Keeping People Safe: An Interview with Training Manager Alastair Malcolm

3 Jun 16

Alastair Malcolm, Training Manager at the Mount Anvil Centre of Excellence, has a wealth of safety experience rooted in 25 years spent as a fire-fighter, and a decade as a Safety Advisor. He's a familiar face to all who pass through the Centre of Excellence, so we sat down with him to talk about challenges, job satisfaction and the future.

Hi Alastair, can you tell us a bit about you and your role here at Mount Anvil?

I've been with Mount Anvil for around three years now, starting as a site-based Health and Safety coach, then 18 months or so ago (Health and Safety Director) Simon Walker sat me down and explained the idea behind the Centre of Excellence. He asked me if I would be interested in doing training full time - an offer I simply could not refuse. I had always loved this element of the job, and the chance to do it full time was an opportunity too good to miss. We opened the doors in November 2014, and I've been rolling out the red carpet for course attendees ever since.

So you’ve been with Mount Anvil for three years, were you working in safety training before that?

I haven't always worked in safety, although I've always worked in jobs that keep people safe. I was in the military prior to my 25 years in the fire service. Then one day I was introduced to a friend of a friend who was looking for a Fire Safety Officer for a construction project. He asked if I knew anyone, and the next thing I knew I had taken early retirement from the fire service and was working as a Fire Safety Officer, overseeing the construction of the Westfield centre in White City. Only 10% of my time was taken up with fire safety, so I ended up broadening my job role into construction Health and Safety. I left the Westfield group in 2012 as Health & Safety Manager following the Olympics, and started with Mount Anvil in spring 2013.

Tell us about coming to Mount Anvil. Did you know at the time about this world-class Health and Safety culture?

It was only during the interview process, and from spending time here, that I came to realise that Mount Anvil doesn't just talk the talk, they really mean it. A lot of companies talk a big game, but in real terms their Health and Safety is just about ticking boxes. In those companies staff learn to resent Health and Safety, they feel nagged or brow-beaten by it. Mount Anvil is a different kettle of fish entirely. It's the first item on the agenda at any meeting, in any department in the company.

Are there elements of the job that you find challenging?

Of course there are, but they are often the same elements that make it so rewarding. Such a high number of serious injuries and fatalities in construction are the result of a person's actions or inaction—on the one hand that puts a lot of pressure on us to get things right for people, but on the other it places the power to avoid the majority of those accidents in our hands. We've got a chance to engage with people, to open their eyes and to teach them how to be safer and healthier. What an opportunity to have!

Another challenge is the fact that if people are told something or given information don't use knowledge for six months or more, they'll forget it. So it's not just about sitting people in a classroom, ticking a box, giving them a gold star and never seeing them again—it's about getting programmes in place that keep skills sharp and competencies current.

What are some other examples of the most challenging things being the most rewarding?

Dynamics with people is an obvious one. Particularly when you're working with external partners, you come up against the bias of individuals, or organisations, against Health and Safety, or you find yourself in the middle of complex group dynamics. The training is designed to help combat all of that, but you often find yourself ironing out the creases at the beginning of the courses.

But it's the people who offer by far the most rewarding elements of the job. I’m learning all the time. There’s so much discussion and interaction on these courses and you never know what way it’s going to go. I learn so much. They test me too—every time I get asked a question it either firms up the knowledge that I do have, or highlights little gaps or weak points where I can read up and improve. Every day I get better at my job, and that’s largely down to the people that I’m training.

I’ve had everyone in here from Directors to subcontractor labourers. It’s an amazing job for meeting all kinds of people from all over the world and all walks of life. In one training room at the moment I’ve got people from Lithuania, Italy, Spain... most of Europe. I get to meet a real cross-section of humanity, and I get to teach them how to stay safe and well on site.

The Centre of Excellence has only been open for 18 months or so—what’s next for it?

The future is looking very, very bright for the Centre of Excellence. We know we've got the ability to grow, and that's the way things are heading—more courses, more attendees and more trainers. Ultimately that means a safer industry for more people, and what better way to spend your time than keeping people safe?

It's a great time to be working at the Centre of Excellence, and there honestly isn't another job I would rather be doing.

To find out more about the Centre of Excellence and to browse available courses, visit the Centre of Excellence homepage now. For training enquiries, contact Jamie Horgan.

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