Women In Construction UK Magazine asked Principal Designer and CDM Adviser for C2 Safety, about her personal experience within the industry, and whether her past in the army has had any influence on her career today.
I have never actively worked towards a career in construction but in 2019 I find myself as a Director of a Health and Safety business acting as Principal Designer and CDM Adviser. I have a degree in Rural Estate Management and served as a commissioned officer in the British Army for 13 years working in HR, Finance and Policy and deploying on several operational tours. I was medically discharged following a training incident which led to my left leg being amputated above the knee.
Transition from the military into construction is a well-trodden path and retraining into Health and Safety is equally common. I had no intention of doing either when I left! The Army teaches you a formalised method of problem solving and decision making so you can develop your orders; a process which transfers seamlessly into both construction and Health and Safety. The planning process we use for a platoon attack remains the same it is just the context (and enemy) that differs!
I don’t strive to break glass ceilings (too many H&S implications) or to make appoint about women in construction. Architects want to design, builders want to build and I enjoy interpreting regulations and making it as straightforward for CDM duty holders to run safe and legal sites. I am genuinely surprised to find myself in construction and I find it to be a diverse and engaging environment in which to work with familiar hints of the camaraderie and banter of the military.
When I walk on site I get very predictable reactions; firstly people assume I am HSE (apparently this is because I am a women in a high viz vest carrying a notebook). Secondly they notice my walking, “hurt your leg luv?” is a common opening question; when I tell them I only have one leg they will immediately introduce me to the chap on site called “Stumpy” because he lost a finger to a chop saw “when he was a lad”. My standard response to this is “Oh dear, I know how you feel..” and move on (quickly). If they ask how it happened I simply say I had an industrial accident and suddenly they all sit up and pay attention to what I have to say.
Perhaps more the issue with this anecdote is I am often referred to as “luv” but I have no issue with it at all. I simply provide the advice, based on my knowledge and experience, that I have been contracted for and also my quick retorts. Construction may still be considered an unusual choice for women but the sheer diversity of trades means you can easily enjoy a career whilst not actually having to carry the hod – after all we aren’t all built the same.