Meet Health and Safety Advisor Wendy McLean, from Health and Safety at Work NZ. Caring by nature and after career changing workplace injury and shift to Christchurch Wendy found the job that made her want to get out of bed in the morning. Starting 10-years ago as a volunteer Health and Safety Rep, Wendy has worked through her way through training and education to earn a Graduate Diploma in Professional Practice – OHS, an NZISM – approved pathway to Profession Level accreditation.
Q1: What is your background, and how did you get started in Health & Safety?
I have a background as a Paramedic for St John. After a career-changing workplace injury, I needed to reinvent myself.
I went from helping someone every day while I was at work to working as a Telephone Operator for Helson District Health Board, taking over 1,000 phone calls a day. Still helping people, I guess, but the job didn’t quite have what I was looking for. I spent 10 years in that role as I just couldn’t find what made me want to get up and get going. And that didn’t happen until a move to Christchurch in April 2013 when I got a job with the Earthquake Recovery Programme (ERP). They were looking for Health and Safety Reps at the time, so I put my hand up and it was here that I found my passion for helping people again.
Q2: How has your health and safety journey progressed?
When the ERP was tailing off, a friend who owned a small construction company asked me to be their Health & Safety Officer and this was the start of my journey. I was here for a couple of years before the downturn following the earthquake program. Then I was offered a job as Health & Safety Manager for a much larger construction company with 58 site staff. This is where my passion for Health & Safety truly took off.
For the last 4 years, I have been working as a Health and Safety Advisor for Health and Safety at Work NZ Ltd, and last year completed my Graduate Diploma in Professional Practice – OHS, an NZISM – approved pathway to Profession Level accreditation. This program was a massive challenge, I had not done any formal study for 20+ years, and even then, it was more practical than theory, but it was worth it, and I believe that I have become much more confident through the process.
Q3: Where there any specific people who helped you on your journey?
Yes, Joanne Duffy and the ‘Safe Rebuild Canterbury’ team were instrumental in starting my journey into study in this field. Kelvin Sparks was the one who encouraged me to keep training over the years and continue the journey to professional qualifications.
Q4: How has Health & Safety Culture changed and/or developed during your career?
At the beginning of my career, the focus was on Zero Harm – something it has been recognised as deterring workers from reporting incidents because it would harm the Zero Harm record, to the active encouragement of the reporting and investigation of incidents to ensure we learn the lessons we can from the incident that do happen and put controls in place to prevent them from reoccurring. This is only one example of the inroads that we have made, but there is so much further to go to get everyone onboard.
Q5: What are some challenges you have had to overcome in your current role?
There are businesses out there who think it is still ok to ‘have’ Health and Safety, ie. they are happy just to have the H&S Folder on the shelf in the office, but getting its contents out there on site can sometimes be a challenge.
The other big one is getting management/workers to record their safety chats – part of my recent study was about how we make life easier for the work on the ground – the answer is technology – almost every day, we say “Hey Siri…?
How about at your safety meeting, pre-start or Toolbox Talk you say “Hey Siri … make a note”, then have your meeting – now it is recorded, save the file, now you have a record of that meeting happening without a pen required – these files are saved and can be emailed to yourself or the office – so simple – so easy – job done! The alternative is Google Assistant or Alexi.
Q6: Where do you see the industry heading in the next few years?
Technology must be the way forward. To find an easy, effective, effortless way to comply with health and safety requirements that don’t take forever. APPs can assist with all the paperwork on-site, not blowing around the site.
Building Information Management – building health and safety into the planning process, eliminating risk before the project has begun and massively decreasing human error factor. Both were areas for my study project last year.
Q7: Any advice for someone wanting to start a career in health and safety?
Just do it, jump in, and find someone who is willing to mentor you. Plan to study way earlier than I did, go to meetings like the Safety Charter events and workshops, mix and mingle with those doing what you want to do. Ask questions of those people and really listen to their advice. They are the ones doing it, so they know what it is like.