Like the stick of seaside rock with Weymouth written through it, Teresa Budworth is NEBOSH through and through, so for many it came as a shock when she announced that she’ll be retiring this Autumn. Before her departure, she caught up with Health & Safety International magazine to reflect on her health and safety career, the safety industry’s evolution, her achievements, and her plans for the future.

For the past 12 years Teresa has led NEBOSH, in that time transforming the charity into the global brand in the field of health, safety and environmental qualifications that it is today. But long before her appointment as CEO, there’s been an almost serendipitous air to Teresa’s ties with NEBOSH.

Teresa said: “By a weird coincidence, the same month I started studying Health and Safety at Aston University was when the head of department, Richard Booth, founded NEBOSH. I still work with him because I also chair the RoSPA awards judging panel and Richard is one of the judges. I wrote to him to tell him I was retiring, because we’ve kept in touch after all these years, and I was embarrassed because he was saying how proud he is of me. It was really nice, but really embarrassing.

“People have been amazed that I’m leaving, saying to me: ‘If we cut you in half you’ve got NEBOSH written all the way through you!’ I can see what they’re saying – I’ve been involved with NEBOSH for much longer than I’ve worked for them.” She certainly has, having delivered and developed the first NEBOSH certificate course on behalf of RoSPA; working as a NEBOSH examiner since the December 1990 examination series; and developing the syllabus for them for an earlier iteration of the diploma.

With her father a union safety representative, and the Health and Safety at Work Act in its infancy, safety was on Teresa’s radar from a young age, meaning she came into the industry straight from school rather than like most people, as a second or third career.

She said: “Studying health and safety was really attractive as a degree, because it combined the study of things like engineering and mathematics, but also the psychology of why people behaved the way they did, as well as the legal framework and occupational health.

I had the privilege of studying safety as an academic subject, the programme was put together in the late 1970s and had all those aspects to it like psychology and organisational behaviour. When I actually went and practiced as a safety professional in the early 80s, however, there was much less emphasis on some of the topics that there is emphasis on today.

Safety was embryonic as a profession back in the early 1980s. We had a saying about some safety practitioners back then – “he’s a boots and goggles man” – meaning their view of safety was restricted to purely PPE, as opposed to where it is now, working with management to ensure that health and safety is factored into management decision making in the way that it is organised and set up. It’s still really important to understand why you should choose a particular form of PPE, but I think the profession has moved on a lot beyond that.

It’s notable that – as would be the case for most of us given the same circumstances – Teresa’s career was in part shaped by poignant reminders of our fleeting mortality. She was party to the impact of poor health and safety at a young age, when the father of children she used to babysit fell from a ladder and died. Teresa said: “Not only did that family lose their father, they lost their home as well because they could no longer pay the mortgage.

She continued: “I also lost my two closest friends in the last two and a half years, both had cancer and both women about my own age. And my mum was only 69 when she died, so you think to yourself: “Are you really going to work until your statutory retirement age?” If I left it as long as my mum I’d only have a couple of years left after that. When you start losing your friends that really brings it home to you.”

None of us going to live forever, but thanks to Teresa’s work with NEBOSH it’s safe to say that countless people will live a lot longer.

Teresa said: “When I joined NEBOSH my aim was to modernise: to give NEBOSH the infrastructure for growth, to expand our international reach, and to work with our course provider partners to develop our product range to meet customers’ needs. I believe we have achieved that.”

She continued: “One of the things I’m really proud of is that NEBOSH contributed to the INSHPO competence framework for health and safety professionals. We’ve been working for the last few years with a group of professional organisations in the field – from 14 countries – and have put forward a framework of what people in health and safety need to be able to do at different levels. I really think that covers the whole range of things you can be involved in and should be aware of as a safety professional.”

She added: “Growing NEBOSH five-fold and achieving that commercial success is important because it helps us to meet our charitable aims, but what’s most important to me, as a career health and safety professional, is that we have enabled more people around the world to achieve safe and healthy working conditions.”

Teresa plans to focus on her non-executive roles, including as Chair of the Chief Fire Officers’ Association and to finish her second book on professional skills for the safety practitioner.