Dawn Mehrtens – Health & Safety Manger – Waghorn Builders
Dawn’s health and safety journey began whilst working in a hazardous environment at the freezing works, with extensive training she joined the rescue squad as a team member and then the Health & Safety Officer.
When her sons required a Health & Safety Manager at Waghorn Builders, she joined the team championing an open communication policy, empowering staff to speak-up, which is now entrenched in their culture. Losing a staff member to suicide has seen the Waghorn team, drive mental health and wellbeing within both their own business, but also within industry. Mental health and wellbeing is an ongoing focus for Waghorn Builders, supporting their staff and the community at large.
Q1: What is your background, and how did you get started in health and safety?
I was working at the freezing works and spent most of my days in the chillers and freezers. Because ammonia is used on site to run the freezers, each site has a rescue squad. Team members have extensive training involving first aid, chemical awareness, confined spaces, firefighting, urban search and rescue techniques, and ammonia rescue training. I joined the squad and spent approximately 10 years as a team member, and 5 years as a Health & Safety Officer.
Q2: How has your health and safety journey progressed?
When the freezing works closed, I was made redundant. When my sons Luke and Jake asked me to help with health and safety at Waghorn Builders in 2013, I started to manage the day-to-day health and safety for the company. In 2014 I completed a National Certificate in Occupational Health & Safety.
Q3: Were there any specific people who helped you on your journey?
I think the thing that has had the biggest impact on me around health and safety was after I was made redundant from the freezing works I worked for a company called Demolition Solutions. Each morning would start with a team meeting laying out the day’s work, and how we were going to get it done. Everyone had the opportunity to speak up, and any issues were dealt with then and there.
We were working at Canterbury University in the February earthquake, and this is when I realised just how important this quick start of day meeting was. It covered what we were doing for the day and how we were going to achieve things safely, not only for us but for other contractors as well.
Because of the good communication within this company and the start of day process that we followed, everyone working with us that day knew the plan and followed it. When the dust settled, we were able to get everyone home safely.
I try very hard to impress upon all our staff just how important communication on site is. A simple meeting to start the day gives everyone on site a clear picture of the day’s activities and addresses any high-risk situations.
Q4: How has health and safety changed over the last few years?
The use of technology is changing the day-to-day health and safety for workers on site. It gives them the opportunity to be more involved with their own health and safety. When workers have to sign in or acknowledge and update hazards on arrival at site it creates an opportunity for them to have input and helps to create an effective safety culture.
Technology ensures workers on site have the information required and the opportunity to update that information for the day. It is easy to see if there are staff that don’t complete the required tasks and this enables me to spend some one-on-one time with them to deal with any issues, whether it be further training around the use of the technology or if there is any lack of understanding or further awareness training required.
Q5: What are some challenges you have had to deal with and overcome in your current role?
The biggest challenge for me is keeping in touch with day-to-day on the ground health and safety. With multiple sites operating and workers moving from site to site, keeping consistency over all sites is the key. The introduction of a safety management app has helped considerably with this.
Q6: How has the health and safety culture developed over your time?
I have been lucky in that my time has been spent in Christchurch after the earthquakes. There was a big focus on construction health & safety, and I took advantage of all the workshops and training offered.
For Waghorn Builders, mental health and wellbeing have been a huge focus, over the last 4-5 years. The loss of a worker to suicide and a Safety Charter workshop with Lance Burdett as a guest speaker had a big impact on Jake and Luke. This inspired them to take a leading role in actively working with our workers and the industry to try and ensure when workers feel stressed or at risk they feel they can reach out for help. We have been surprised by just how many of our workers have opened up and accepted help or come forward and asked for help. This is an ongoing focus for Waghorn Builders, and I am very proud of the work Jake and Luke are doing in this area of health & safety.
Q7: Where do you see the industry heading in the next few years?
Hopefully the rest of the country catching up to Christchurch. I have been shocked when looking at construction sites around the country, it’s like stepping back in time. Work stress as well as stress from outside of the workplace affects everyone. The key is to create that safe environment where workers feel they can ask for help and have access to support services when needed.
Q8: Any advice for someone wanting to start a career in health and safety?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to talk to the guys on the ground doing the work. Everyone wants to go home safe at the end of the day and that’s what it’s all about.