Who are the best female health and safety speakers?

Audience at Health and Safety North

Audience at Health and Safety North

Ask an organisation which safety speakers they’ve had in and the list will more often than not begin with Jason Anker and Ken Woodward. 

Or there might be Dylan Skelhorn, James Gorry and Paul Blanchard. 

And what of Paul J Mahoney, Gary Gallagher or Matt Hazelton. 

All with a compelling story about injuries or losses suffered.  And all male. 

So just where are all the women? 

While we appear to be less prolific, the stories told are no less powerful.  

Here are the three best I know of in the UK who talk about personal loss and seek to influence improvement in health and safety leadership, processes and culture. 

If you know of others, I’d love to hear about them and the impact they are having. 

Jennifer Deeney

Little more than 13 weeks after their wedding day, Jennifer Deeney returned to the same church for the funeral of her husband Kieron.  He was a steel fixer, working at Canary Wharf where he fell more than 30ft to his death through an access point that was covered by a piece of old plywood and a couple of nails. 

Read more about Kieron's Story on the RoSPA website .

An unlawful killing verdict was returned by the jury at inquest, and Laing O’Rourke went on to plead guilty and be fined £135,000 in respect of the failings that led to Kieron’s death, including failure to have a robust system for the covering of voids, together with regular effective site inspections to prevent loss of life. 

Kieron’s death occurred in August 2004.  In January of that same year, they had together attended the funeral of one of Kieron’s colleagues who had died in a work-related incident.  He had promised Jen “It will never happen to me”, and that provides the title for her safety film, released via Lattitude Productions.

At the time of Kieron’s death, Jen was working in nursing.  She is now Head of Neonatal Nursing and Operations at one of the largest neotanatal services in the country.  And en route to that position, she spent some time as an Inspector with the HSE.  She uses this mixture of skills and knowledge, along with her personal experience, to tell Kieron’s story to great effect. 

Jen’s sessions brilliantly blend heart-wrenching testimony with humour.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing her speak and was moved to tears, along with many others in the ruffty tuffty industrial setting. 

It's clear that Jen wants to make as big an impact as possible, even beyond her motivational presentations.  She has been a long-term supporter of and fundraiser for the Lighthouse Club, a construction industry charity providing financial and emotional support to the construction community and their families who have suffered an injury or long-term illness.  http://www.lighthouseclub.org/

Jen Deeney receiving her RoSPA Guardian Angel Award - September 2017

Jen Deeney receiving her RoSPA Guardian Angel Award - September 2017

Her motivation for telling Kieron’s story?  In her own words in a letter to David Cameron when he was Prime Minister and had resolved to “Kill off the Safety Culture”, she says:

“I am not doing this because I am angry and want retribution. I am not doing this because I want the limelight. I am doing this because somebody needs to care and somebody need to say enough is enough and show that you can change things and change them for the better. I am doing this because it may save a life.”

To find out more about Jen and Kieron's story, and to book her for your safety event, visit her website: http://jenniferdeeney.co.uk/

Kate Cairns

Eilidh Cairns was a vulnerable road user who died in a collision with a HGV. 

Eilidh Cairns was a vulnerable road user who died in a collision with a HGV. 

Kate Cairns' sister Eilidh was cycling to work when she was struck from behind by a 32-tonne fully laden tipper truck and pinned under its wheels.

The road narrowed to 2 metres at the point where Eilidh was struck.  The tipper truck was 2.5 metres wide.  Other incidents of injury had been reported at that point of the road in previous years. 

The family were critical of the investigation claiming errors, omissions, assumptions and conclusions contrary to evidence. The police finally admitted two years after Eilidh’s death that their investigation had been inadequate.

The only charges ever faced by driver Joao Lopes in connection with Eilidh’s death related to driving with uncorrected defective vision for which he received three points on his license, and a £200 fine.  16 months later, the same driver knocked down and killed 93-yr-old holocaust survivor Nora Gutmann on a zebra crossing.  He was sentenced to 4 years in prison and 6 years disqualification from driving. 

In the aftermath of this verdict, Kate was quoted as saying “Nora Gutmann did not have to die, Lopes did not have to lose his freedom, if the professionals had done their jobs…All I wanted was the truth so that other deaths could be avoided and other families did not have to suffer.”

Kate is driven by the many injustices she and her family have had to face and setting up the See Me Save Me campaign has been just one of the steps she has taken.  Its mission is “to challenge, engage and work with industry, policy makers and justice professionals to eliminate death and injury from collisions between HGVs and vulnerable road users.”

Meeting Kate Cairns in December 2017

Meeting Kate Cairns in December 2017

Kate has a concern that work-related road risk is all too often under-estimated by those who could make a positive difference. Construction HGVs across the UK are disproportionately involved in the death of vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

Her presentations highlight the cost of failing to manage road risk; describe the CLOCS standard as a solution; and demonstrate what is needed to prevent needless death on our roads.

She does not do this simply in the role of bereaved sister, but also backed by over two decades of experience in the construction sector and her position as a chartered civil engineer, Fellow of the ICE and an elected member of ICE Council. 

For 12 years she’s been an Independent Sustainability Advisor specialising in safe, sustainable, and responsible construction practices, and has contributed to shaping industry standards in these areas over a number of years.

And she has recently been named one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering 2018 by the Women’s Engineering Society.

The feedback she gets proves the power of her presentation.  This recently from a training manager on her LinkedIn profile: “Kate speaking about the incident was, at times, hard to listen to but it certainly has an effect.  Anyone who’s involved in transport should hear Kate’s story as it will definitely change your opinion on road safety”.

Should you wish to book Kate for your next safety event, you'll find her on LinkedIn: Kate Cairns' LinkedIn

And to read more about the CLOCS standard, have a look here: https://www.clocs.org.uk/

Lisa Ramos

Striking visual created to help cement the impact of Lisa's story. 

Striking visual created to help cement the impact of Lisa's story. 

Lisa’s loss was not of a life, but, rather, the life she once lived.  She now speaks with her husband Dave Garton about the impact of the incident which led to the amputation of her lower leg, an incident which took place on her son Kieran’s 13th birthday.

She was an administrator at NYK Logistics and was crossing their warehouse when she was hit by a 2.5 tonne forklift reversing out of a loading bay.

Two and a half years after the incident NYK pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 4(1) and 17(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations by failing to ensure that the workplace was organised so that vehicles and pedestrians could move about safely.

The segregation of vehicles and pedestrians was limited to a taped-off area on the floor.  Half an hour before the end of her shift, Lisa was crossing the warehouse with some paperwork to complete her checks - and was doing so via the supposedly safe area - when the incident occurred.

She believes her workmates’ actions in shielding her from the true extent of her injuries in the immediate aftermath saved her mentally.  And instead, that the kinder way for her to face reality and come to terms with two surgeries, first to amputate her foot, then another to amputate her leg below the knee, was to do so while in hospital and still on heavy medication. 

It took her more than 3 years of cognitive behavioural therapy before she got to the place she is now, and felt able to speak about what had happened and the impact it had had.  Now a motivational speaker and a Safety Ambassador for the Fork Lift Truck Association, she and her husband are using their family’s experience to positive effect.

The striking visual which has been created for Lisa, implores people: “Remember Lisa…Don’t Forget Dave and Kieran.”  Because, the change in his mum since the incident has resulted in a lasting impact on Kieran.

Meeting Lisa Ramos at a Babcock International Group Health and Safety Awards Dinner - May 2017

Meeting Lisa Ramos at a Babcock International Group Health and Safety Awards Dinner - May 2017

A powerful short video has also been released by the Fork Lift Truck Association, which ends with the stark warning that “Every weekday there are 5 more “Lisas” whose lives – along with those of everyone around them – are permanently changed by a preventable accident. https://www.fork-lift-training.co.uk/videos/lisas-story.html

Again, testimonials from those who have heard Lisa say all that needs said: “Listened to Lisa Ramos give a talk this morning on the consequence of FLT accidents, powerful is an understatement.”

Should you wish to book her, Lisa has recently become one of the speakers grouped under the Jason Anker-led Proud 2b Safe banner: Proud 2b Safe speakers

She can also be found on LinkedIn: Lisa Ramos' LinkedIn

Building a Network of Female Safety Speakers

These then are the 3 best female health and safety speakers who talk of personal loss that I’m aware of.  But can you add to the list? 

Almost a #manel

Almost a #manel

Because there is a challenge for conference and event organisers: 

Is gender equality on your agenda?

And by that I mean both in your planning and execution?

I spoke at a 2-day health and safety conference in mainland Europe last year.  There were 18 speakers on the agenda.  How many were female?


Just me. 

Ensuring equality of gender representation is not about tokenism or any false sense of “political correctness”. 

It is about recognising women’s expertise; the legitimacy of their experiences and the influence it can have; and it is about giving an equal voice. 

Women are victims of work-related injuries, illness and fatalities.  Most often, they are not the direct victims.  They are instead the ones left behind.

That perspective on the impact could not be any more powerful.

While the three I have talked about are professional speakers, I know of many more courageous women who have suffered work-related loss and who speak about it at International Workers’ Memorial Day events, to parliamentary inquiries and in other political contexts.   

Increased visibility for female speakers may encourage others to find their voice and that can only serve to help reduce the incidence of work-related injury, illness and death.  

The pejorative hashtag #manel has been coined for all male panels.  And campaigns such as “Congrats, you have an all-male panel” have sprung up.

A project manager with Equalisters - a Swedish non-profit group seeking to right the #manel wrong - has said: "We believe people saying, ‘There aren’t any’ is just a lazy way of saying, ‘I don’t have them in my network.’ ”

So let’s take this opportunity to continue to build a network of female safety spearkers.  Add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments, or drop me an email: louise@michaels-story.net

And here’s to #manel being consigned – in the not too distant future – to the #annalsofhistory.  


Louise was recently named “Most Influential Person in Health and Safety in the UK” by Safety and Health Practitioner.  She’s a popular health and safety workplace speaker who, through telling her brother Michael's story, helps organisations reinforce their safety message. To find out more, view this short video.