Mark Bird is health and safety manager for childcare provider Childbase Partnership. He oversees health and safety at the company’s 44 nationwide nurseries and Newport Pagnell head office.
‘There’s an image of health and safety as something obstructive. But I’m keen to see it as enabling, particularly in the early years sector, where it’s important for children to take risks safely.
‘I’ve always worked in the profession, following my parents’ footsteps. After training, I worked in the construction industry, a charity, and moved to Childbase after a friend, now my colleague, told me about an opening.
‘People are often surprised when I say I work within nurseries. They ask, “How dangerous can it be?” But although the settings are low-risk environments, children are a high-risk group. When a fire alarm sounds in an office, adults can walk out. But in nurseries the babies can’t walk and pre-schoolers don’t appreciate what the alarm means.
‘The role is more varied than people imagine. I keep normal office hours, but twice a week I’m out visiting one of our sites. This could be to conduct an audit, investigate an accident, or support a building project.
‘My one team member and I audit each nursery at least annually. I write all Childbase’s policies and procedures. It includes looking at Early Years Foundation Stage requirements; for example, if practitioners are signing-in medication for children correctly.
‘We have to straddle health and safety legislation determined by the Health and Safety Executive as well as that of Ofsted. The two do not always align. For example, we handle when and how you report a child fracturing a bone differently for both. Managing that balance is sometimes challenging.
‘After each audit visit I write a detailed report for Childbase’s operations board. On average I write more than one report a month on audits, accident reporting, procurement, crisis plans or environmental matters. If we detect any issues at a setting, I return to re-inspect.
‘Named health and safety officers, who are childcare professionals, are responsible for day-to-day health and safety at the individual nurseries. I stay in touch with them through the health and safety committee, which meets about once a quarter. They can also contact me any time with questions.
‘The typical queries I get are: Can I use this type of shampoo for messy play? Can we take the children to the zoo on public transport? I also receive more complex questions; for example, about children with unique medical requirements. With such situations, I meet the parents and design a healthcare plan.
‘My role also covers procurement for services and products, from waste contractors to nappy suppliers. If you’re poorly resourcing your equipment, you might be putting your business at risk. Business risk policies also sit within my remit – such as the current proposals for 30 hours of government-funded childcare. As do environmental policies – I’m currently writing the partnership’s environment strategy.
‘Training is probably the most important element of health and safety. I design and deliver training for all our staff. Childbase is in the process of registering its head office with the British Safety Council, which means our training will become professionally accredited and externally verified.
‘You need to have good financial skills in this job. I manage the organisation’s many insurance policies. I’ve reduced our premiums because our safety systems are strong. I also spend much time analysing spreadsheets.
‘Finally, food health and safety falls within my brief. I’m on the team that develops new menus and have implemented hazard and critical awareness policies in our kitchens. All 44 nurseries have five-star environmental health ratings.’
2012-current: Healthand safety manager, Childbase Partnership
2010-2012: Health and safety officer, Stroke Association
2009-2010: Assistant site manager, SDC Builders
2008-2009: Temporary assistant site security supervisor, Northampton College
2007-2009: Asbestos consultant, Ensafe Consultants
2005-2007: Technical clerk, Northampton Borough Council
2009: IOSH Fire Risk Assessment Principles and Practice
2009: National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) Construction Certificate
2007: NEBOSH General Certificate
2007: IOSH Managing Safely Certificate
It is possible to train as a health and safety professional while working, though a NEBOSH National General Certificate, which meets EYFS requirements, is in reality a minimum qualification. The type of training will depend on your employer’s requirements. Basic training is available at Level 3. To work as a full-time health and safety professional, an employer may require you complete a higher-level qualification approved by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) such as the NEBOSH Diploma (level 6).