Florence Anyane became Ghana’s first female Chartered IOSH Member in September 2019. But her journey was littered with obstacles.
Few people have faced the same hurdles as Florence Anyane has in her OSH career in Ghana. She has had to prove her worth in highly dangerous industries and among workforces that have sometimes shown little respect for her gender.
‘I started with a degree in environmental management studies, so my national service was spent doing environmental monitoring in mines,’ Florence says. ‘An old mine site needed to be backfilled, and I asked to observe the hazards involved as it was done. One of the contractors doing the backfilling needed a safety officer and, as I’d already done a diploma in OSH with the ICM [Institute of Commercial Management in the UK], I was qualified. I had an idea of risk and how to identify it. So that was my first role in OSH.’
For Florence, it was a tough place to start. ‘It was a male-dominated industry. This type of environment is unlike anything you can imagine. I was disrespected by the guys, which is something that makes a lot of women drop out of the OSH profession in Ghana. The guys would say: “What is a woman doing here? You should be at home cooking for your husband. Those are the only technologies that you know about.” It takes a strong person to stick with it.’
Florence says her bosses weren’t much better: ‘I realised I was not being seen as a change-maker in safety. Some bosses would never give me credit for anything while my male colleagues were praised as being the bright sparks. I went through a lot of embarrassment and insults and shaky moments in my career. There were times when I would go home and cry, but I still woke up the next morning and went to work. You have to have courage, you have to be confident – because without confidence you can’t get your message across.’
The power of snacks
After working in the mines and as a senior safety officer in construction, Florence became a projects health, safety and environmental (HSE) manager at JVC on Offshore Cape Three Points, an integrated oil and gas deepwater project. Not only did this have all the dangers of offshore work, but Florence also needed to certify the company with ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015, as well as OHSAS 18001:2007.
‘I didn’t have anyone to coach me and I didn’t have a consultant to direct me. My boss just said: “I trust you Florence, I know you can help my company”,’ she says.
‘On each standard, I followed the document step by step. I finally got that done, but starting the implementation was another thing because it was another male-dominated industry. I had to find a way to enforce all these policies and procedures that I had written.’
But Florence had spotted one area that she could exploit to get staff on her side. ‘I realised the staff loved training,’ she says. ‘If I provided them with food and I gave them a nice office to come for the training, then they were okay with that.
‘I had five safety officers and four safety representatives working under me on that project, who I had to train up, but as long as I gave them tea and snacks, they were happy to listen to me. Our initial audit was excellent, the observation was great, and the interview went well. So we were successfully certified OHSAS 18001 by DNV GL in 2017.’
In 2018, Florence became a training HSE manager with Rigworld Training Centre in the capital Accra and a certificated auditor. Then in September last year, she became the first Ghanaian woman to become a Chartered Member of IOSH. Hopefully, she says, she’s just the first of many.
‘Some women give up too easily, but I won’t – that’s my spirit,’ she says. ‘Now I see a lot of women entering the OSH profession in Ghana and I’m so happy. On my route to Chartered status, I was very privileged to have some excellent coaches. So I would advise any female trying to achieve Chartered status that you need to have mentors.
‘You also need to network, attend conferences, and be on the same page as other safety professionals. You need to know what other industries are facing. Are there other companies that are doing better and what can you learn from them?
‘We have to spread the message that it’s not just a career for men,’ she says. ‘If we could get the message across that women are working in safety and doing a good job, then we can start changing perceptions.
‘One way to do that would be if IOSH released details on the number of women who had registered for its courses. It took time for me to establish myself as a Chartered Member of IOSH because people didn’t believe me initially. But if those details about everybody’s status were made a bit more public, that would really help us get respect and recognition.’
And for Florence, what’s next? ‘I’d like to be an HSE director or an HSE president and have some platform where I can get health and safety messages across, and a position where my voice will be heard,’ she says.
‘I want to reach out to my fellow women and my fellow human beings and warn them about the dangers of what can go wrong. At the end of the day, my priority is to save lives, and that is still my ultimate inspiration.
‘I’m not done with just being a Chartered Member of IOSH – I want to do more. My country and the women in my country in this profession need me to do more. I want to reach out to them and show them that they can be better.’
Chartered membership of IOSH
If you need advice about Chartered membership or changing membership categories, call 0116 257 3198 or email the IOSH membership team at [email protected]
Climbing the ladder: Florence’s three top tips to achieving Chartered status
- You must practise professionally in the field. That might sound obvious, but experience was crucial for me to pass my initial professional development (IPD).
- Achieve a level 6 or required IOSH certification. If you don’t pass these, you can’t sign on as a graduate member. But if you’re able to get to that level, you should be practising enough to pass an IPD audit.
- Prepare for your peer interview and be confident. I was very nervous, but the panel helped me relax and I was able to answer the questions.