Tell us a bit about your background…
My Name is Balvinder Bharj, I am 58 years old and have lived and studied in Swindon, Wiltshire, for much of my life. I worked for St Ivel Unigate for 18 years in various quality assurance, food safety, health and safety, risk management, environment and sustainability positions. I was made redundant in December 2002 and moved to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in January 2003 working for the Almarai Company and am still employed by them to date.
What inspired you to undertake the MSc Safety and Risk Management programme?
I discovered in 2000 having volunteered as a health and safety representative for my previous employer that I had a genuine passion and desire to further develop my competencies within the field of health and safety. I have completed IOSH managing safety, NEBOSH IGC passed with distinction, NVQ Level 5 CandG occupational health and safety practices, NVQ Level 6 CandG occupational health and safety practices, MSc Safety and Risk Management from Strathclyde University and now studying Level 7 CandG ProQual in occupational health and safety leadership. Since completing the MSc this has most definitely opened several opportunities for me and made me more marketable.
How did you find balancing the commitments of work with those of the programme?
Balancing work commitment and studying for the MSc in Safety and Risk Management was challenging but I would say planning and organisation of tasks and activities was the key to success. My employer was very considerate, and we worked in collaboration with them as this was seen as a win win situation for both me and the Almarai Company.
What advice would you give to someone considering studying Safety and Risk Management at Strathclyde?
The advice I would give to anyone considering studying for a MSc in Safety and Risk Management is that you must be prepared and acknowledge that this course is academically very challenging but it will give students an excellent insight into the fundamental principles of safety and risk management, whilst allowing them to apply learned principles to their workplace. It is never too late to study, I started this MSc at 53, it’s the best thing I ever did, it propelled my career and significantly enhanced my competencies and recognition as a Professional Health and Safety Practitioner.
How did you find the support available to you at the University?
I found the support of all my assigned Tutors extremely professional during my postgraduate diploma and final MSc years. They were supportive and forthcoming with constructive feedback in order for me to continually improve my competencies and performance.
What have you been doing since graduating the programme?
I work for the Almarai Company based in Riyadh, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the largest integrated dairy company in the world and the biggest food and beverage manufacturer in the Middle East as Divisional Quality, Safety, Health and Environment Manager. 2 years after I completed my MSc Safety and Risk Management from Strathclyde University, an opportunity came up for Corporate Head of Health Safety and Security for Almarai and its subsidiaries, I applied for the job and was successfully selected. I sincerely believe that studying for this MSc significantly raised my competencies, recognition and acknowledgement by the company as being a Professional Health and Safety Practitioner.
What learnings have you taken with you, from the programme into your role?
The learnings taken from studying the MSc have contributed to my continuous professional development (CPD), I have enhanced my competency consisting of skills, knowledge, ability, training and education making me a more attractive and marketable professional. I have also gained significant respect and recognition from my organisation, work colleagues, friends and family.
Since completing the programme, have you taken on any further training?
I have enrolled on the level 7 NVQ qualification with ProQual UK to study occupational health and safety Leadership practices, this qualification can be completed within 12-24 months. I am a great believer that we should never stop studying. There is so much to learn!
What is the best part of your job?
I am a Transformation Health and Safety Leader, who is proactive, creative and innovative, the best part of my role is developing others competencies within the disciplines of health safety and risk management across all levels, functions and facets.
What are your ambitions for the future?
My ambition for the future is to transition from Chartered IOSH Membership to Fellow Membership and continue carrying out voluntary consultation for small and medium sized organizations who do not have the health safety and risk management competencies within their organizations.
Any final points, or words of wisdom?
My advice to future students or those that are already employed within the industry – never let anyone tell you it’s too late to study or change careers, you are in control of your destiny and can achieve whatever you want with commitment, dedication, and perseverance. A very senior health and safety leader told me not to do my MSc in Safety and Risk management as I was too old at 53, but I was determined to prove them wrong, and I did.
This course has unquestionably made me significantly more marketable, coupled with my 37-year work experience allowing me to pursue a Senior Executive role as Head of Health, Safety and Security.