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Hellen Mwamba

Putting female representation in Zambian health and safety on the agenda

Hellen Mwamba, the founder of Safety Management Training & Services (SMTS) Zambia, has brought female representation to the forefront of the health and safety industry in Zambia.

An industry which in Zambia was almost entirely male-dominated, has benefited from new perspectives, approaches and ways of working, thanks to Hellen’s relentless focus on bringing more women into the field and providing an enabling environment for females to grow in the profession and country.

From recruiting, training and nurturing an entirely female team of trainers, consultants and administrative staff to actualise her vision, Hellen’s all-female team – the only one of its kind in Africa – has grown to become a leading provider of safety management services and training across various industries in Zambia. They serve organisations in aviation, mining, manufacturing, government and telecommunications.

This story recounts Hellen’s journey so far, along with her hopes for the future of the profession in Zambia.

It all started when she visited England in 2013 and met her soon-to-be husband, who was a health and safety instructor and teacher working with SMTS. Hellen openly admits that she didn’t understand what that meant in practice. Knowing about the concept of health and safety is quite different to understanding what it entails, so when her husband invited her to attend a health and safety conference in Ghana, Africa, she couldn’t resist.

The first thing that struck her upon arrival was that she was practically the only woman in the room. The next was her lack of understanding around OSH and all the other health and safety acronyms being thrown around by the people she was meeting and having conversations with. It was at this moment that her interest blossomed.

“It’s not about what you know sometimes," said Hellen. "It’s about listening, being open minded and curious, and that’s exactly what I did when I met all these new people and had this entirely new experience in health and safety for the first time. I quickly realised that I wanted to know everything, maybe even more than all these people who I was already learning a lot from. So that’s when I decided I was going to pursue this.”

When she returned to Zambia, it quickly became clear what she meant by pursuing ‘this’. She was approved to use the SMTS name as a franchise, and although many in the industry and her own network said it couldn’t work, Hellen flew in the face of convention and opened her own company under SMTS Zambia in 2015.

Putting female representation first

Hellen's mission is to bring more women into OSH in Zambia, given the heavy male skew that currently persists, by providing an enabling environment for women to grow into the profession. That means from a recruitment standpoint, Hellen’s team of safety advisors, administration staff and consultants is all female. She talks about how that’s not always been easy, particularly at the beginning when one of her first challenges was recruiting her first female trainer.

The requirement was for someone who had a teaching background with the local accreditation, qualifications and experience in health and safety. Of course, the only people that met that criteria at the time were male candidates, meaning Hellen’s first priority was finding the right female trainer candidates and putting them through their IOSH and other certifications.

Today, to ensure varied perspectives and she’s leveraging as much relevant local health and safety experience as possible, the only male involvement in the business is in an advisory capacity on the board. But Hellen’s ambition is to continually improve and refine the board structure to ensure the right level of representation from the highly skilled women coming into the industry in Zambia.

Under Hellen's leadership, SMTS Zambia has grown to become a leading provider of health and safety training in the country and, in 2022, SMTS Zambia trained more than 200 people on IOSH’s Managing Safely® course. To ensure that the team is skilled enough to meet the demands of the various clients, which include everything from domestic aviation companies through to globally expanding manufacturing businesses such as AB InBev, the staff (permanent and part-time) are provided the highest-quality training.

So, while just one small working example of the type of refinement Hellen’s striving towards, the bigger context is around ensuring policies reflect the highest possible standards to ensure the appropriate level of cover, reassurance and OSH training is provided for employees.

Why? To ensure consistency for all companies, whether domestic or international, so that at the end of the day, all employees feel safe in the workplace.

The ZOHSA draft act is currently under review by stakeholders in readiness for presentation for final review and possible adoption by Parliament and is a document that Hellen has been heavily involved in the reviewing and rewriting of. When done, this document is set to provide a big step forward in that respect, ensuring better provision for the regulation of the conditions of employment with regards to safety, health, and welfare of all employees.

Hellen's work hasn’t gone unnoticed. She was recognised as one of the top personalities in health and safety in Africa by AFRISAFE, the premier HSE (health, safety and environment) Awards body on the continent. Her organisation, SMTS Zambia, was also awarded a plaque in recognition of the leading position it holds in the development of HSE not only in Zambia but across the African continent.

Hellen’s journey so far is the story of an inspirational figure who has already achieved so much in the field of occupational safety and health, as well as putting female representation on the map for the first time in the industry in Zambia. Her passion for bringing more women into the HSE profession and providing an enabling environment for them to grow is evident in the success of SMTS Zambia. 

Hellen's story is proof that with determination, hard work, and a passion for making a difference, anything is possible, especially the positive impact on the future of employees’ wellbeing in the country.

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