‘Hiring the right people’ with Adel Lawson

 

Richard: Hi there thanks for tuning in and welcome to the Safeti podcast where we energize and motivate you in the world of health safety and environment by putting you in touch with real people and their experiences across the HSE space. Our aim is to help you expand your knowledge, develop your career or just have greater impact in your business. Today on the podcast we’re going to go a little bit further afield than we have so far, actually to the Middle East. More specifically to Qatar where we’re going to chat to Adel Lawson who is the HSEQ manager for Hamad International Airport. But before we kick that off, I just like to thank all of you who have listened in so far. This is obviously a labor of love at the moment and I’ve been encouraged by many of you who have found value already in the Safeti podcast. That’s said I would love you to leave a review, constructive feedback or leave us a comment and let us know your opinion on some of the issues that are being covered. Much more importantly though I’d love to hear your suggestions as to what you would like to hear in future episodes of the CFT podcast. So please reach out to us, leave a comment in the comments box or if you like you can send us a message at info@https://safeti.com. Cool so let’s crack on with today’s show. We’re going to be speaking to Adel as I said in Qatar. He’s a long-term HSE professional with lots of experience in corporate oil gas consulting manufacturing environments and he’s got to discuss with us his experiences and recommendations when it comes to how to hire the right people. So this conversation I know will be really useful for people who are both hiring or looking for an HSE position. So without further ado let’s get on the call. Adel thank you so much for coming on the safety podcast all the way from sunny Qatar, welcome to the show.

Adel: Cheers Richard thanks very much.

Richard: Obviously you have a very important Health and Safety Environmental Quality Management role in Qatar at Hamad International Airport. Which I’m sure keeps you busy.

Adel: I am very busy. It’s been a busy few months so far. So I mean I’m focusing quite a bit on the soft side of the facility management side. So I mean a lot of up sailing, a lot of work at height. So that’s really been the focus of the airport the last couple of months.

 

Richard: I was reading up a little bit on Hamad International Airport and I was just looking at you know the scale of it and just to let the audience appreciate sort of what you’re managing there. Some of the figures I’m not sure if you’re familiar with these figures. But I was reading there was about 40 million odd people in transit across a year in the airport.

Adel: That’s right yeah it’s something around that. I mean the whole scale of that the place is absolutely huge. I mean you’re talking about 600,000 meter squared off of property you know of area whether that’s obviously the land side to the air site and terminals, you know where the planes are. There’s quite a few sections to it and I mean the place is absolutely huge. So there’s a lot of areas to obviously manage.

Richard: Yeah I’m sure, I was reading there’s about two hundred and fifty thousand flights out of it every year as well and it’s a massive footfall and I’m sure you have your work cut out for you. It’s really…

 

Adel: Yeah a quite a lot.

Richard: Really good to have you on the show and I know you’ve contributed online in a number of articles that you’ve written recently and the one we’re on to talk about today is the importance of building a strong safety culture by hiring the right see if the officers onto your team. Before we get into that Adel, do you want to give the audience just a little quick bit about your own background and how you’ve built your career today.

Adel: I mean I really started off as an engineer quite probably more about what was that 17 years ago. So I’ve got an engineering background and then from then obviously I moved into health and safety. I was a pipeline engineer from there I obviously moved into the health and safety side. I was working in Health and Safety offshore here in the Middle East for quite a few years. I got into the training side of Health and Safety for quite a while with numerous companies and pretty much for the last year I’ve been in the facilities management industry. So I mean it’s a new industry for me. My background is oil and gas and construction. So it’s been an enjoyable change, a good change. Learned a lot of new things. I did want to obviously look into moving into the facility management industry and obviously this opportunity came by and I thought it was something I really needed to take and yeah enjoying it, learning quite a lot.

Richard: I think you might have jumped in at the deep end there maybe.

Adel: Yeah I did yes.

Richard: You definitely weren’t looking for a soft start with facility of that skill and that’s obviously interacting and that you have quite a varied background me.

Adel: I mean it started off when obviously when I was working in the oil and gas industry. I mean we used to a lot of turnarounds or shut down periods where the plant gets shut down and you know it was a situation where you get a lot of workers at the plant, you’d be hiring a lot of safety personnel as well to help support your operational teams and you know sometimes obviously those shutdowns would have somewhere around 4,000 employees. so you obviously needed a good strong health and safety team at the same time to support and it was obviously then when I started obviously coming across a lot of the health and safety officers or specialists or advisors for the various roles and it was pretty much then where I set a couple of rules normally for hiring of safety officers. I got them to do some practical assessments, I obviously have focused a lot on the Supervisory or the leadership side of things on their communication and that’s obviously one of the things I wrote about in my article as well. Where I highlighted some of the key areas where I started looking at when it came to hiring safety professionals.

Richard: I think it could be very valuable for people who are maybe non-safety orientated or maybe they work in HR and the recruitment side of things or someone you know who is a health and safety environment professional, who’s maybe hiring someone for the first time and it’s something new to them. This sort of insight could be good for them in terms of give them an idea of what they should be looking for.

 

Adel: That’s right yeah.

 

Richard: Yeah so moving on to that then we’ll take a little walk through some of the things you talked about. You mentioned strongly the importance of a person’s attitude towards the rule. Can you tell us a bit more about what that actually means to you?

 

Adel: I mean one of those things for me was I mean I always look for the candidate talks to be quite genuine when it comes to why they actually are in the health and safety business. The way I see it there’s a lot of people in the health and safety business for the wrong reasons and I always think the main reason that you are a health and safety professional is because you care about people and I always need to see that coming through. You’re in this business because you don’t want people to get hurt. You always want people to go home back to their families, back to their wives or their kids safely and that’s really the priority of why you become a safety professional. it’s always something that I try to look for when I look for candidates and it’s that coming through, are they showing that duty of care that I need to see. It’s more about why did you get into the safety business. Some of these question is questions like that. You know what I don’t want to hear is oh it’s that it makes a lot more money than working in the maintenance department or stuff like that. That’s not the answers I want to hear. I had a certain candidate once he struck me and he told me this very very nice story why he got into the safety business and he said he was an engineer before and that was his background and he happened to be the first aider when this incident actually happened. where somebody obviously I think had a degloving incident and lost a finger and he was the first aider there and you know obviously that was the first incident he ever actually dealt with and he saw how the person obviously, the affect that had on the person afterwards where he got to work and obviously he couldn’t use his hands for a certain period of time because of that and he was off for a certain period of time and then that basically kind of changed his mind into going into the safety field. Because he thought he could add stuff and he didn’t want to see incidents like that at work. So that for example stories like that kind of touch me, like yep this guy is obviously doing this for the right reasons and that’s the kind of thing I like to hear. You know something personal why got into that business. Another thing I generally look at as well is I like obviously safety professionals to have a holistic view of how health and safety should be managed. A big question I always asked is who you think is normally responsible for health and safety in this company. I like to hear them say everybody’s responsible for health and safety. I need them to understand that their job there is really coaching other people into making sure safety is integrated into their day-to-day job. That’s really an important thing for me to hear or how they would go about doing that. They’re comfortable coaching people, training people and trying to change the culture into getting everybody to be responsible for safety. The way that I see a lot of safety professionals, it’s a pendulum of two side’s right. One side you’ve got people who are more into the policing, the authorities side of things and then you’ve got the other side of the scale of people into behavioral change right and then your safety professionals are normally anywhere on that scale. They might have a more authoritarian type of view of things or more coaching people and behavioral change. Now I’m not saying one is better than the other. For different industries obviously different types of people are needed. But I mean for me I do always want to see that they lean towards changing behaviors within a company rather than I’m just going to be there and I’m going to tell people what to do. Because again having that whole behavioral change mindset actually adds value to the company long-term.

Richard: You have mentioned a point in your article about the knowledge of behaviors and that anyone that you’re hiring you would like to see them have certainly some understanding of that side of the spectrum even if they are maybe more authoritarian or more sort of inclined to that type of approach that there needs to be balance. Sticking with the theme of culture then obviously you’re speaking from Qatar in the Middle East and you know the challenges you have clearly you know there’s a lot of parallels between working in this field across different countries. but also there are a lot of differences and one of the things that you mentioned in your article was the cultural awareness side of things when it comes to the local area that you’re working in. Can you elaborate on that a bit and tell us your views and experiences on how that has effected your decision-making during the hiring process.

Adel: I mean there’s no secret culture plays a big role in health and safety generally whatever you are. That could be different types of culture right. I mean it could be an organizational culture, it could come from an organization which doesn’t really care about health and safety as much as your organization does. So you they come to your organization and they have to really catch up and learn quickly. Now the culture could be the different nationalities or the different backgrounds, the different religions that people come from . Over here in Qatar for example we get a lot of laborers and a lot of personnel who come from the Indian subcontinent. I mean a lot of them for example of, it’s the first time that they come to work on projects and it’s the first time they’re actually out of their country and they’ve never actually been exposed to health and safety regulations before. they don’t know what PPE is, why they need to be wearing PPE, why they need to follow safety precautions, why they need to basically have top rails and mid rails on a scaffolding. A lot of these concepts are quite alien to them. So I mean getting people for example from Europe going and working in the Middle East and seeing a lot of this, sometimes it comes across as very shocking. But I mean for me is kind of normal you know I kind of expect that a lot of times you get projects and you get personnel who just do not have that experience and it’s a lot about coaching and working with them and training them in quite a short period of time. To help them catch up and understand why the basic you know why you have the basic safety rules. Behavioral safety programs have actually helped quite a bit. Because it does touch on the whole cultural aspect of stuff. It does touch on why obviously you need to take safety as a priority, because obviously you want to go back to your families. We don’t want to see people get hurt and so on so on. That normally comes across quite strong to cultures who are not used to obviously the whole health and safety side of the business.

Richard: I think it’s very interesting and definitely useful for people to understand the complexities that can exist when you have such a cultural mix as you have in the Middle East and obviously to understand the challenges that can then present.

Adel: Quite a few challenges. I mean one of the examples those was probably around when between 2008 and 2010 I was working on a project with shell. Which is building the biggest gas to liquid plant in the world. That’s actually built in the north of Qatar in a place called Ross Lafon. Basically in the north tip of Qatar. I mean on that project during the construction phase or the peak of the construction phase we had about 65 different nationalities and I think we had about 55 different languages. That was crazy. well I mean what we did was, I mean they had developed a program and it was the first time that had been done in industry and I think it set the example for a lot of other projects or a lot of other plants within the region and Shell spend a lot of money to actually develop a training center where they said okay this is going to be very very difficult to handle this with the different languages. So what we’ll do is we’ll have groups of people within the same languages and then we’ll have a supervisor who can speak both English and the language of the work crew. So they could obviously speak both languages and then we’ll train, we’ll focus a lot on the supervisors to give the supervisors the basic leadership and competencies that they need to manage that team. So they can communicate with the management in English and obviously understand the permits and the pre tasks discussions and so on so on, but they could actually explain the steps of the job or look at the hazards of the job or teach their crew to look at hazards of the job in their own language. That was the area of focus to actually concentrate on developing the supervisors and I remember a lot of their basic training for the supervisory level was 11 days. So I mean they had to go through 11 days, full days of training where a lot of that was a trainer-trainer communication. You know a little bit on leadership. So I mean a lot of them were soft skills which had nothing to do with their job. But it was just the basic training to make sure that communication is there and they pay attention to the safety elements of their work and it worked very very well. I remember we had a team of about 20 trainers in different languages who are working pretty much full-time, sometimes 24 hours as well to obviously accommodate for all the people who are coming through and it worked very very well. I mean that project had an excellent safety record given all the challenges.

Richard: Fascinating to hear story such as that. I’ve heard similar stories of projects like that around the world and it definitely blows my mind to think about how that is all coordinated and it is definitely impressive for someone who would be looking for instance move into somewhere such as the Middle East to work and whenever you’re assessing their suitability for it, if they haven’t got the cultural awareness is it possible for them to be trimmed up by a company or would you be looking for specific milestones for them to have already reached before they even try to apply for a job?

Adel: If I’m actually looking to get people in the Middle East for certain projects, I mean I do actually have preference for people who have been working in the Middle East. Because they understand that whole culture, initial culture shock or culture barrier is kind of gone. So they do understand that and it does take a certain amount of time to understand that. Because I mean coming from the UK or coming from the Americas or anywhere like that for the first time, you’re not going to get it straight away and a lot of things are going to seem very strange to you. You do need to be engulfed in it for a certain amount of time to actually get it. So I do actually focus on people who have that background. Now I’m not saying that people can’t get used to it, yeah of course they can. I got used to it right. I mean a lot of other people from the UK, from Europe, from America are here and obviously get used to the culture. It depends however on the projects as well. I mean a lot of times if I’m hiring for a short term project, which is three or four months. I’d rather just focus on someone who’s local rather than get someone from the outside. However I mean again based on the expertise as well. If it’s more for a long-term thing I’m happy enough obviously to have someone, get them to go through the cultural aspects of where they’re working.

Richard: Okay I think that’s pretty clear. Once you do get someone sort of you’re lining someone up and you’re thinking they’re a good cultural fit and then you start looking into their ability to actually communicate well with the audience via training and so forth. You’re mentioning that you look for all-rounder’s and people who are not afraid to be able to deliver training to you know different audiences and different members of an organization. What are the key things you would look for in terms of someone being suitable trainer or someone who looks like they have the right credentials to deliver for you?

Adel: Yeah I mean it’s quite helpful. I mean I like to see good communicators. Especially with their supervisors. I mean safety officers advises themselves, you’re often obviously going to be training. They’ll be conducting a toolbox talk. You’re going to be supporting supervisors doing toolbox talks or pre task discussions or explaining JSA’s or method statements that kind of thing. So I do like them to have some basic good presentation skills. So I mean a lot of times when we are hiring HSE officers I always ask them to basically have a presentation prepared. So they’ll come and obviously do a 10 minute presentation of their own choosing on the excavation safety or working at height or confined space safety and you know their presentation skills and how they engage with an audience is actually assessed as well. Now it doesn’t mean they’re going to go into a classroom and they’re going to be teaching. however they did they are going to be doing again toolbox talks with the workers, with their work crew and that obviously is something that they need to have. So that whole training elements of it is something that I look at as well and I mean it doesn’t always have to be there. But it’s always an added bonus.

 

 

Richard: I think that’s a very important skill for people in the industry to ensure that they’re always developing that ability or depending on where you’re working you know you may not have to personally deliver that much training. But certainly as you move forward into other rules that may be a major part of it. Adel you moved on to talk about the importance of professional accreditations for applicants. Now this is nothing new of course and no matter where you look in the world generally you will expect to see a requirement for some form of professional membership or accreditation and when someone is applying for a health safety or environmental job. Having said that in the podcast previous to this with Carl Mannion I discussed the importance of accreditation in terms of businesses being able to identify competence. But to be honest there is quite a bit of mixed opinion on that in terms of the actual validity and I guess the importance of it. Can you tell us a little bit more about your thoughts around that and how you use it in the selection process?

Adel: I’m definitely quite big on that. I mean I do like to see obviously things like chartered members or tech members for the different positions that we’re looking in. again just like you said to go through those accreditations, all those associations you need to obviously go through a peer review and you go through a CPD process. I’m sure you’ve done the same Richard as well with IOSH as well. But I mean it’s not just IOSH there. There’s the CSP, the American ones, there’s Canadian ones. Again wherever you are you might have these certain associations that might be required for those certain countries. I mean in Dubai for example or the United Arab Emirates they’ve started their own now. They go the OSHAD. Which is a certification that you go through similar to our IOSH and all the similar ones in Singapore for example for safety officers. A lot of the guys from Nigeria as well. They have their own certifications when it comes to Nigeria working there locally. So a lot of these guys obviously have their own country certifications or obviously there’s a more recognized ones like the IOSH, the CSP or anytime obviously I need a background check I can always ask for your number and we can always contact someone there and I have them met a few times as well and they’ll give you a little bit off the background and you know what level you are.

Richard: Yes there’s always some accountability there for you to actually actively go and check the credibility or the genuinely of whatever level of the person’s claiming to be at. I suppose that provides some reassurance to an employer and in terms of qualifications more generally then Adel you had discussed earlier and I find it interesting because I’ve done something similar myself, moving from one industry to another. I’ve done that a couple of times and intentionally to broaden my experience within the HSE field. You were saying that just because someone doesn’t necessarily fit the specific sector experience is by no means a reason to discount them as being suitable for a role and I’m glad to see that. but going into that a little bit deeper then, how do you view people who are coming from one industry to another generally and you know if it’s obviously yourself you move from construction oil and gas and then into facilities management and if someone was going that direction or vice-versa, what is your sort of view of that and how does that impact your thought process when you’re looking at a CV or considering somebody for a position.

Adel: It does impact it a little bit. I mean you always want to have the best fit right. So I mean if you have someone who’s within the same area that you’re looking at within the same industry, you’re always going to give them the preference. I mean I think it goes without saying. But I mean there’s a few industries that you can probably put together. I mean if you for example if you’re mining oil and gas, energy construction you can pretty much put those together. I mean they’re very very similar hazards, very similar risks in those industries. Engineering industries for example, fabrications facility management, those are obviously very very close as well and then obviously on the other side you’ve got things like pharmaceuticals or biological type hazards and that kind of thing. Which are the nuclear side of things, which are a little bit different. So you know again there’s different categories. But some of them are very very similar. Some industries are very similar and it’s quite easier to move in between.

Richard: Well I think that’s important for employers if anyone’s listening and you know for employer’s to just to consider that a lot of these industries there are quite a lot of crossover in terms of the hazards that are being dealt with and you know those with the experience in construction certainly bring a lot of value to the table when moving into many other industries and the same goes for a lot of different sectors. So that’s good and as you since moving into facilities management would you say you’ve become more liberal to that idea or not?

 

Adel: I definitely have. I mean there’s a lot of things that I’m still learning. I mean this is the first time that I came across makes for example. So I’m starting to learn about like boom lifts and scissor lifts and things like that in oil and gas. You would never use those. You’d always build a scaffold to do what to do what you need to do. A very rare that you would use like spider lift or something like that on an offshore plant or even an onshore plant. So I mean the east of things obviously I’m becoming a little bit more used to. Things like up sailing for example. That’s quite big on the facility management side of things. But you hardly ever see it in oil and gas or construction. I mean this certain obviously jobs which are, some of them are quite high risk as well. Which obviously exists in some industries that are not very prevalent in other industries and I mean these are things that you need to know obviously learn about, you need to read up about. You need to consult with your peers and get some of their experiences on how to control these hazards. but I mean other than that facilities management still has confined spaces, still has a lot of your normal working at height, there’s a lot of excavation work. If you’re involved in the civil side there’s a lot of lockout tag out. There’s a lot of electrical work. So I mean these are things which are you know similar in different industries. But again there are some elements of it which are quite different.

 

Richard: When you’re in an industry for a long time, there is a risk that you become too familiar with the hazards and that you know your level of you know of working or competence you know may be at risk purely by the fact they’ve been doing the same thing for so long. whereas if you change tact and introduce some new learning to your experience, then it’s sort of invigorate you a bit and motivates you to investigate you know the ins and outs of new activities and new of working what’s I think from a personal perspective is a good thing in a lot of ways. So yeah I’m glad that you agree on that point and it’s encouraging for other people who maybe want a change of industry right there as well. Hopefully they can take some reassurance from that. just for people who you know were looking at this from the point of view of becoming employed or changing their rule or you know who are trying to progress in their career, you’ve had a pretty prevalent career through some very high-risk industries and some very high-profile industries and high-profile projects. Is there anything that you would do differently if you were to go back 10 or 15 years and you know look at the path you’re taken and you know is there anything that you can provide to the audience that might help them on their own journey?

 

Adel: I’d probably be a little bit more open to trying different things or looking into different industries or taking on a bit more challenges. I spent quite a lot of time in the training side of things. I thought that I was quite good at that. Then I kind of stayed out. I mean I had opportunities to go into more advisory roles and things like that. But I just you know decided to keep to my area of comfort. I mean it was just a little bit later on when I just became a bit more experienced and obviously I thought I had a bit more knowledge of other things and I decided to delve into other areas of health and safety. But I probably should have done that a little bit sooner and obviously a little bit earlier and challenge myself a little bit more. I think that would be my advice to anybody listening to always try and challenge yourself there. You’re never going to be an expert going into a, obviously going to the site for the first time. You’re always going to start consulting with your peers and understanding the site before you can actually give some credible advice to how things need to be done. so it’s not something that you need to worry about you’re never going to know everything when you go into a job for the first time and there is quite a bit of learning that you need to go through. There’s a lot of communication with people around you and that’s basically how you learn and that’s how you start contributing.

Richard: That’s a fantastic point and to finish on I think really for people to encourage them to put themselves out of their comfort zones and take on a new challenge and a lot of cases they have the skills and knowledge to move into a different area or on to a different project. I think a lot of people will take value from that statement itself. I think we can all learn a bit from that just in life in general I think at times.

Adel: Doesn’t have to just be before work.

Richard: No you can take a leap of faith now and again and you know the rewards are greater in the end. Look thanks again Arto for coming awesome and taking this call. It’s a bit later in Qatar than it is here in the UK. So I appreciate it.

Adel: Richard thanks very much for having me on.

 

Richard: No problem and hopefully we’ll hear from you again in the future and keep up the good work writing all your articles and fitting some useful information back into the industry. I’m sure people are going to agree a benefit from it.

Adel: Great thanks very much Richard.

 

Richard: Okay so that was Adel Lawson over in Qatar or Qatar depending on how you want to pronounce it. What you didn’t know was that that was actually the second recording of our call on this subject. So because of technical issues and the first session we recorded didn’t actually record Adels part of the conversation. So I just like to thank Adel again for being so patient with the whole podcasting process. You’re a gentleman and hopefully we’ll get you back on the show in the future. Very briefly I just want to summarize the key takeaways from that conversation. Number one was the importance of knowing about behavioral safety and human factors in the HSE profession and obviously Arto had touched on the point that having an authoritarian approach on its own is not sufficient in his eyes. So that’s an important takeaway. The second thing was specifically looking at the Middle East as an example. the importance of having a cultural awareness and appreciating the challenges around training and the spectrum of competence and awareness for health and safety and environment when you’re working in challenging projects and if you’re thinking of moving to a different country for example. So I thought that was really useful. The next thing then was he had identified the criticality of someone who was coming on this team being a good communicator. So essentially he was saying that they must have or be able to demonstrate good training experience and have the ability to communicate at different levels within an organization. So again very valuable. The next point was that accreditations matter. effectively Adel was saying that certainly in terms of the paper-based exercise of the hiring process that it’s really something that it’s quite critical in terms of actually defining or selecting, narrowing down candidates. so that’s something to bear in mind and I think regardless of what your opinion is on how important these accreditations are or how meaningful they are, they definitely add credence to your case if you’re applying for a job. I think it would be quite hard pushed to find an HSE position where this wasn’t part of the essential criteria. The next big takeaway was the importance of being aware that a lot of the skills that people have in the HSE space are transferable across different sectors. Although Adel had highlighted that certain sectors do marry up better than others. As he has demonstrated himself and as I know from my own experience, it’s very much possible to transition or laterally move across into a different sector within the HSE space. Many of the skills that we have are transferable across different sectors. Of course he did mention and he was honest about the fact that if someone has specific sector experience relevant to the job he was hiring for that they would certainly get preference. But this by no means should put you off from challenging yourself to move into a different area if you feel like it’s the right thing to do. That leads us very nicely into the last point that he made when he reflected on what he would change having looked back on his career today. He simply said that he should have taken himself out of his comfort zone much earlier than he actually did. So folks I think that’s a good point to end on. I love to know your thoughts on this conversation. Hopefully you got some value from it. Once again and sorry to keep going on about it. But please let us know what you’d like to hear on the next safety podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in, I really appreciate it and hopefully we’ll catch you again in the future. [Music]

 

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