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From the Royal Air Force to Health and Safety Manager - Phillip Cottam shares his powerful story.

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9 months ago

by Heathgate Search

From the Royal Air Force to Health and Safety Manager - Phillip Cottam shares his powerful story.

From the Royal Air Force to Health and Safety Manager. In an exclusive interview with Heathgate Search, Phillip Cottam shares his story on how he transitioned from the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) to an accomplished Health and Safety professional.

1. How did you first become interested in the Health and Safety field?

I worked within the training cell of my squadron as I was on an 18-month rehabilitation programme within the military. My primary role was to manage the training needs of the operational squadron, focusing on the training needs and gap analysis for each member of the regiment to develop individual training plans. Having received formal notification that I was being medically discharged, I took my NEBOSH General & Construction certificate. Following the successful result of my exams, I began working with the Training Officer in developing risk assessments for the deployment of the Squadron to Afghanistan. This opened the doorway to the world of Health and Safety.  

2. What has been your career path in the industry so far?

I was granted leave by the military in December 2012 to complete a two-week work experience within a large Facilities Management company. Following a successful couple of weeks, in April 2013 I wrote to the QSHE Director, who gave me the work experience opportunity, and asked if I could place him as a reference. He said ‘’I can do better than that and give you a job’’. I was mentored, trained, exposed to various challenging work/ client environments, and pushed academically to become a better version of myself. The opportunities were made available to me and I began climbing the ladder within the Health and Safety industry.   

3. What are your current responsibilities in your role as an industry leader?

During my time in the facilities management industry, I was blessed with a fantastic regional QSHE team following the restructuring of the Support Functions across the UK operations. Knowing that my team was well trained, allowed me to engage with my senior leadership team during a new and challenging time and help drive positive change, ensuring that the new structure worked not only for the internal teams but our stakeholders across a wide and varied multi-disciplined sector. 

4. What do you consider to be the most important aspects of Health and Safety in the workplace?

Within the military, there’s a saying that is well known across the tri-service, ‘’no comms, no bombs’’ indicating that communication within the military is vitally important. Well, this is no different in the Health and Safety industry. Striving to maintain a strong positive culture, the communication of continual improvements, lessons learnt, or meeting the needs of our customers is paramount. The way that these expectations are communicated and coached is a fundamental way to achieving the companies’ objectives.     

5. How do you stay up-to-date on the latest developments and best practices in the industry?

I receive various legislation updates through multiple forms of social media, memberships, and industry specialists through the IOSH regional forums. The past decade within the Health and Safety industry, I have built up a very diverse and knowledgeable network that I can lean on in unique circumstances. 

6. Can you share any notable successes or challenges you've encountered in your career?

The British Safety Council Sword of Honour award celebrates and rewards organisations that have reached the pinnacle of health, safety management systems. Organisations from around the world who have achieved the top grade in their Five Star Audit are invited to apply. I am proud to say that I have been part of a small team to achieve two of these. 

7. How do you see the future of Health and Safety evolving in the coming years, and how do you plan to stay ahead of the curve?

Staying ahead of the curve for me is reviewing known risks within the business including an in-depth assessment of their controls. Understanding how to identify the types of incidents that could result in the most serious outcomes is critical, by reviewing these and what it takes to manage this risk is key. A systematic ongoing approach to the identification of known risks is critical for every business. Technology, training etc are always evolving and so should our risk reviews. 

8. Anything else you wish to add?

One of my roles in military operations was the Medical Emergency Response Team, known as MERT. The MERT team provided critical treatment to casualties, flying to collect the wounded from point of injury. This role was high intensity and often flying into unknown environments, where assessing risk in constantly evolving situations was the ‘’norm’’. 

Risk is something that I began to respect, and naturally steered me into a career in Health and Safety. An industry that I think all service men and women should at least consider when moving away from the military. Something that employers looking to develop a new pool of health and safety talent should also consider. Very similar to what I had and the start of my journey. 

9. Would you recommend Heathgate Search?

Yes, very engaging and always looking to keep the Health and Safety industry moving forward.

Heathgate Search is the leading Health and Safety Recruitment Agency in the UK & Ireland. Follow Heathgate Search on Linkedin and check out our jobs page on for our latest opportunities.

If you are an employer and you need specialist recruitment support, please call 0207 459 4073 or email

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