Career and professional development

How NEBOSH Shaped My Career – an interview with lead North American tutor, Brian Sumbot

An Interview With Brian Sumbot

How did you get into Health & Safety as a career?

Brian is Astutis lead tutor in North America. He runs his own safety company, Atlas CanAmerica.

As is the case with many others practitioners, I didn’t necessarily embark on my career with the aim of being a safety specialist. I am, by definition, a Petroleum Engineering Technologist (PET) as a graduate of the Alberta Southern Institute of Technology (SAIT). In this capacity, I am a Certified Engineering Technologist (CET) of the Association of Science & Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET), as well as Applied Science Technologist (AScT) of the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of British Columbia (ASTTBC). As my career matured over the past 10 years, I came to realise that safety is, and has always been, an integral component of my career accomplishments. The longer you are in the workforce, the more safety competent you become. It is my experience in the petroleum field that led me to pursue specific safety qualifications.

Was there a particular reason you chose this career?

With many years of drilling rig experience, I responded to a request from a company to provide safety support on a drilling operation in Yemen. The conclusion of this job led me to reflect on the impact that occupational safety had on my career – and I realised it has been part of my working career since day one of my first job. Safety is an integral part of the hazardous petroleum industry and without proper measures put in place by the companies I worked for, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here today.

How did you develop to get where you are now?

Starting in the late 90’s and on into the 2000’s, I assumed numerous consulting jobs as a Project Manager representing various upstream oil and gas companies during field operations. This meant I had to be trained in all aspects of the HSE policies specific to each client I represented. I also assumed the added responsibilities of a safety supervisor to ensure that my clients were not exposed to any additional liability from subcontractors and services on their projects and that they were in compliance with the operators HSE polices and procedures.

As I reflected on the positive experience I had in Yemen as an official Safety Consultant, it instilled in me a desire to consider more consulting opportunities of a similar nature. It also offered me the opportunity to mentor with my many years of hands-on experience.

I started to take consulting roles as safety support on oil & gas operations in drilling and production. Although my working career has been dominated by the oil industry, as I look back, I recognize that the diversity of all types of work I have been involved with has played a significant role in my safety education. Prior to settling in the oil industry I worked in many other industries which has also served me well.

How did you get into training?

NEBOSH qualifications are highly regarded in the field of health & safety, the world over.

During a 7 month Field Safety Supervisor project in Alberta, the first 3 months were dedicated to providing training to each delivery team to introduce an existing safety management system that was that was designed to bring safety synergy to the whole project. Every class I taught was a wonderful experience as the students were very appreciative of the inclusive manner in which I guided their learning experience and by the conclusion of that project, I had made the decision to start a new chapter in my career and I sought a credential that would be recognized internationally.

My research led me to NEBOSH (the National Examination Board for Occupational Safety and Health) – specifically, the International Technical Certificate in Oil & Gas Operational Safety course – although in order to complete this qualification at that time, I needed to travel to the UK. While I was there, I made enquiries as to why I could not find this international certification in Canada and was told there were very few trainers in North America, let alone Canada. I was asked if I would be interested in being a trainer.  I accepted their offer and based on my existing resume, NEBOSH approved me as an associate NEBOSH certificate trainer for the International General Certificate, Oil and Gas Certificate, International Construction Certificate and Fire Certificate courses. I was approved as trainer for delivery of the IOSH Working Safely and IOSH Managing Safely generalist courses.

What have been your career highlights?

Your proudest moment?

My proudest and most fulfilling moment came in September/October of 2016 when I was sent by Astutis to Uganda to be a member of a 2-man team to deliver the International General Certificate course to 60 Ugandan delegates. I had the great privilege of being the tutor to half of this group.  They were the most enthusiastic and engaged group of students I have ever taught and were keen to apply their knowledge in their respective careers. They recognized that the NEBOSH model of training they were receiving was a solid foundation to begin their journey to safety that would help influence a healthy safety culture within their organizations.  Over that 4 weeks each group became a family to me and we communicate to the present time almost daily.

Your favourite role?

My favourite role is as a mentor, trainer, and learner – I am always learning from my students and feel that if I do not learn from them too, I am not doing my job as a tutor.  I believe that a person’s career is only as good as the quality of his or her network of support and that all people are competent in some activities, but not in all activities. Hence, when we interact, share, and implement our various skills, we become better individual members of a team.  As the saying goes, there is no “I” in the word Team!

A particular outcome?

One particular shining moment for me was when I was hired by an Italian father to mentor his son after he failed his NEBOSH International Certificate course. He came and lived with me in Canada for 6 months and shadowed me on all my training sessions and participated in ‘workplace-shadowing’ with the safety manager for a major oil company in Calgary. Ultimately, he was successful in completing his IGC and subsequently got a job as a Safety Consultant at a major shipping yard in France.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout your career?

Safety specialists have historically had a hard time getting employers to take OSH seriously and further encouraging employees to abide by health and safety rules that have been designed to get them home in one piece at the end of the day. I feel the tides are changing in this regard however. Getting employees to take safety in the workplace seriously is a 2-way street. Workers are always told that they have the right to refuse unsafe work.  In principle, this is absolutely morally correct. The reality is that if the employer does not establish a well-organized (transparent) safety policy, employees will continue doing the unsafe acts for the sake of keeping their jobs.

Furthermore, employers are starting to see real-time benefits of safety in the workplace – namely, in the bottom line of their business. When you can convince employers that profit margins will be positively affected by their actions in this regard, you’ve hit a home run. In the words of Trevor Kletz, “If you think safety is expensive, try an accident!”

What advice would you give to overcome these problems?

There is no single ‘fix-all’ that will address the challenges associated with safety in the workplace, but there are some underpinning attributes that need to be applied, and they start with the individual. One of the most important attributes lies in successful communication.  You need to be willing to speak up about the hazards in the workplace – but not just in order to speak about the problems, also be willing to consider the possible solutions.  One of my supervisors when I was rig hand put it best.  “Complaining is fine so long as you have a solution to what you complaining about.” Of course, if you are willing to speak up, you also need to be willing to listen, consider, and learn from others as well.

What are the best things about working in Health & Safety?

The best things about working in health and safety is that no two days are the same and that I get to see positive change in the workplace. Having provided the physical aspects of a safe environment to work in, I also enjoy supporting the psychological confidence that a worker gets when their workplace is organized; a positive safety culture can then be fostered where workers feel free to find safe ways of doing their work, and then sharing it with all in the workplace.

The success or failure of any company can be supported by 3 pillars of success and this holds true for health and safety:

  1. Moral stability by doing the right thing for the right reasons.
  2. Social peace by operating within the legal frame work as structured by society.
  3. Financial benefit by effectively and efficiently managing hazards and related risks within the operations of the organization.

When an organization has a healthy safety culture, one of the major positive outcomes is a more productive organization. In the business world, more productivity translates into more cash flow, more cash flow usually translates into better pay and benefits for the members of the organization.

Have you noticed any changes in the industry since you began your career?

Since the 1970’s, there have been a great many technological changes that have vastly improved the safety environment of all industry. But as the technological changes have improved, in many cases I see some “perception blindness” occurring as more workplaces become automated and mechanized and workers rely on the process to protect them and don’t think for themselves. One thing that NEBOSH has instilled in me is that to acquire an optimal safe workplace, a multi-faceted safety management system is always required.

Since my experience as a government regulator/enforcer in process safety in the early 90’s, I have also witnessed a significant increase in the “litigative culture” of all industries – something all organisations should effectively guard against. An evolving global economy has given rise to large multinationals taking advantage of “cheap labour” in less developed countries. However, as international organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO) work harder to hold the member nations accountable, national laws are evolving that have more teeth to better protect workers to provide level standards of safety to any worker, regardless of the state of their country’s economy.

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