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A day in the life of Marian Molloy

12 January 2018

Each issue HSM puts the spotlight on worker health protection by speaking to a member of BOHS about the challenges and rewards of working in the field of worker health protection. In this issue we talk to Marian Molloy  

What is your job, and where do you work?

I’m an occupational hygiene specialist inspector for the Health and Safety Executive, based in Birmingham.

What motivates you to get out of bed on a work day?

I’m motivated by meeting people who inspire me; people who are inspirational and show both passion for what they do and a great strength of character. They make me want to raise my game and do the best that I can, which in my current role is tackling respiratory diseases. I love a challenge and have always had a particular interest in controlling the risk of respiratory diseases. I believe the suffering from serious work-related respiratory diseases and the knock-on effect of the illness on their family and the cost to society goes hugely unrecognised, and is something that needs to change. 

What does a typical day entail for you?

Like most occupational hygienists I find it difficult to describe a typical day as every day is different - that’s what keeps the job interesting! 

I’ll describe a good day I had in the last week:

I left the house at 6.45am to catch an early train into Birmingham. On the train I was reading over my presentation which I was due to give that morning at the Breathe Freely In Manufacturing roadshow event. I arrived at the Clayton Hotel in time to help set up the conference room and grab a quick cup of tea before the delegates started to arrive. There were three speakers at this event and after an introduction from Mike Slater, a past president of BOHS, it was my turn to talk about the health risks from welding fume. At the end of my talk I had lots of questions and good feedback from the delegates, which indicated that I had pitched the talk at the right level to engage our audience and successfully spread our message about the risks from welding fume. I had the opportunity to listen to the next speaker from BAE systems, and learn how this large company is managing the risks associated from welding fume. All in all, this was a great and worthwhile morning. 

What is your favourite, or most important, piece of work equipment?

My favourite piece of kit is my pistol torch. It is nice and light and small enough to put in my pocket when I’m out on site. It is great to use the strong light beam to highlight areas of poor dust control to duty holders, and it is definitely an improvement on the massive dust lamps we had in the past.

What item would you be lost without at work?

I would be completely lost without my diary. I have three diaries in total for home and work, which I need to juggle. I keep meaning to find a good electronic one that would combine the job of the three but I haven’t managed to find a good one yet.

What route did you take to working in the field of worker health protection?

I started in consultancy as part of a scheme for graduates to train up to be an occupational hygiene consultant. After five years I passed my BOHS Certificate of Competency, upon successful completion of my six modules. By this stage I knew that I wanted to focus on research and decided on a MSc in the Science of Safety, Health and the Environment at Birmingham university, which was accredited by both BOHS and IOSH. When I completed my MSc I then felt brave enough to sit my diploma oral exam with BOHS to become a Chartered Member of the Faculty of Occupational Hygiene.

What advice would you give a person thinking of working in the area of worker health protection?

I would tell the person that I am proud to be an occupational hygienist and would highly recommend it as a career choice. Starting as a consultant gives an excellent opportunity to see a wide range of occupational hygiene issues in a variety of industries, and can help provide the insight needed to inform any future career choices. I would advise them to get involved with the society (BOHS) as a volunteer, as this is an excellent way to meet other occupational hygienists as well as greatly enhance your knowledge about the wealth of information available. BOHS can also put you in touch with a mentor to help and advise you through your training.

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

It was a while ago, but this really tickled me. An inspector who was on site identified a complex problem where there was a serious risk to health. He told the company that he needed some specialist assistance and when I arrived on site, the company representative asked me where my black A-team van was. At first, I was confused and then they explained that they were expecting the specialist to turn up in similar style to the United States Army Special Forces Unit, but instead they got me in a regular car with no theme tune playing.  

What is the best part of working in the field of worker health protection?

The best part of being an occupational hygienist is being able to make positive changes to the working environment to protect the health of the workers. Working as a Specialist Inspector means that an employer has to take heed of the non-compliances identified during an inspection, and ensure that they are put right. This approach is effective at making necessary changes to the work place which will protect the health of the workers.

What do you see as the biggest challenges to worker health protection currently?

For me the biggest challenge to worker health protection is changing people’s perceptions, so that they understand that cases of serious ill health are still occurring as a result of the jobs people do - and that these cases of ill health are all preventable. It is essential to change people’s beliefs, to enable any sustainable positive change in behaviour to become effective. My motto is: “Aim wide, not high” when it comes to spreading the message about worker health protection. 

Let me explain what I mean: it is essential to make sure the message reaches the actual workers who may be affected, so that they are aware of the potential risks to health and can take action to protect themselves The messages therefore need to be targeted for specific occupations to make it relevant to them, rather than having a few high-level managers agreeing to do something but not really understanding what they need in terms of competent resource and finance, to ensure a sustained approach to worker health protection is implemented in their business. Lots of frequent reinforcement of the message over a long period of time will help to change beliefs, which will have a positive influence on workers’ behaviour.