In the first part of this series we saw how to make a start on the road to becoming a safety expert, or ‘Black belt’ in safety. This second instalment explains the next steps in becoming a safety expert.
Orange and Green Belts
I’d achieved the ‘Certificate’ and was on the way to becoming a ‘safety practitioner’. It quickly dawned on me, however, that despite having loads of experience as an engineer I’d only done a ten day course in safety which was obviously just the tip of the iceberg; I’d have to do a lot more to learn what I needed to know. This would need to include further study, but of critical importance was a need to apply what I’d learnt.
My first job in safety, in a small organisation that managed training for apprentice electricians, gave me a chance to learn how to apply some of what I’d learnt. I visited construction sites, all manner of workplaces, and went to meetings, seminars and conferences, all of which gave me more information and helped me to see how to ‘do’ safety. Things started to make sense – those learning points that I thought I’d never use suddenly started to become relevant. I was on the road to applying the theory and to gaining a better understanding. And I was still keen to learn.
In judo terms, my growing experience allowed me to grow in confidence. I was applying what I had learned but was probably still making more mistakes than anything else, but there were the occasional flashes of success – I was past the stage of being a raw beginner and was at last on the way to developing my own style.
This is a middle-ranking level. Technical skills are improving all the time, and ‘wins’ are becoming more frequent, but a ‘blue belt’ still can’t be described as fully competent. I was still following the basic methods I had learnt when I first started but I was starting to reach a deeper understanding of how things worked, which would eventually help me to do things in my own way.
Safety-wise, it was around this time that I decided I couldn’t ever reach my goal of being a competent safety practitioner without doing more formal (and higher level) training. I therefore enrolled on the NEBOSH Diploma. Another eye opener! I was introduced to a world that I’d only glimpsed previously. There I was, starting to feel I actually knew about safety and – BANG! – down I came with a bump! It reminded me of when I got my blue belt in judo – I may have been getting just a little too sure of myself, but was made to realise my own limitations in no uncertain terms when I suddenly started to get placed with those with real skills who reminded me just how far I had travelled but how very far I still had to go.
So I plugged away on the diploma. I learnt law, lots of law. I learnt about construction safety, nuclear physics, occupational diseases, risk management, human behaviour, psychology and so many other things. As someone who was involved in safety I lapped it up and was surprised that I also had prior knowledge (electricity, mechanical engineering and so on) that helped me through some of the course material. The experience I’d built up in visiting sites and being immersed in safety also came in handy, though I did start to realise that I could have done things better. I was starting to learn at a professional level and my confidence grew as I learnt more and tried to put it into practice.
After two years of study I completed my exams. There were five in those days and I was so pleased to learn I’d passed them all first time. I had been graded and had been given my ‘brown belt’ – a senior student who was ready for the big test.
Interested in learning more about safety practice? For details of our NEBOSH Certificate courses, and to enrol, please visit the linked page – you’ll find the link on the right side of this page.
In the third and final instalment in this short series we show how to get the coveted ‘Black belt’ in safety – and explain what comes afterwards. Check back to find out more.