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Women in Health & Safety: Carlene McAvoy

   Women in Health & Safety: Carlene McAvoy

To celebrate International Women's Day 2021 RoSPA are profiling just some of the amazing women who work for and with us. Carlene McAvoy, RoSPA’s Leisure Safety Manager gives us an overview of her career to date and how she has broken new ground in health and safety:

“My work experience and focus academically has always been on prevention work and prior to getting involved with RoSPA, I was going down the road of preventative work in alcohol and substance abuse, doing some work in the youth offender prison in Scotland. I decided to take a totally different path and took a job with RoSPA in Scotland in 2012, focusing on leisure and home safety. This just opened doors for me, I love working for a charity and knowing that what are you doing is making a difference and I love  having that freedom to explore, research , do project work and strategically influence.  

                                                         Often the only woman in the room
“The biggest issue in health and safety today is ensuring that it is taken seriously.  Often something like water safety is shrugged off as unimportant until there is a fatality or an incident. I think there needs to be more work done in overcoming the idea that health and safety is either not important or that it is somehow over the top and a joy-kill . It’s a total misunderstanding because water safety, for example, is not about stopping fun – it’s about making sure you can have fun but in a safe way.
“When I first started working in water and leisure safety, there weren’t many women in the field. I do remember sometimes being the only woman in meetings and often I did feel like I needed to prove myself more than perhaps a male my age would have. In early times, I was often treated as a secretary in meetings rather than a voice that could provide solid advice. Slowly but surely I built my confidence and I was fortunate enough to work for organisation like RoSPA who had many women already high up in health and safety who could function as mentors and also give me something to aspire to.
“There were up and downs as I traversed through the water and leisure safety landscape though.  I remember once when I challenged a male colleague from a partner organisation, he got angry and told me I was ‘too emotional’.  As a professional and logical person, I was so shocked that I actually later doubt myself and sadly asked other colleagues from the meeting if I had been out of line. Of course, I hadn’t but this is just one of many examples where males in the industry have tried to undermine my confidence and my ideas.  Fortunately things have moved on and today, even only five or so years later, it’s totally different and fantastic to see so many women involved in the industry.
“I think for me, my biggest challenges were timing and confidence.  I have had countless experiences where my ideas or work have been overly credited to a male counterpart rather to myself and it took a long time to work out the best way to deal with that. I had a lot to learn coming from an academic background that wasn’t specifically in health and safety and really importantly in this sub-field of health and safety - I didn’t have the search and rescue (SRT) experience that so many male colleagues did.  To overcome this, I learned from colleagues, I went on courses (I even did an SRT course thanks to a suggestion from a male colleague in RoSPA), I did my NEBOSH and I learned from every experience I could get.
“I still have a lot to learn (and look forward to the knowledge I will gain) but I had to reach a certain point of knowledge and experience before I felt that I could start really voicing my opinion and be taken seriously. I learned that when people take credit for your work, the truth will eventually become clear. However, as I did start to gain confidence and speak up more, I began to be able to lead a situation better and have become much more difficult to undermine or under-credit.

                                                          Making waves in water safety
“I feel like I have made a good impact in leisure and water safety. I founded Water Safety Scotland for example and was a key author on Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy – two major milestones for Scotland.  I would say I really am – with other individuals of course- at the forefront of drowning prevention and water safety in Scotland and increasingly the UK. I have always been keen to persevere and push the drowning prevention agenda, ensuring strategy objectives are put in place and things are moving forward to help prevent drownings. Once the vision or target is clear, I am optimistic and push towards that through partnership working, overcoming obstacles and ensuring the steps are taken to help achieve that overall target.
“Perhaps when I started out, being one of the only women, I did overcompensate to gain more knowledge and experience than male counterparts. In many ways this is unfair but it sadly is common in many sectors across the UK.  However, this has been beneficial because I did gain confidence but I also gained the knowledge to back it up and since that point, I have excelled in my professional work. Rather than being silenced, dismissed or under-credited, people seek me out to ask me for advice, over others in the industry.

                                             The changing world of health and safety

“My advice to women interested in getting involved in health and safety would be that like any role, perseverance and passion is key. I built my confidence and knowledge in health and safety- it didn’t come overnight. Perhaps I tried harder or did more than maybe some men in my position would have, but I am passionate about health and safety, about leisure safety and drowning prevention and that has made it all worth it.

I have gained valuable working relationships and a really useful support network around me.  It can be daunting when health and safety has historically always been predominately male-orientated but the world is changing, health and safety is changing and it’s important to be part of that change.”
This article has been kindly sponsored by L'Oréal, which is raising the profile of and increasing opportunities for women in health and safety throughout 2021.Developing the abilities of women as a currently underrepresented group in occupational health and safety (OSH) and enhancing their visibility in the sector is at the heart of the partnership between the two organisations. See:

Posted: 3/4/2021 9:31:35 AM 0 comments


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