Ricky Fairbank started his career in the construction industry 23 years' ago at just 16-years old. Over the years, Ricky worked hard on projects for big name brands and found himself involved in the safety management controls as part of his role, which led him into his career in health and safety more than a decade ago. 

After landing on his feet in the housebuilding sector in 2015, Ricky joined Avant Homes as the divisional health & safety and environmental manager. 

We chatted with Ricky to find out all about his Group role, what he finds the most rewarding and what advice he would give to anyone looking to launch a career in his field. 

1.    Tell us what a typical working day looks like

No two days are ever the same. My role has many tasks that are in constant demand from various departments within the business, so one day could consist of pre-qualifying a new contractor, reviewing policies and procedures, accident investigations and conducting workplace inspections. 

I currently oversee 16 developments in the Yorkshire region from a health and safety perspective, which I visit monthly to providing advice and guidance to the site teams while also conducting workplace inspections and subcontract meetings. 

The nature of my role is that different tasks are introduced daily, making every day different, which is why I enjoy it so much. 

2.    Describe your role as divisional health & safety and environmental manager

My role at Avant Homes is to ensure all areas of the business in the Yorkshire region are compliant with the Health & Safety at Work Act. 

As a housebuilder, Avant Homes has a robust set of policies and procedures and it is my role to support the site teams across the business to ensure these are adhered to.

It is also important in my role to develop close relationships with members of the senior management team and heads of departments for the region, to keep them informed of what's happening out on the developments and advising them on appropriate action when and where required during the planning and construction phases. 

We have a small team of five safety managers working across Scotland, North East, Yorkshire, Central and Midlands and have found it very useful to be in daily communication with each other to discuss key themes that are happening around the business as well as providing additional support and guidance when needed. 

3.    What is the most rewarding thing about being a health & safety and environmental manager?

There are many rewarding things about my role at Avant Homes. In particular, it would have to be being a part of the Construction Academy for new starters. Part of this academy is a specific health and safety induction which involves taking individuals through a classroom-based tutorial followed by a visit to a development to train them on the management system. 

We consider ourselves an industry leader when it comes to our health and safety controls, so it's refreshing to show our new starters our intention and commitment to health and safety during the academy process. 

I enjoy spending additional time with each candidate to ensure they don't become overwhelmed by the tasks while also building a working relationship where they can lean on me for assistance whenever required. 

Seeing these individuals, a year down the line when they're forgotten the days in the academy yet have implemented the policy and procedure without a second thought is really rewarding. Giving people these tools and knowledge to achieve compliance is the key to the role. 

Another rewarding part of my role is seeing a project go from start to finish. The product at Avant Homes is brilliant and seeing it completed gives me a feeling of pride. Even though I didn't physically build the product, I've helped ensure that the incident rate stays at zero and everyone returns home safely. 

4.    Describe the most challenging part of your job as divisional health & safety and environmental manager

Most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging for everyone in the industry, including myself and my role. 

The safety team for Avant Homes continually worked throughout the pandemic to ensure everyone could return to site and also return home safely at the end of the working day. 

We introduced a Safe Operating Procedure in line with the Construction Leadership Council and re-opened our developments with a series of controls in place to comply with the latest government guidance. Following the introduction of this procedure, we have evolved this on several occasions over the past year to comply with the changes implemented by the leadership council. 

Speaking openly, the pandemic took its toll and in 2020, I took part in a Mental Health First Aider course which has helped me through a variety of situations throughout the pandemic, both personally and professionally. Therefore, I can now not only offer guidance and advice on health and safety, but I can also ensure that my door is always open for any of my colleagues who need assistance with mental health. 

5.    What has been your biggest success as divisional health and safety and environmental manager? 

Nobody comes to work to get injured so at the end of the day it's the most important thing to get people home safely to their families. 

The biggest success is that the safety team at Avant Homes are always a part of the solution, as we offer our services to drive all highlighted issues towards a resolution. I feel this hands-on approach is something that really helps build relationships with the whole business, their individual departmental teams, and the subcontractor workforce, while also making it a better place to come to work. 

6.    Tell us what you enjoy the most about working for Avant Homes

At Avant Homes there is an open-door policy and everyone has a voice, so it's great to be encouraged to speak up and be able to build good relationships with everyone in the business with this approach. And, for my role in particular, I enjoy that I have the opportunity to deal with every department, sometimes on a daily basis. 

Also, seeing the projects go from the planning stage when we are discussing the site around the table to a completed development with fully-occupied homes. It's very rewarding to see the completed development and happy families enjoying the Avant product. 

7.    What has been your biggest lesson working in health and safety?

It's very important in my role to keep personal relationships as professional as possible in the workplace. 

As a safety manager, I will observe things that aren't compliant in different situations, many of which that can be resolved on site. However, it's my responsibility to fulfil my duty as a safety manager by raising areas of concern to the operating business and highlighting individual employees should they require assistance. 

I'm fortunate in the Yorkshire region that we have some fantastic award-winning site teams with significant experience who set the standard very high for Avant Homes and lead by example. 

8.    Tell us what inspires you about working for Avant Homes

The drive of everyone in achieving the same goal. I really believe that Avant Homes is an industry leader when it comes to health and safety, from the compound set up to the finished product.

It's exciting to see everyone so energised about the expansion of the business and their focus on the future. 

9.    What advice would you give people looking to work in the housebuilding or health and safety industry? 

Make sure health and safety or working in the housebuilding industry is something you want to do and go for it!

I spent much of my early career in construction roles, which I didn't enjoy. I never felt that I fully fulfilled my potential, however if I hadn't had those experiences in construction, I wouldn't be the safety manager that I am today, so I do feel thankful for those opportunities. 

Anyone wishing to get involved in safety needs to ensure they know which area they wish to be involved in, but I strongly believe that the individual needs to have the knowledge of the task and all the technical aspects to be the best safety professional they can be. 

It's hard work in this industry, but the rewards are great. We are beginning to see a shortage of tradesmen in the industry, and I believe youngsters should be educated on different occupations and what their futures lives could be like, especially if they embraced something like the housebuilding industry. 

by Avant Homes - 05 Nov 21