Q Allianz is fundamentally an insurance business at heart. Has it been a culture clash for you?
A “No. I actually work for the Allianz Engineering Inspection Services. Within that is a department called Engineering Standards and I am a manager within that, which also has others who ensure that we are meeting the necessary regulations, and that we are operating in a safe manner. So I’m lucky that this structure is already there within AEIS, as we call it, and I’m here to improve and make things more efficient and effective as we move forward into what is becoming industry 4.0.
“We’re looking more now at the potential for artificial intelligence, doing inspections by drones, and virtual reality in a training context. For us, it’s all now moving toward big data. I guess you could say data is the new oil, but you need the vehicle to make it valuable, don’t you? For us, that’s a people mindset; we need to move towards this new approach and be willing to move into the future rather than constantly looking at the past.”
Q How much do you use data in engineer surveying?
A “We use it quite a lot. Obviously for each inspection, for each scheme of examination, we have a report, then we have a full system of auditing the quality of the report. We have a lot of data gathered from that and we can see whether we have any potential repetitive issues within those reports written by engineers, and then we can address them. We also analyse statistics around injuries and illnesses occurring on the daily work that the engineers do.”
Q Would you say that the discipline of health and safety is an engineering discipline?
A “In this particular company, absolutely. Each and every one of those engineer surveyors is a competent person; they understand the hazards that they are operating in and around, and they know the requirements from a legislative perspective as well. When they’re doing their particular roles, they’re looking for those hazards. They’re looking for mechanical failures, excessive wear, they’re looking for guarding, the possibility of entrapment, or noise or heat or vibration. They’re looking for malfunction of drive assemblies; the crane guys are looking at mechanical issues on critical load bearing components. It [health and safety] is built into them.”
Q You have written that you value ‘robust collaboration with leadership’. That must require a cool head at times. How do you prepare for situations of conflict?
A “One of my guiding principles, just a personal principle, is that I treat everyone how I would like to be treated, and that is with respect. If you can get into people’s mindset, then if you have a problem, you should be able to easily discuss that at a high level, and get them to understand the issue itself, what your thinking is about what needs to be done about it, and how they can help.
“And it’s all about being able to develop your empathy, your people management skills, to be able to talk to people on all those different levels, to get their buy‑in. In a meeting talking about product development or any design or a new process, I wouldn’t be afraid to raise my hand and say, ‘hang on a minute, I don’t think that works, I think we need to look at it in a different way’. I feel as if I am a collaborative person, so I understand people’s point of view from the work that they do and try and view it in their shoes, because we need to do that.”
Q Has working in quality assurance also led to conflict?
A “Over the period of my working life, I’ve seen things change quickly; the quality standard has gone from BS 5750 to ISO 9001. At one time, from a manufacturing point of view, you used to be able to manufacture a product that was consistently bad; that was one of the things they used to say.
As for quality standards now, ISO 9001 for example, they aren’t just about pure quality or pure health and safety; they are growing into a bigger role. So you’re now looking at H&S professionals needing to be able to focus and embed so much more into their professional capability. You’re looking at people who need to know who to consult about, for example, the uncertainty in the changes in the business landscape due to COVID. They need to be an agile enabler. I guess you would say you need to be able to adapt to focus on supporting all the changes which are now coming into our workplace.”
Q How is quality management relevant to engineering? Is there a standard of engineering surveying itself?
A “From the quality side, we have ISO/IEC 17020 and we maintain our quality management system against those requirements. We have the documented procedures and practices which enable the engineers and their workforce to do their job up to the latest standards. My role is to maintain those procedures, make sure that they are up to date, make sure that the engineers in the workforce have access to those procedures, and we currently do this digitally.”
Q In your experience, how well do the demands of quality line up with those of health and safety? I wonder if the production-oriented demands of quality conflict with the human-oriented demands of safety.
A “No, I think the two do come together. If I go back to my oil and gas days, we were manufacturing oilfield tools in sections that could weigh 3-500 pounds, big items of kit, and therefore health & safety came in; there’s no way you could do that with a two-person lift. You still need to apply lifting techniques using a crane or hoist, and therefore health & safety mixed in with regards to manufacturing, because you have to move the oilfield tool from one bench to another for testing, and you had to ensure people’s safety in that process, and you have to ensure that they have the quality parameters defined so that they could have a test procedure so the tool would be suitable for that application.”
Nash’s professional development has come from the ground up. She didn’t go to university, and her first job was hand-wiring integrated circuits on the shop floor of RACAL Microelectronic Systems Ltd. A year or so later, an opportunity came up to in the quality department next door, where she ‘began to learn her trade’, as she puts it. That led to a 13-year career at Smiths Industries Aerospace, measuring and testing production parts, ending up in a south coast company called Meggitt Avionics. The desire to find a job closer to home led her to accept a role as quality manager at a medical business distributing blood pressure monitoring equipment, implementing ISO 9001 and another medical standard, ISO 13485.
As luck would have it, GE Healthcare bought the company, and promoted her to a northern Europe quality manager role that saw her involved in sales, servicing and installation of hospital medical equipment. Asked to assist with emergency preparedness by the environment health and safety manager, she eventually took over from that person. She recalls: “I said yes without thinking too much about it, and only then realised that this was a big ask. But GE had a very good framework of health and safety, so I could implement that within the business, and that fed a huge insight into exactly what health and safety meant and what it required us to do. As part of that I developed and learned the skills and developed my training and qualifications through the NEBOSH programme and onwards and upwards.” She is now a chartered quality professional and a technical member of IOSH.
After seven years, Nash transferred across GE to raise standards at what was then a recent oil & gas acquisition, renamed to GE Downhole Technologies. “I spent about six years developing their health and safety system. It really took as much as that before people were offering their assistance towards health and safety and actively helping to develop our programmes,” Nash says. Further roles saw her carry on in oil & gas until the 2020 drop in the price of oil and the COVID situation forced thousands of lay-offs, including herself. Not afraid of a new challenge, she applied to Allianz.
Nash says: “I came from a different background entirely, but health and safety does run across a variety of industries. It doesn’t matter what it [the operation] is; it could be boiled sweets or sheet metal; health and safety principles still apply. Based on my lack of experience when I came into the business, I imagined the engineers to be working in a factory environment. But in fact these guys could be working in an abattoir; they could be working 20 floors up in a high-rise building in the middle of London; they could be working in a quarry on a massive bit of kit; they could be working on agricultural equipment.”
Q Some of the conditions faced offshore engineers when you were working in oil and gas could have been highly hazardous. Are the conditions less adverse for Allianz engineers?
A “It depends how you perceive that level of risk, doesn’t it, and the likelihood of that occurring to you? I would still say some of the activities that our engineers work in can be hazardous, and it isn’t necessarily the plant and equipment they’re working on. It could be members of the public, or indeed what the public is doing in that area. The engineer surveyors work a lot on lifts, and lift pits these days can often contain drug materials and, dare I say it, urine. There are other hazards that we need to factor in.”
Q There is a perception that health and safety rules are all red tape.
A “Yes, it’s that ‘elf and safety mob’ myth again. For me it’s all about common sense. There are times when you have to put your foot down and say, ‘we will wear a hard hat when doing this particular task’, whatever it is. And as long as you can be trusted and they understand you have the background and experience and what you’re saying is making sense to them, then I think people will comply. Again, I’m lucky in the sense that we already have that health and safety culture in Allianz, and that engineering surveyors are competent and aware of the need to protect themselves and others.”