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Living with a physical disability within the Construction industry

Fairness, Inclusion & Respect

Published 27th Sep 22 - by saragouveia

We had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Coggon, from Equans Fabricom, for National Inclusion Week 2022

Welcome, Luke! Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m 32 years old, live in Doncaster, South Yorkshire and have a physical condition called Arthrogryposis, which I have had since birth and will have it for the rest of my life. It primarily affects the joints, muscles, and tendons in my arms, and I have a much smaller jaw than normal. Over the years, I have had seven surgical operations. I do not know if I will choose to undergo or require any further operations in the future, only time will tell. I enjoy spending time with friends and family, socialising and playing or refereeing football. I have recently become an FA qualified football referee this summer.

It is now 11 years since I began working in the Construction and Petrochemical Industry, the first 7 years of my career I was based full-time as a Contractor on P66 Humber Refinery in the Yorkshire and Humber Region. From 2019, I worked on the neighbouring Lindsey Oil Refinery and other sites in the UK for my previous employer including Bardon Hill Quarry, Tronox and CF Fertiliser sites at Billingham and Ince. I currently work as HSE Advisor/Lifting Appointed Person for Equans Fabricom and cover sites across the UK, predominantly in the Yorkshire and Humber and North East regions. I have been with Equans Fabricom since November 2020. At the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I was unfortunately made redundant from my previous employer, for a few months from August to October 2020 I had a brief stint working at Amazon as Safety Coordinator, until an opportunity to get back into the industry presented itself.

Since 2019, I have done a significant amount of work around Mental Health Awareness in the Industry, developing my own ‘Thinking Differently Mental Health’ presentation, where I speak about my own personal experiences of mental health growing up with a physical disability and raising mental health awareness in the industry as a whole. I have delivered this across the UK at various sites, offices, and institutions. Just this month, I delivered it to the UAE Branch of the IIRSM (International Institute of Risk and Safety Management) to over 100 people globally online, which was really exciting! I am extremely passionate and driven to improve disability awareness across the whole industry and I am currently working on developing my own Disability Awareness, which I intend on rolling out internally and across the Industry in 2023.

We would love to understand your journey within the industry, as someone with a physical disability? 

When I first started in the Industry, I had very little knowledge of the industry, no industry specific qualifications, I remember my first morning arriving at the P66 Humber Refinery as if it were yesterday. I pulled into the Newton Building car park, in preparation for my induction and a multitude of thoughts and emotions were racing through my head, as I headed into the induction. After the induction, we headed to the gatehouse to collect our site passes and met our site representatives. It was here when the magnitude and size of the refinery hit me, I was awestruck!

During the very early days of my career, I kept second guessing and doubting myself, wondering how I was going to cope in the industry with a physical disability. At this point, my self-confidence was nowhere near the level it is at now. For the first couple of months of my career, I aided the local mechanical workshop management team, carrying out general admin duties and learning about the industry, whilst gaining invaluable knowledge and insights. I steadily built my self-confidence and belief in my abilities and after this period I moved back to Humber Refinery to become part of the site team for the next seven years.

Over the course of these 11 years, my self-confidence, self-esteem, drive, determination, and ambition increased exponentially. I have learnt a vast array of skills including Safety, QA, controlling lifting operations, behavioural safety, AutoCAD, SAP, and many others. I have also got to know a great amount of work colleagues, who I can say will be friends for life.

I have achieved a couple of professional achievements. In 2018, I was awarded a special Recognition Award for my outstanding commitment to safety by P66 during a major site project. I became the first Mental Health First Aider in the business for my previous employer, which led to me being invited to be a key part of a business wide steering group, developing, and delivering a Mental health Strategy across the business, in partnership with the mental health in construction charity ‘Mates in Mind’. At the end of 2019, I was given an amazing opportunity by P66 to put together a presentation about my own personal experiences with mental health and my knowledge about mental health in construction. I delivered this to over 300 people on the refinery during safety week. Following on from this, I delivered my presentation at various sites and offices around the country. The feedback and positive response I had, has been amazing. Most recently with Equans Fabricom, I am playing a leading role within the HSE team to develop and drive a behavioural based safety programme ‘Challenge the Norm’ and I am also playing a key role in helping to develop and drive their Mental Health Strategy, as well as covering safety across multiple sites in the UK.

In my current role as a safety professional, my physical condition doesn’t hold me back although there are certain things that I am unable to do, such as climbing ladders on sites etc. However, I ensured my employer was aware of that before I started and they were very accommodating, also all of our clients are aware and fully understand also. Due to my hands being how they are, I am unable to lace up boots, so one very simple yet extremely effective adjustment my employer made for me, was to purchase safety that are fully compliant and conform to the correct standards but have zips on the side, so I don’t have to worry about laces at all.

I know I still have a long way to go in my Journey and I will face various challenges as I progress, however I am really looking forward to it, I am pushing myself in a professional capacity as much as I can and who knows where it will take me!

From your experience, what final words of advice do you have for the industry?

As someone who has grown up with a physical disability from birth, I have had to adapt and overcome different situations all my life, this is a key learned attribute for a lot of people with any type of disability, whether they are born with it or acquire a disability through an event at a later age. This skill enables a lot of people with disabilities to be assets and crucial employees in any organisation, especially if there’s a business change or the need to adapt quickly.

I have also read and reviewed a recent report by the CITB, stating that from now until 2026, there is going to be a very significant growth period in the industry which will require organisations and federations across all spectrums of the industry to attract, retain and develop new talent to keep up with demand. From personal research I’ve done, there are very many people with disabilities that would be assets and potential industry leaders, but they don’t feel that there are opportunities out there for them. I would advise that employers and business leaders look at the ‘Disability Confident’ programme, which is a government run scheme which shows potential disabled candidates, that organisations are a disability proactive employer. There are also numerous resources and organisations including, ‘Business Disability Forum’ and ‘Scope’ to name a few.

I also fully intend on becoming a FIR Ambassador to help push and drive disability awareness across the whole industry. I highly encourage everyone to take a look at the FIR Toolkit, which offers free resources available to support the industry in becoming a better place for all.