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A day in the life of Mike Slater

27 October 2017

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 Mike Slater, occupation hygiene consultant, director at Diamond Environmental and BOHS President 2014/15.

How early do you rise?

The life of an occupational hygienist is inevitably very variable and that’s reflected in what time I get up. It depends what I’m doing and where I’m working. But most days I’m up sometime between 6 and 7 o’clock. Although if I need to be on site early, or have some distance to travel, I’ll be up earlier and if I’ve been working a late shift (sometimes even nights) I’ll have a lie in.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The knowledge that my job is about improving conditions in the workplace, protecting people’s health and making a difference. I enjoy what I do, so getting out of bed usually isn’t difficult.

What do you do?

I work as an occupational hygiene consultant providing advice and assistance to a wide range of clients in different types of industry. These days I also spend a lot of my time on teaching and training. My company is the main provider of BOHS courses in the UK for trainee occupational hygiene and I also do some teaching for the Manchester University Occupational Hygiene MSc course.

I was BOHS President from 2014 – 2015. However, I am still very active in the Society, and this adds an extra dimension to my work. For the past 2 ½ years I’ve been leading the Breathe Freely campaign, which was launched in April 2015 by BOHS in conjunction with HSE and other partners. The aim of the initiative is to raise awareness of the incidence of respiratory disease and how it can be prevented by applying good practice and the principles of occupational hygiene. The campaign initially targeted the construction industry, and has had a significant impact in that sector. In May this year, we launched the 2nd phase of Breathe Freely, which  is targeting the manufacturing sector and is initially focusing on welding. Due to my involvement in the campaign I’ve been spending quite a lot of time touring the country, speaking at the Breathe Freely Roadshows (these are free events, for both construction and manufacturing) and other events,  and meeting stakeholders.

Where do you work?

My office is in Wigan, but the nature of my work means I’m hardly ever there! Most of our clients are in the UK and our public courses are held in Chester and Wigan, but my work takes me all over the UK and to Ireland, Finland the Middle East and elsewhere. My year as President has also given me the opportunity to visit the USA and Australia.

What does a typical day entail for you?

Like most occupational hygienists, particularly consultants, my work is variable so there isn’t a ‘typical’ day. It really depends what I’m doing. If I’m working for a client I’ll have to travel to their premises and then will spend the day looking at their processes, talking to managers and workers, making observations and taking measurements. After a few days on site I’d need to spend some time in the office researching, writing up reports, dealing with emails and on the telephone – and drinking copious quantities of tea! When I’m running a course I’ll be on my feet most of the day talking, listening and discussing with participants.

What is your favourite piece of work equipment?

My five senses! A lot of what I do is about observing, asking questions and listening to identify problems that need to be addressed and to find solutions. And then, the difficult bit, convincing people of the actions they need to take.

What would you be lost without in work?

The support and pleasurable company of my colleagues, clients and other people I interact with during my work.

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

I think I’ll have to take the 5th amendment on this one!

What is the best part of your day?

This is a difficult question to answer as it really depends on what I’m doing. I enjoy interacting with people so the most pleasurable parts of my day are when I’m able to do that – while I’m training or on site with clients and their workers. I hate being stuck in the office for more than a few days.

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

It’s a great career for someone who is interested in industrial processes, in solving problems and engaging with people. As well as developing a good technical knowledge, have an enquiring mind and work on your observation, problem solving and communication skills.