A day in the life: Gary Morton

Covid-19 has dominated the work of the health and safety lead for two years – luckily, risk doesn’t faze him

How long have you been in your job?

Sixteen years this October.

What are you working on at the moment, and how does a typical day look?

I’m mainly working on business continuity/risk and Covid-related issues including the university’s outbreak response plan, Test & Trace, vaccination coordination, supplies of PPE, etc.

The last couple of years, with Covid, have been incredibly busy – there’s been so much uncertainty and lots of twists and turns as government and sector guidance developed in response to changes brought about by the virus.

What is it about the job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

The feeling that what I do is appreciated, and that I am helping to protect our university community while we deliver the best experience for our students, colleagues and researchers.

How did you get into your career?

I worked in high-risk industries from leaving school, for example construction, shipyards, highways and manufacturing. So I always had a good awareness of risk and an appreciation for safety. After being made redundant for the third time in my career (I was working in construction at the time) I decided to retrain and look for a more secure line of work, and given my interest in safety I enrolled on the NEBOSH General Certificate at my local college.

What is the first thing you do when you get to the office?

Check in with colleagues and make a coffee while my computer logs on.

Who are the two people you speak to most in a day?

The registrar and risk-management adviser.

I have had to upskill my understanding of respiratory disease and controls in order that I can respond to hundreds of questions!

What is the best thing about your job?

Variety – every day is different and brings with it a new set of challenges.

And the hardest?

Striking the balance between strategic and reactive operational work. I can be in deep thought developing a new policy or process and then receive a call, a request for information or support and that time can be completely taken over.

Has the pandemic changed your job? If so, how?

Yes, hugely. Whilst a pandemic was always a possibility, we never anticipated it would run on for so long and result in so many unheard-of controls, like national lockdown.

I have had to upskill my understanding of respiratory disease and controls in order that I can respond to hundreds of questions, requests for advice, information and guidance. I have spent the vast majority of my time over the last two years dealing with Covid-related issues.

How will your job change in the future?

I will be shifting my focus from day-to-day health and safety management to more emergency preparedness and business continuity.

Your number one most vital prop/tool/piece of equipment?

Probably my smartphone (or travel mug!). I couldn’t survive without either.

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

Maybe an artist. I always loved art when I was younger but never really had the opportunity or time to develop the skills, so maybe it’s something I’ll do in retirement.

What is your best memory of your time in this role?

Mentoring several colleagues and students that had decided they wanted to work in health, safety and business continuity. I am very proud that every one of them has successfully passed their qualifications and are now employed as professionals in the field.

Gary Morton is the health, safety and business continuity manager at Newcastle University.

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