Vicky Harvey is a tower crane operator for HTC Wolffkran (formerly HTC Plant). She studied for three months at the National Construction college in Norfolk before qualifying with a Level 2 NVQ in plant operation. Vicky is one of only a handful of female crane drivers in the UK.
“…multiple surgeons said I would never climb cranes again. Due to my determination and the support of my employers … I proved them all wrong…”
Vicky, we’ve spoken to you before, but for those readers who missed it, please can you give us a recap on your career to date and what made you want to work in construction?
So, back in 2014 (having previously been a marketing manager pre-redundancy) I found myself looking for a more stable industry. A friend in construction suggested I should consider becoming a tower crane operator as they were looking for female operators to come into the workforce.
Being the adventurous type and an open-minded kinda gal, I decided to apply to HTC Plant (now HTC Wolffkran) for the position. They invited me up to Sheffield for interview and subsequently I was sent on a place at CITB Bircham Newton Construction College for three months. It was fantastic learning to operate various types of heavy plant machinery.
The college facilities were excellent and being one of the oldest students plus a solitary woman, the staff at the (CITB) college made me feel welcome and looked after during my stay there – I will always remember them fondly.
Once qualified, I was sent to various sites in the city gaining my practical experience of building site life. It was extremely tiring, but invaluable experience.
What does your role involve on day to day basis?
As a tower crane operator, we all have exactly the same responsibilities (male and female). We have a morning briefing on what’s to be lifted that day, we climb, do our daily inspections and ‘pre-operational’ checks, then spend the day unloading / loading vehicles and placing materials.
Concentration and listening skills are key. The rule is: if in doubt, don’t lift. The job itself is relatively simple in principle and there’s no reason why most could not do it. However, you have to be very conscious of safety, being responsible for lives and the wellbeing of everyone on site.
We were sorry to hear that you’d taken a break from work due to ill health. What happened and how are you doing now?
Thank you. I took a year out due to a motorbike related accident in 2015. I sustained complex leg injuries and eight surgeries left me unable to walk without crutches or a wheelchair for the best part of 11 months. With severely reduced function and strength of my left leg, and two full titanium plates with 22 screws, multiple surgeons said I would never climb cranes again. Due to my determination and the support of my employers, HTC Wolffkran, I proved them all wrong.
What sort of adjustments have you made to your routine?
Well, my comeback was reliant on convincing health and safety assessors that I wasn’t an enhanced risk. With the support of my wonderful HR Manager, Julie Core, and my team, we worked on making my return possible.
I now eliminate my fall risk by wearing a full safety harness when climbing. In addition, as I can only travel to site by car now, I have on-site parking and clear unobstructed access to my crane with limited walking and stairs. I’ve found the sites I have worked on, to be very accommodating of my circumstances.
Who are the people that have supported you and what does this mean to you?
As mentioned, my team at HTC Wolffkran has been wonderful. Being off from work for such a long time left me feeling helpless and dependent. They made it their mission to give me focus and get me back to work. It aided my recovery.
What are the practical things that make the most difference to your mobility and comfort?
Definitely being able to park on site helps. Consideration for my difficulty in walking and distance and ease of access to my crane are all invaluable to me. These adjustments limit my pain and therefore make it possible to do my job.
What is your advice to other people who have found themselves in a similar position?
I guess my position is a fairly unusual one. However, everyone experiences challenges of various natures. Even being woman in a minority environment carries its challenges at times. So, I guess looking at the bigger picture, I’d say: regardless of the obstacles you face, how impossible it may seem, keep moving forward and never give up.
What is coming up next for you?
With regards to my future health, I am in talks over possible elective above knee amputation in favour of a prosthetic. This will be at least two years into the future as I have to plan my life and recovery around such a procedure. However, to no longer be disabled is the first dream. To then come back to climbing cranes once again after that, will follow. I know I’ll get the support to make that happen.