and safety, looking to influence positive improvements. Being open to change, embracing new technology, new ways of working is important. I work with an incredibly talented team, so creating an environment where people can challenge helps to ensure together, we grow and achieve our aspirations for the business.

What route did you take to working in the field of health and safety? 

Health and safety was a first choice career 28 years ago, which has taken me around the world, working in a broad range of sectors. Throughout my journey, I have been committed to lifelong learning, I am an active writer and published author. I am an Elected IOSH Council Member, I volunteer at a US charity supporting the textile industries in Bangladesh. I also mentor higher education students. A well-balanced approach, complimented with volunteering and supporting others can provide an enriching career path. 

What advice would you give a person thinking of working in the health and safety industry?

This industry is fast-changing, with new technology, risk and dynamic changes that are occurring. So, it is important to develop yourself. Create a balance of education and experience, network with health and safety professionals, engage in consultations and discussions, look for a mentor to support your development, volunteer for activities. Many of the professionals who work in this industry live and breathe their role, it is more than a 9-5 occupation. So be open minded, engage in the profession, continue your education and find your internal driver as to what legacy/change you wish to influence. 

When did you last laugh in work? What made you laugh?

Daily. As a business we have lots of fun with regular quizzes, virtual coffee mornings and staff engagement activities. Most recently we held a virtual staff conference were we introduced silly staff awards. It is important that even though these are challenging times, we should not neglect the importance of having fun, connecting and celebrating each other. Picking the best lockdown hairstyle award was tremendous fun. 

What is the best part of working in your field?

Having worked in the education sector for many years, it is intrinsically rewarding to watch a student develop from an IOSH course, to a NEBOSH Diploma and then complete their MSc. These future leaders will be shaping our industry, discovering new risks, driving change for the better. Rachel Carson, the Godmother of environmental, often questioned the actions of today and the legacy we all create for tomorrow. Knowing that the people who dedicate their lives to this occupation today are creating a legacy of a better world for the future. How tremendously inspiring.

What do you see as the biggest challenges to health and safety at work currently?

Managing the risk of Covid-19 and the mental health impact has undoubtably driven more conversations around the importance of health. Covid-19 pandemic has also exacerbated inequalities, highlighting how workplace injuries and illness disproportionately impact on some disadvantaged groups, who are at a greater risk, need a voice and representation to highlight the disparity.