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Erika Curnow, Inspiring Women in Safety Award Winner 2024

Erika Curnow, Health, Safety & Environmental Manager at Hydro Aluminium UK Ltd, was the winner of the Inspiring Women in Safety Award, sponsored by L’Oréal, at the RoSPA Health and Safety Awards 2024.

Working as an apprentice at Hydro’s Bedwas site in Caerphilly as an apprentice and then at its Cheltenham site as Interim HSE Manager, Erika’s dedication and achievements have not only set a high standard for her peers but have also paved the way for future female leaders in the industry.

Erika Curnow

Matt Cryer, Award Standards Manager at RoSPA, said: “One of the standout features of Erika’s nomination, submitted by her Safety Director, was her tireless efforts in mentoring another female apprentice. This commitment to mentorship underscores Erika’s commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion within the field of health and safety.”

Erika’s impact extends beyond the workplace, with her engagement efforts reaching local schools and communities. Her initiatives around mental health have demonstrated a commitment to holistic wellbeing, reflecting a broader understanding of safety beyond traditional boundaries. Notably, Erika also hosted Hydro’s Women’s Network Conference in Barcelona, bringing together 160 women from Hydro sites across Europe and beyond.

We caught up with Erika to ask her more about her work and how winning the Award has impacted her life.

What does your job involve?

“My job role changes from day to day. Not one day is the same, which I love because it means there is always something different to be done.

“However, my main role within the company is to support the sites with any health and safety needs or concerns. This can range from risk assessments and safe working procedures to bringing in new machinery, traveling to other sites for audits and checking our systems daily to track our HSE figures such as near misses.”

What are the main health and safety issues you have to deal with at your organisation?

“The two sites I support are very different and both come with their own issues. In Cheltenham, we operate with aluminium presses that require the dies to be heated to around 500 degrees Celsius. Bedwas is a fabrication site that has over 100 CNC machines, and both sites operate an anodizing plant.

“So, I would say our main issues are around heat protection, swarf generated from machines and chemicals.”

What have your biggest challenges been so far?

“One of my biggest challenges so far has been moving away from home to support our Cheltenham site. I did not feel I was ready to do this at the time I was asked because I had only had a career in health and safety for two years. It was a new site, and a new manufacturing process that I had to learn pretty quickly so I was able to offer the correct support and advice.

“Additionally, the Cheltenham site has many employees that have worked here for at least 25 years, and is predominantly male dominated, so I did not know how they would react to a young girl trying to change processes and procedures to ensure work is carried out more safely. However, everyone was extremely welcoming and the support I had was great.”

What have been your biggest successes so far?

“Whilst Cheltenham was my biggest challenge, I would also say it has been my biggest success for far. I have learned so much from this experience that will help and guide me throughout my career. I was faced with several new challenges and issues that as a team we were able to overcome, so I know that when I return to Bedwas I will be able to take these new experiences with me. I have been able to implement new policies and procedures to ensure the safety of others.”

How did you get to this point in your career – why did you go for being an apprentice and what was that like? Would you recommend an apprenticeship in health and safety?

“I graduated from Aberystwyth University with a First-class honours degree, and then completed a graduate scheme at Enterprise Rent-A-Car for two years before deciding that job was not for me. However, during my degree, I completed a six-week HSE internship and so I was looking for careers in that. I quickly discovered that I needed many qualifications that were expensive. However, Hydro was offering an apprenticeship with all these qualifications included as part of my training, and so I was extremely grateful when I found out I had the job.

“Yes, I would recommend anyone looking into an apprenticeship to go for it 100 per cent - this is because you gain the knowledge and experience at the same time. You are able to take what you are learning and apply it to real situations there and then.”

What has been your experience of being a woman in health and safety?

“When I first came into health and safety, I was really worried that being a women would cause issues for me. This was because I was the only woman on the HSE team in the UK for two years, and manufacturing is predominately a male-based industry. However, I did not find this to be the case at all. Hydro encourages and supports all employees, but especially women so we can break the gender bias. I feel like I was able to represent the women on the workforce offering a different perspective and sharing my ideas to improve their time at work.”

How did you feel when you heard you’d won the Inspiring Women in Safety Award? How will it affect you going forward?

“When I first heard that I had won the award I felt extremely proud. I was so grateful that my company wanted to even nominate me, so when I knew I won it was an overwhelming feeling. I am extremely grateful to everyone at Hydro for giving me the opportunities to push my career to the best of my ability and to RoSPA for identifying all the hard work that has been done over the last two years.”

How do you feel about there being an award like this? Do you think it’s a good idea?

“I believe awards like this are so important. Health and safety is a massive part of everyone’s lives, not just in work but also at home, and so I feel like these achievements need to be celebrated. Additionally, I feel like award for women is definitely a good idea as it will break down the barrier and it highlights to everyone what women can achieve.”


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