Q & A with our Safety Manager Tina Ambler

Growing Our People – Q & A with Tilhill Forestry Safety Manager Tina Ambler.

Tina Ambler has many years experience as a Safety Professional and always strives for improvement, here Tina discusses her role at Tilhill Forestry:

What made you decide to choose safety as your career and how long have you been working in this environment?

I chose to retrain as a Safety Professional following a happy and varied career in the hospitality industry.  Whilst working in hospitality I witnessed a few occasions where employees and others had been involved in incidents which could have been prevented.  I then took the opportunity to enrol on a BSc degree studying Occupational H&S as a mature student.  

I really enjoy identifying ways to make improvements in the workplace and the role of Safety Professional allows me to achieve this.  As well as this, the nature of the work means that I’m constantly adapting to working with different people in different environments.  I have been working as a Safety Professional now for 22 years and was awarded Chartered Safety Practitioner status in 2005.  There are so many developments in safety issues and regulations that even after several years in the same job my day-to-day work remains diverse and interesting.

How long have you worked for Tilhill Forestry?

I have worked for Tilhill Forestry for 6 years and there has never been a dull moment.

Why did you choose Tilhill Forestry as an employer? 

My career as a Safety Practitioner before I joined Tilhill Forestry had been spent in the construction industry and I was looking for a change of environment from construction sites in towns and cities.  I enjoy the outdoors and country pursuits and thought that working for Tilhill Forestry would give me the opportunity to develop my knowledge of ecology as well as spending more time in the field/forests.

How do you plan your work each week?

The planning of my working week depends on several different factors.  I must balance administration/office work with visiting sites, supporting the managers and contractors.  What I try to do is tie the visits and meetings together for the District Offices by contacting the individual managers to find out what site operations are being undertaken and base myself in the area for a couple of days.  However, if an incident occurs then my plans can change in the blink of an eye and I may need to rearrange.

In your role, you must have to expect the unexpected. What impact does an incident have on your workload?

When I receive one of the calls that every Safety Practitioner dreads “There’s been an accident” then I must make a decision, depending on the severity of the incident as to whether to head out immediately or just to give advice and support over the phone.

Do the changing seasons impact your job role?

The changing seasons bring with them a variety of worksite operations on the Forest Management side of the business with their individual hazards e.g. use of pesticides, planting squads, ground preparation, remote locations, slips, trips and falls.  The other side of the business is felling of the trees/harvesting operations, which continue through all the seasons.  As with all operations the weather has a huge influence on assessing the work methods.

How much of your job revolves around training both for yourself in order to maintain industry and company standards and training others in order that they carry out their roles safely?

There isn’t a day goes by without learning something new or coming across a piece of machinery or method of work that I am not familiar with.  Having a good network of experts and industry colleagues is very important when I am looking for information and guidance.  Delivering in-house courses together with individual training and guidance to both employees and contractors is another aspect of the role.

What area of the country does your role cover and what variety of locations do you visit?

I used to cover the North of England and Scotland, however, due to a restructure I now cover from Central and Southern Scotland, North of England and down the East Coast of England.

The locations vary from the commercial pine forests, broadleaf woodlands, new planting schemes and country parks to landscaping projects such as highways and motorway upgrades.

Would you encourage people to choose safety as a career path?

Yes and No.  It isn’t just for anyone. The person needs to have the passion and understanding to go into Safety as a career.  It can give you an immense personal satisfaction due to the variety of opportunities that exist.  

The career offers vast concentrations of knowledge and is perfect for an individual who does not like a routine schedule. If you want to work in one location, travel, be in an office, or stay in the field, they can do so. You can work indoors or outdoors in such a variety of settings. Very few occupations give you this many options.

When you finish your career and look back, you can truly say you’ve made a difference. You will have increased the quality of lives of others and helped workers get to the end of the day safely.

“The aim of any Safety Professional is to have truly made a positive impact on society.”

What is the most significant challenge you have faced at Tilhill Forestry?

Heading up an investigation into a fatality on a worksite.  The challenge was to not become emotionally involved, undertake the investigation in a professional manner and support the managers and contractors. Interviewing the managers and contractors, listening to them recall the event was particularly challenging.  However, it made me realise why I chose to be a Safety Practitioner and continue to stand up and make a difference to ensure that it does not happen again.

What makes Tilhill Forestry a good employer?

Safety should come first and foremost, otherwise you cannot have a successful company. Tilhill Forestry has this approach and demonstrates it with a top down approach to Safety.  There is a friendly and open culture, and everybody goes about their work in a professional manner.

Do you think that safety within the forest industry has improved over the years?

I have seen an improvement in the time I have spent in the industry, although as an industry we continue to report fatalities and serious injuries.  The introduction of the Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA) has contributed to the improvements with the aim of the industry coming together as one voice.

What changes/improvements do you think still need to be made to the safety culture within the forest industry?

As an industry we are losing the experienced and competent operators for a variety of reasons including an aging workforce, mechanisation and accidents.  The terrain being worked is getting steeper and more remote.  Forestry workers in general believe that it is “dangerous work” and just get on with it because they need to earn a crust and we’ve always done it this way. 

Here are Tina’s top suggestions of changes/improvements to the industry:

  • Chainsaw operators recognised and respected for their skills and expertise.
  • Sponsored apprenticeships.
  • Sharing of best practice.
  • Safety Health and Awareness Days.
  • Promote a culture of looking out for each other.