Hello. Thanks for taking the time to talk to GATELODGE. Could you introduce yourself and give us a bit of background in terms of your career history, job title and how long you’ve been in the role?

Hi. My name is Donna Taylor and I am an officer at HMP Drake Hall in Eccleshall, Staffordshire. I have been an officer for about eight and a half years now, and a POA Rep for four years. I am also the POA Health and Safety Rep at Drake and have recently been appointed as an Area Rep on the Health and Safety Consultative Committee.

I currently work in the Segregation unit at Drake. Prior to that, I worked on Induction mainly, with a brief spell in Reception and Equalities pre-Covid. My days are really varied as I also do ACCT assessing, Negotiating, Care Team, TRiM Team, and I have recently become a Family Liaison Officer as well – I like to keep busy!

Before I joined the Prison Service, I was a manager at a care home for children with autism for 10 years. Becoming a Prison Officer was something I always wanted to do. So, when the big recruitment drive came in 2014, I took my chances and applied. For those of us that aren’t familiar with HMP Drake Hall, can you tell members a bit about your prison? How many prisoners does it house and what facilities are there?

Drake Hall is quite a small jail, holding 315 women internally and up to 25 on the Open Unit. We only hold sentenced prisoners at Drake, but plans are under way for a Remand Centre to open in 2025. Most of the women are categorised as closed, with the exception of those on the Open Unit and a few who have gained their open status and are awaiting transfer.

The women have access to a wide range of off-wing activities including the usual workshops and gym. We run a Halfords workshop where the women learn to service bikes, and so on. This can lead to employment on release and we have had some real success stories from this. We also have an onsite charity shop, coffee shop, and a food bank for prisoners to access once they are discharged.

We run regular family days, lifer days and lots of charity events where we support local charities such as

How long have you been a POA H&S Rep? Can you also explain which other establishments you cover?

I have been a POA H&S Rep for about a year now. I asked to take up the position as I wanted to be even more involved in the big changes that remand is going to bring. My previous job gave me a lot of experience in things like risk assessments and safe systems of work, and I wanted to continue this within my career in the Prison Service. Taking on this role also gave me the opportunity to do my NEBOSH qualification.

I was recently appointed to the POA Health and Safety Consultative Committee. The area I cover is the Midlands, along with Christopher Murray from Holme House. This role means I am a point of contact for other POA H&S Reps in the area and can help and advise them with any issues they are having. I can also bring any issues they raise to the Consultative Committee quarterly meetings, and feed back any information I gain from these meetings.

How did you hear about the Hazards Conference?

I had heard of the Hazards Conference before, but never attended. When the opportunity to attend on behalf of the POA came up, I jumped at the chance. This was the first in-person Hazards Conference since before Covid, so I was keen to see what challenges other workplaces were facing and how they were tackling them.

Where was the Conference held, how long did it last and what were the facilities like?

The Conference was held over three days at Keele University at the start of September. I have never been a university student, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the accommodation and so on, but I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms were ensuite, clean and tidy, with access to a communal kitchen area. Everywhere was easily accessible and the food and refreshments available were very varied, with something for everyone.

Can you tell us about the three days?

The Conference opened on Friday with a talk on the realities of safe and healthy working becoming a fundamental right. There were guest speakers from Australia’s Council of Trade Unions and Shelly Asquith, the TUC’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing Officer. Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, was due to speak on the Friday but unfortunately had to cancel. Respects were paid to Ruth and the work that Julia has been a part of since Ruth’s untimely death earlier this year, following a damning Ofsted inspection at the school where she was headteacher.

The second day was filled with talks on clean air, mental health and occupational health conditions. There is a big push on psychosocial health at the moment; it made me come back to Drake Hall and immediately start looking at our Stress Risk Assessment.

There were also talks on women’s health and the menopause, and an interesting speech from Sarah Woolley who is the first female leader of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers’ Union. She highlighted some of the campaigns it is running and I learnt that flour dust is more combustible than gunpowder!

What did you learn at the Conference?

The most shocking thing for me was learning that, last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that the occupational exposure a firefighter endures has been classified as a carcinogenic. Firefighters between the ages of 35 and 39 are 323% more likely to develop cancer than the general population. The types of cancers they tend to develop are rarer and are usually at a late stage by the time they are discovered – often making them untreatable. Not only that, but firefighters are five times more likely to die of a heart attack than the general public.

Those statistics really shocked me. What shocked me even more was that the Fire Brigades Union is still campaigning for health surveillance and monitoring of exposures to try to catch these problems earlier and prevent them.

On top of all this, I learnt that there are still improvements that could be made to firefighters PPE to better protect them. We need our firefighters to be healthy. They don’t go to work to die as a result of it. These are things that shouldn’t need to be campaigned for by their union. It seems that every union, like us, is running a campaign that should just be a given when it comes to our health and safety at work.

What did you enjoy most about the Conference?

The best part was networking with like-minded people. It was so fascinating to find that, no matter what sector or type of workplace people came from, we all faced the same issues. I did a workshop on Violence in the Workplace and was shocked to hear how BT engineers had been assaulted during the Covid-19 pandemic, how train conductors are treated by members of the public, and how shop assistants at Greggs feared for their safety. Some of the underlying themes that we could all identify with were drugs, alcohol, stress and austerity. Funding in public and private services has hit every single workforce in the UK hard, and we are all still struggling to maintain a decent level of safety because of it.

What would you say to other POA H&S Reps who may be thinking of going to the Conference?

Definitely go! I left the conference feeling empowered, because it highlighted the importance of H&S Reps in every workplace. The Health and Safety Executive is so underfunded that workplaces rely on reps like me to highlight issues quickly and work with the employer to resolve them. The work we do as a union is so important, and I encourage every member to play their part and highlight issues in their branches and challenge them. l

Thank you for taking the time to talk to Gatelodge.


Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.