More Women in Safety?

More Women in Safety – one answer to The Safety Paradox? 
by James Irwin, Director - January 2016

In my most recent blog I touched on the Safety Paradox, an idea which came to me following a Safety Different event I had attended. Safety Differently is a “movement” in safety, led by John Green, Director of Safety at Laing O'Rourke and global safety thought leader, Sidney Dekker. John and Sidney start with the premise that health and safety is an industry in crisis, and offer a range of solutions to enable the industry to move forward.

In the blog ‘the Safety Paradox’ I asked the question of how health and safety professionals have arrived at a place which its leaders have called a crisis, the Prime Minister labelled a monster, the public heavily criticise and the media have created so much spin that the enforcement body have to create a myth busters panel. All this when the foundations of the profession are based on a moral and ethical desire to help and inspire the workforce. Hence the Safety Paradox.

In the original blog I offered a few thoughts on how I believe the Safety Paradox has come to pass.  Judging by the positive feedback on the blog, comments from all over the world and the number of shares in social media it received, the Safety Paradox as an idea seems to have struck a cord and ignited a smouldering ember among many. Amongst the many comments there have been further ideas on how this situation has arisen and ideas on how this might be rectified. 

So, where too from here? How to redress the paradox? In the blog, and “The Safety Paradox Continued” I suggested one solution was for companies to actively hire on non-technical competencies as much as they do on technical competencies and to develop these skills methodically within their teams. No one is disputing the importance of qualifications and technical competencies, however clients tell me time and time again these are not enough to be a successful safety professional in their business.

The industry is in a crisis. The absence of focus on non-technical competencies is a contributing factor to this. Anecdotal evidence suggests and empirical evidence proves that on average women are better at a number of the competencies clients continually ask us for which they believe will improve their safety functions (engagement, empathy, listening, communication). These are also the same skills which will likely reverse the Safety Paradox. However SHP Online recently released a figure in their State of the Industry report that only 30% of respondents to their online poll were women.  

Do we have the makings of part of the solution here? A diverse workforce, at all levels, in all industries is a positive. However, in the health and safety industry this is even more critical as increasing the number of women could directly lead to a shift in the Safety Paradox.

In 2013 I launched a Women in Safety Network, since this then over 200 senior women in the industry have been involved. The network is comprised of a series of events for senior women in health and safety to network and share ideas, I believe a small but important date for a number of senior professionals in the space. I regularly see Heather Beech and Roz Sanderson from UBM do great work championing the cause, particularly the #SHE1000 initiative at the Safety and Health Expo.

It would be great to start sharing other ideas, groups, thoughts, actions on how to correct the gender balance as I believe this could be a key in combating the Safety Paradox.

James Irwin is a Director at Irwin & Colton, a specialist Health, Safety and Sustainability recruitment firm placing professionals in permanent and temporary roles across the UK.For more information please contact

Posted on Wednesday Jan 4