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A day in the life of Stephen Barnes

16 November 2015

Each issue HSM speaks to a member of the BOHS about the challenges and rewards of working as an occupational hygienist. This issue we talk to chartered occupational hygienist Stephen Barnes, director and principal consultant at Oak Environmental Solutions.

How early do you rise?

A 7am start is typical for a day in the office, however, consultancy site work may require a much earlier start depending on the location and the client’s hours of operation.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The thought that there is another interesting day ahead and work to be done. Occupational hygiene is all about protecting the health of workers… making a difference!

What do you do?

Occupational hygiene consultancy always involves the observation of workplace activities and often requires the measurement of chemical, physical and biological agents, for example, air sampling airborne contaminants, the measurement of noise and vibration or the analysis of water samples for pathogenic organisms. Subsequent consideration of the observations and data allows me to assess the risk posed by the identified workplace health hazards and I will then write a report detailing my findings and any recommended control measures. I will usually discuss my report with the client to make sure that they understand what measures are required to ensure the health and well-being of their workers.

I deliver bespoke and BOHS approved training courses on topics such as asbestos, legionella, COSHH and workplace noise and provide talks to regional safety groups. I am currently a member of the BOHS North West England & North Wales Organising Committee, and immediate past Chairman of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH), Central Lancashire District.

Where do you work?

Oak Environmental Solutions is based in North West England and my work is divided between the office and workplace visits mainly in the UK. The furthest I have travelled for work is South Korea.


What does a typical day entail for you?

For site work, I need to prepare equipment and pack this in the car. Sometimes I use public transport, especially when training or when I can safely carry the equipment. Last week I carried out a noise risk assessment in a food factory which necessitated a 6am arrival. The day involved making observations, discussing work activities with employees and taking measurements with a sound analyser at work locations. A number of peripatetic employees were fitted with personal noise dosimeters. The measurement data can be used to assess employee daily personal noise exposures, the effectiveness of hearing protection and noise reduction measures. Office work often includes data interpretation, research, report or proposal writing and speaking to clients. Occupational hygiene consultancy is never boring! You visit many different workplaces, meet interesting people and see how things are made – from jet aircraft to your favourite breakfast cereal!


What is your favourite piece of work equipment?

I would say that my eyes and ears are probably the most useful items of ‘work equipment’. I don’t really have a favourite piece of work equipment, as all modern portable equipment is far more reliable and easier to use than when I started my career in the 1980s.


What would you be lost without in work?

My smartphone and clipboard. The smartphone provides so much: the ability to communicate; the time; my diary; a torch; a camera; and video recorder. Photographs and videos are incredibly useful when writing reports, and the inclusion of photographs in a report make for an easier read. I have yet to find an electronic gadget that adequately replaces my clipboard and paper site notes!


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

I probably have a laugh every day, especially when working on site. I think that a good sense of humour is a pre-requisite for anyone considering a career in health and safety!


What is the best part of your day?

It always feels good when you have advised or reassured someone about a workplace health concern. Completion of an assessment or training course is satisfying, but the best feeling is when you return to a workplace where your recommendations have been implemented and working conditions have been improved.


What advice would you give a person thinking of becoming an occupational hygienist?

Join the British Occupational Hygiene Society and attend the free regional meetings. They are quite informal and you will be able to network with like-minded professionals. BOHS also provides webinars and an excellent annual conference. You can join BOHS and learn how to become a qualified occupational hygienist at www.bohs.org/