Lindsay Sedwards CFIOSH is head of safety, health and environment at nuclear firm NUVIA, and predicts more rewarding careers in the industry – particularly for women.
What does a typical week at NUVIA look like?
No two weeks are really the same. However, there will probably be site visits, risk assessment workshops and providing guidance to projects. I am also an engagement champion and an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) champion. Talking to staff and contractors can take up a lot of the week too.
What are you most proud of in terms of your career?
Gaining a master’s degree in nuclear science and technology while working full‑time with two children under the age of six. I had such a great sense of achievement when my kids saw me collect my certificate at the university ceremony. There’s also achieving Chartered Fellow status in December 2021 and the mentoring of safety professionals both in the UK and overseas. I love to see mentees grow in confidence and get the job, promotion or qualification they’ve been working towards.
What are the major OSH challenges in your industry?
Finding innovative, safe and cost-effective solutions to complex decommissioning challenges. Many nuclear facilities were built in the 1950s with little thought for how they were going to be decommissioned in the future.
There’s also an ambitious newbuild programme to meet the future energy needs of the UK, in line with the government’s recent announcement to get to 24GW by 2050 via nuclear energy. Alongside this there’s a skills shortage and an ageing workforce. Women make up 50% of the population, so as a profession we need to tap into this resource and train and develop female safety professionals.
Support network: Women in Nuclear UK
Lindsay is health and safety lead of Women in Nuclear UK, a support network and part of Women in Nuclear Global. Formed in 2014, its mission is to address the industry’s gender balance, improve the representation of women in leadership, engage with the industry, government and public on nuclear issues, and support the industry with tools and information.
Regional teams across the UK work within schools, colleges and universities to promote STEM and the industry to people of all ages.
How else do you see the nuclear sector changing over the next five years?
There will be decommissioning challenges as the majority of the UK’s operational nuclear plants are due to go offline by 2030. The clean-up will continue for more than 100 years. I’m also expecting to see a greater focus on carrying out activities in a more environmentally responsible and sustainable way.
You’re on the EDI working group at NUVIA. How important is diversity in OSH, specifically nuclear?
To stay competitive, safe and sustainable as a business we must constantly self-examine, improve, grow and evolve. We need to challenge the status quo. We need to explore every angle to uncover
new approaches and discover new opportunities and safer ways of doing things. Complex solutions require diverse minds and people who think differently and can work collaboratively to come up with the best solution.
What are some of the struggles that women face working in the nuclear industry?
It’s still very much a male-dominated industry and women have to work harder for the same recognition. There are different forms of discrimination – it can be difficult to get your voice heard and you can feel like an outsider to some extent. Women think and feel in different ways.
The nuclear sector has set a target of 40% females in nuclear by 2030, 30% executives by 2030 and 50% female apprentices starting in 2021. It’s an ambitious target, but we are working hard to support female peers, set up support networks and mentor safety professionals.
What’s your message to anyone considering the nuclear industry?
There can be a job for life in the industry. There are many different roles and locations, offering varied and exciting work. There are also great training and development programmes. It just requires the ability to switch between them. Also, many of our challenges need expertise from outside of the industry. It’s an industry full of opportunities that includes science, research, fusion and defence.
Top tips: Lindsay’s advice to women in nuclear OSH
- Step outside your comfort zone once in a while.
- Find a support network of like-minded individuals.
- Find male allies who can call out poor behaviour in the workplace.
- Self-promote, even if this doesn’t come naturally.
- Share experiences and setbacks. Show others worried about taking a leap that it is not always a smooth path, but we can learn and grow from these experiences.
- Seek out opportunities. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
How can IOSH promote Chartership among female OSH professionals?
It’s important to promote role models. This could be by providing break-out rooms at conferences to hold workshops run by role models. Mentoring and secondment programmes are also worthwhile. It’s also worth considering some kind of membership status ceremony or event.
What motivates you to get involved with volunteering opportunities?
Volunteering is really important to me, and I try to give back to the community, industry and profession when I can. I also love engaging with children on all things STEM [science, technology, engineering, maths]. Watching them explore new concepts and getting stuck into activities and experiments.
I really enjoy dispelling myths, too. I am often asked if people in nuclear energy glow, like in the films! I am always happy if someone goes away understanding a little bit more about the industry and a better appreciation of the facts, not the fiction.
Describe yourself in five words.
Tenacious, organised, hardworking, emotional and protective.