Interview with Roslyn Perkins - Championing women in Health & Safety
Roslyn Perkins is a breath of refreshing feminine energy and down to earth good sense in a sector dominated by her male counterparts.
Born in Morayshire, Scotland, Roslyn moved to Hertfordshire when she was ten years old. Missing Scotland, she went back to study Economic History and Politics at Edinburgh University, gaining an MA in 1983.
Her career has covered a breadth of roles, beginning in the Charity ‘Shelter’ as a young intern straight from university, where she began to develop her interest and knowledge of health and safety. Gaining experience as a Health & Safety Advisor at the London Hazards Centre, she then moved on to work for the Save the Children Fund in 1993 as Safety & Contingency Planning Manager. After an exciting period at the BBC working as a Production Safety Consultant, her passion for social responsibility led her to work for housing associations such as City West Homes in Westminster and latterly Peabody as Assistant Director for Facilities and Safety. Roslyn currently manages to juggle being a Professional H&S and Facilities Consultant for Octavia, together with her active role as a Trustee of the Jubilee Hall Trust; in addition she has recently completed her MBA!
When did you first deal with Shirley Parsons, and how would you describe your relationship?
Goodness, Shirley and I go way back, so long ago that I can’t actually remember the date! I have always valued the relationship I have with Shirley Parsons, she is herself a pioneer in a male dominated arena and I’ve always felt she understands where I’m coming from and what I’m looking for in a role or project. I trust her, and admire her drive and foresight in seeing a gap in the recruitment sector.
Do you have a different perspective to H&S compared to male colleagues?
Over the thirty years I’ve worked within the H&S sector, I’ve noticed that the men in these roles tend to focus very much on the safety aspect of the brief; ensuring that regulations around fire, building standards etc are maintained with tick-box efficiency, however, the health aspect of the role is sometimes overlooked. I think women can look at the bigger picture within a work environment and see the challenges that employees are facing; whether that is juggling work/life balance, having the opportunity to exercise during the working week, or coping with the very real issues that arise from life changes such as the Menopause, where flexibility within a company’s employment policies can greatly help to alleviate stress and symptoms. I think every workplace should have a policy on Menopause, in the same way they have them for Maternity leave and illness.
What improvements would you like to see within Health & Safety?
Good safety comes from up-stream, and should be considered and planned for at the beginning of a project or building design. Too often Health & Safety people are not involved early enough in development so they can’t deliver the safety contingencies at the right time. Instead they end up policing difficulties, when they could actually prevent so many of what we call tragedies occurring. H&S staff should be trained to look at the worst case scenario for a building and think about the people, processes and location. It frustrates me that a disaster like Grenfell Tower was able to happen, where clearly shortcuts and oversights were made during the refurbishment project. It felt like a repeat of the issues I had witnessed at the beginning of my career around asbestos in social housing.
COVID 19 has impacted the global population; what lasting effect do you think it will have on the workplace going forward?
I’ve never liked the concept of ‘business as usual’, it’s good to have a dynamic world and as a result of COVID 19 things are moving so fast at the moment. Whilst the human impact of this pandemic is terrible this is our chance to do the right thing as we redesign the world of work for the future. This is our opportunity to listen to staff, survey employees to really learn what they want from a workplace, consider how many people can viably work from home and how many need to be partly or fully office based and redesign our workspaces accordingly.
I’ve always been an advocate of social responsibility, one of the reasons I have chosen to work in the charitable and community sector. Going forward we need to value all our employees equally, and give more recognition to the people who often do low paid and yet essential work, such as cleaners. During this pandemic, cleaning contracts suddenly became so much more important within companies, and I feel strongly that in the past we haven’t valued the work of these people who keep us all safe. That appreciation needs to be translated into the living wage.
I think in the future, we need to have a greater acknowledgement of employees as individuals, viewing the workplace as someone’s second home; if you treat people with respect they will be far more productive. Concepts such as the four day week should be explored, and I think the whole seismic shift in working patterns created by the COVID 19 pandemic could give us an opportunity to completely rethink how we structure our working lives.