Women tackle industrial safety

By Wendy Cramer
Friday, 13 October, 2006

Three of the four Health and Safety Representative of the Year finalists in this year's WorkSafe Victoria Awards agree that while men still far outweigh women when it comes to health and safety in industrial settings, the gap is narrowing.

These three finalists are all women, and are evidence of a growing trend towards females successfully taking on leadership roles in manufacturing and construction safety.

Julie-Ann Morgan has worked as a forklift operator at Murray Goulburn Cooperative for 27 years, moving into her HSR role 12 months ago. She told Safety Solutions that 25% of the OHS committee at the Cobram cheese manufacturing facility is female.

"I do feel that throughout the manufacturing industry there is a steady but slow increase in the number of women becoming involved in OHS issues. Women tend to approach OHS in a very compassionate way, taking into consideration what effects a workplace injury might have on a victim's life at home as well as at work.

"Women often tackle issues in a quiet fashion, but are no less persistent than their male counterparts in following these issues through to achieve a favourable result," she said.

And one such issue is the major project Morgan instigated this year that saw the replacement of seats in all of the company's forklifts to improve their suspension and therefore reduce the risk of back injuries for drivers.

"Having worked in warehousing, forklift safety has always been of particular relevance to me. As it is such a 'high-risk' area of the workplace, everyone needs to be educated about the dangers and correct techniques involved in working around or near forklifts," she said.

Fellow finalist Kylie Clayton fell into both manufacturing and health and safety by chance, but has since developed a passion for ensuring the safety of her fellow workers.

"I disagreed with how our crew had 'elected' the member that was to be our HSR. I was subsequently nominated as I had spoken up about the issue. Elections were held and the rest is history."

Clayton has been an HSR at Alcoa's Geelong plant since 2001 and is now pursuing a career as a safety professional. By this time next year, she hopes to have finished her Post Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management.

She told Safety Solutions that while things are changing slowly, she is one of just two women in a class of 20 students, even though she believes women bring their unique multi-tasking capabilities to the position.

When it comes to the safety of her fellow workers, she is most passionate about the sharing of ideas and solutions. "There are many aspects of our operations where health and safety issues are of concern, but for some reason not all departments take this on board and run with it as vigorously as others," she said.

"I'd also like to never again hear the phrase 'nothing ever changes around here!'."

WorkSafe Victoria has suggested that women find success in health and safety positions through the development of their communication and negotiation skills to ensure that colleagues and management respond accordingly to OHS requests.

Using these skills to achieve positive outcomes has helped these particular women to overcome some of the challenges they face in their industries.

And many of their peers in fact commend them for their efforts and recognise that their enthusiasm for improving workplace safety has seen them tackle serious OHS issues.

Brodene Wardley is another HSR finalist who is currently undertaking OHS studies to further develop her skills.

One of her colleagues at the Roche Mining facility says that he, and other women in similar position, have the tough task of dealing with workplace safety in male-dominated industries.

"Being one of only a few women on the construction site, and the only female in an OHS role, has created its own challenges besides the daily OHS issues that Brodene has to deal with," he said.

"Brodene is an inspiration to not only other women in the industry, but all OHS reps who aspire to do the job well."

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