Name: Sorcha Flanagan.
Job Title: Environmental, Health &Safety (EHS) Specialist for Wm O’Brien Plant Hire.
Education background: I have a BSc degree in Environmental and Natural Resource Management and a diploma in Occupational Health and Safety.
Hobbies: I love the gym (a good session on the treadmill or bike always helps clear the head after a busy day!), a little day trip/ adventure and of course socialising with my gal pals!
Describe your job in five words: Busy, challenging, diverse, educational and very rewarding.
Describe yourself in five words: Confident, honest, driven, passionate and occasionally funny (although I’m sure my colleagues would dispute that last one!).
Personality needed for this kind of work: I think to work in this role you need to be patient and capable of working under pressure. The industry is fast-paced, and projects are forever changing scope. Being a good communicator is also tremendously important.
A big part of my work is liaising between contractors and clients, hosting audits and delivering toolbox talks, so it is vital to be able to express opinions and concerns as well as delivering or obtaining the right information.
Generally, a company’s EHS department are responsible for the quality aspects of the business and managing and auditing an integrated management system. This can be challenging work. It calls for someone with good attention to detail and a lot of patience. Travel is required so you need to be flexible with your time.
Above all else, you need to obviously be very safety conscious, especially when you are EHS personnel in a high-risk industry, like construction. Overall, I believe having a positive attitude for this role is paramount!
How long are you doing this job: I have worked for Wm. O’Brien Plant Hire for about 18 months now.
How did you get this job? I originally studied Environmental and Natural Resource Management as my undergrad. When I received my BSc degree, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with a very well established environmental consultants based in Limerick. That job was a combination of both fieldwork and office based work which I thoroughly enjoyed. I got to work on many diverse projects and received great exposure to a range of different industries e.g. pharmaceutical, manufacturing plants, construction sites, WWTP’s etc.
I knew going forward that I wanted a career that could offer the same versatility of both office and site based work. After my contract ended, I decided to do something completely different, so I took to the skies for a year as cabin crew. As you can imagine, a huge amount of that role was safety orientated and it was from there that I decided I would go back and study Health and Safety. After that, I managed to land myself my lovely position as Environmental, Health and Safety Specialist here at Wm. O Brien’s Plant hire. Since I joined, I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two external audits where we received recertifications of 3 ISO standards and were awarded the 2 new ISO’s.
I’ve been fortunate to be part of a company where the safety culture has evolved and improved tremendously over the past 20 years. I put that down to the team’s openness and willingness to adapt with the times and striving for a safer workplace. It makes my job a lot easier when you work for a company who are extremely safety conscious and on your side on all safety related matters.
Do you need particular qualifications or experience? I think it’s important that one has a recognised and relevant degree or diploma in the field of Environmental, Health & Safety, or similar. Experience in the construction industry is also very advantageous. I did my college work placement for six months with the same environmental consultants that I eventually ended up working for, which benefited me greatly. It meant I already had relevant exposure to the industry and experience to put down on my CV leaving college.
Since working in the industry, I’ve met many plant operators, project managers and engineers who have made career changes to health and safety roles too. My manager is an engineer and has an incredible knowledge of the industry. This is also the case with our safety engineer. They bring a huge amount of experience to the table.
Describe a day at work: Every single day is different! Yesterday, for instance, I was out on one of our site locations completing a safety audit. Another day could be spent entirely in the office working on risk assessments, updating company procedures, organising training for our teams or conducting company inductions. We have an amazing, tight-knit team both in the office and out on site. Everyone has an input and gives advice and support on a daily basis. Although every day is different, one thing that remains constant is the bit of banter!
How many hours do you work a week? My contract is Monday to Friday, 9am to 5.30pm, but that can vary greatly when travel is involved. You need to be flexible, time-wise!
I am lucky enough that my company are extremely accommodating if I ever need time off in return.
Is your industry male or female dominated? As you can imagine, the construction industry is very much a predominantly male- orientated industry. Being a 5ft 3in female EHS specialist and arriving on site in my hard hat and hi-viz is certainly not the norm. I’m definitely a minority!
Does this affect you in any particular way? It doesn’t affect me in a negative way but it does make me aware that there are very few females working in my industry, a demographic I’d like to see change. I am grateful my gender hasn’t prevented me from getting where I am and has never held me back in the company where I work.
Is your job stressful? Rate on a scale of 1-10 I can’t imagine a job that doesn’t have the odd ‘17 cups of coffee, tear-your-hair-out’ type days, especially when you care about your work. But with those come the lovely rewarding days where we successfully close out a project with zero accidents or incidents. When It does get a bit stressful, there is a great support system where I work.
When do you plan to retire or give up working? I love to work. Both my parents are self-employed and have given me a very strong work ethic. I think that when you find a career that you love, it becomes a part of your life and a part of who you are. It creeps in to all your stories and anecdotes and shapes the person you become.
My 87-year-old grandad is a great example of this. He still recites stories from his time at sea and I love that about him. Anyway, I can’t imagine a time where I can ever afford to give up work, due to my obsession with shopping!
Best bits? I have many. The highlights are getting awarded our ISO standards, receiving amazing feedback from clients and being told our team are very safety conscious (that’s probably the most rewarding thing to hear as an EHS specialist!). Also, any time there is cake in the office!
Worst bits? When somebody turns off my radiator in my office, and helmet hair!
Advice to those who want your job; I think if you have a general interest in Health and Safety, possess the above traits I have listed, and work hard to receive relevant EHS qualifications, you will certainly have a strong chance of securing an EHS role. The economy seems to be gradually picking up again in the construction and pharmaceutical sectors and EHS personnel will always be needed!
Any other comments: Love what you do. And... if you can’t be good, BE SAFE