BLOG: Gender is irrelevant - particularly when it comes to health and safety | Wates

Chloe Biddle is one of the women that make up just 14% of the construction industry. Its a figure that is growing, with 37% of those joining the sector from Higher Education being female. But to Chloe, gender is irrelevant when it comes to the far more critical significance of her job.

Safety is by far the most crucial part of the construction industry and wholly inherent in everything we do and we say. Of course, so it should be. There is nothing more important than a persons health, in a personal or professional context.

There is a huge amount of work that goes into protecting the safety and health of construction site workers and the general public with whom they interface. At Wates, it is our number one priority and we have a number of rigorous processes and procedures that form part of our steadfast commitment to achieve a Zero Harm culture by 2020.

However, these only go so far in the preservation and protection of peoples safety. Because of course, human behaviour and the choices we make as individuals are influenced by a number of factors; emotion, social interaction and external stimuli, all play a part in the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis.

Its my role as Senior SHE Advisor to coach, challenge and influence all of the individuals that make up a project team to help them understand their responsibility and ensure they are adhering to the high standards of health and safety we demand. I like to think of myself as a very supportive but hyper-critical friend! As a woman in construction, I aim to inspire and show that this industry has no barriers, it is a sector full of opportunity – for men and women. And it doesnt matter what gender you are, there is nothing more important than health and safety.

Being approachable and commanding respect is very important in my role. On the one hand Im an investigator, brought in on the rare occasion that there should be a safety issue on site to establish the root cause and preconditions that have led to an accident occurring. This is a process I approach collaboratively with the individuals involved to ensure the result is an influential understanding of best practice and ultimately a behavioural change.

I am also a proactive trouble-shooter, conducting a series of talks, site tours and one-to-one mentoring to mitigate the risk of incident specific to each project. For example, I recently conducted a toolbox talk on manual handling with the subcontractors on a project in Nottingham as the transportation of large loads is a large part of the work being delivered on site. Other recent topics of focus include working at height, falling object prevention and logistics – all of which contribute to the continuous improvement of the health and safety performance of our project portfolio in the Midlands.

90% of my time is spent on site and I interact with all manner of people, from managing directors to site cleaners. As a woman in construction, I am part of a growing minority and change is coming. I am particularly encouraged to see an increasing amount of female tradespeople entering the industry. Gender balance may not have quite yet reached the construction industry but it is definitely on its way. In the meantime, Im going to get on with the invaluable task of ensuring all of our projects in the Midlands are delivered safely. There is nothing more important than this.

Chloe Biddle, Senior SHE (Safety, Health, Environment) Advisor for Wates Construction, Midlands.

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