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A day in the life: Matt Coldwell

30 January 2014

In this brand new series, HSM speaks to members of the BOHS about the challenges and rewards of working as an Occupational Hygienist. We kick off by talking to Matt Coldwell an Occupational Hygienist at the Health & Safety Laboratory.

1. How early do you rise? 
I live in Sheffield with my wife Beverley, two kids, Oliver and Emily, both under 4, and Bubble the cat. My day starts early and there is no need for an alarm clock with the kids – I’m never allowed to sleep in 
past 6:00.

2. What gets you out of bed in the morning?   
I usually do the nursery drop off before driving to work.  

3. Where do you work? 
The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) in Buxton.  

4.What do you do? 
I work as an Occupational Hygienist at HSL where I started in 2000 as a Chemist. It was here that my interest in Occupational Hygiene started, analysing samples from large scale pesticide exposure studies. I wondered how workers doing the same jobs could have such vastly different exposures.

At HSL we do a lot of work for HSE, sometimes where there have been accidents or occurrences of ill health but also when a HSE Inspector has seen something that requires a specialist to have a look. The work we do with HSE allows us to see the full spectrum of control standards, good and bad across many Industry Sectors. At HSL we also help companies directly.  

5. What does a typical day entail for you? 
Every day brings something new. I get a real buzz out of making a difference and the more workers we can prevent getting ill or dying the better. I have been involved in many jobs for customers across a range of areas; for example one around the use of alternative energy sources, and others in food manufacturing, aerospace/defence, road resurfacing and healthcare industries to name but a few.

6. Is there routine in your day?
I am normally out working on different sites 1 or 2 days a week. The work is varied and interesting; I particularly like visiting different companies – seeing how things are done and to help with particular issues. It makes the early starts and late finishes worthwhile.

7. Do you work on your own or with other people?
I am a people person and so the lone working on sites is balanced by the days back in the office, where I have a great bunch of colleagues who are all experts in a range of different areas. And there is much brainstorming and many pearls of wisdom arising from the odd 10 minute coffee breaks.  It’s also great that, at HSL, we have access to a vast range of other technical disciplines and if there is anything a little outside my area expertise then I know help is only a phone call or a few steps away.

8. What time do you normally get home? 
A normal office day finishes around 5 and I like the drive home across the Peaks. 

9. What helps you relax after work? 
To help me unwind, especially on those summer days when I can have the roof down on my old soft top car. I get home just in time to have dinner with the family and then help out with bath and bedtime. It is a real balance between home and work but one I enjoy, and as I know it makes a difference.

10. Describe a memorable moment from work.  
A particular project that springs to mind is one in the Surface Engineering sector, where over 50 companies were visited and something like 10,000 exposure measurements were made. I was fortunate to present this at an International Conference in Rome, which is as glamorous as my career in Hygiene has been thus far.

But there are also tough days.  For example, we assisted HSE colleagues on an investigation into a triple fatality on an offshore support vessel. Looking into a small cargo hold where three people died is not something I will forget in a hurry.
11. What are you most proud of? 
I am proud to be involved with BOHS. After my training and then gaining from attending many of their events, I am trying to give a little back. I am a member of the BOHS Annual Conference organising committee – the Conference seems to get bigger every year attracting delegates from around the globe. It’s in Nottingham this year and it is on over my 40th Birthday – so why not come along and help me celebrate and learn more about Hygiene too. 
BOHS, is The Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection which has a simple aim to provide a healthy working environment for everyone. With members from across industry, health, education, government and research, BOHS brings together those involved in the science and practical application of occupational hygiene, it champions and facilitates the development of professional competency, and promotes the science and practice of occupational hygiene worldwide.