Newsletter: Health & Safety Profile

Pete Finnegan, Health and Safety Manager, Master Electricians NZ

Originally from Ireland, Pete has been involved in the electrical business for over 25 years. A chance meeting with a kiwi girl and a new son saw him emigrate to New Zealand in 2008. His passion for health and safety and keeping people safe, combined with his thirst for knowledge and studies has seen Pete work in the domestic electrical industry, a large commercial electrical contractor designing and building rest homes throughout New Zealand, and his now current role as Health and Safety Manager for Master Electricians NZ. His personal and professional journey is inspiring, and he is a regular at Safety Charter events, meeting health and safety peers where he freely sharing his knowledge and experience.

Q1:  What is your background, and how did you get started in Health and Safety?

I started my electrical career as an apprentice electrician working for a large industrial electrical contractor in Ireland. I progressed through the industry and was working as a foreman overseeing 50+ staff when I emigrated to NZ in 2008.  Upon arriving in NZ, I first worked in the domestic electrical industry which I can assure you was very eye opening in relation to occupational health & safety, or the complete lack thereof. Shortly thereafter we were struck by the Canterbury earthquakes which brought about a massive amount of work rebuilding the city.

Leaving the company, I was working for I joined a larger commercial electrical contractor designing and building rest homes throughout NZ. I became a director of this company and had a responsibility for our occupational health & safety. As you would imagine we were extremely busy with both the rebuild and our existing workload. With over 100 staff nationally I became concerned with the lack of formal health & safety qualifications in the business and ultimately in 2018, I decided step back to study occupational health & safety management.

In 2012 while working for this company I had an incident onsite while lifting a heavy data cabinet which resulted in a musculoskeletal injury which required physiotherapy treatment, unfortunately I never came right and after 8 years was eventually diagnosed with an incurable neurological condition called Chiari Malformation.  While symptoms have reduced after brain surgery, I will never be free of the constant and chronic pain.

By this time, I was already undertaking my Diploma and it was during this period WorkSafe introduced the new Health and Safety at Work Act which completely changed the health & safety landscape. I found I was often dealing with people on site that didn’t understand the new Act and had no idea how to enforce it.   These would often be health and safety advisors working for main contractor or the site manager of main contractor. I felt it was time to be pragmatic and combine my construction site experience while working in a hazardous industry with my passion for keeping people safe.

Before immigrating to NZ, I enjoyed recreational scuba diving and had completed a rescue diver and emergency first responder course.

Q2:  How has your health and safety journey progressed?

The first step in my professional health & safety career was to complete the Sitesafe certificate in construction site safety, and while undertaking this course I queried the facilitator on how to get started in the health and safety industry.  I was advised to undertake the Level 6 diploma in Occupational health and safety management – which I undertook via the Southern Institute of Technology.  Initially having decided to train via an apprenticeship rather than go to college I did not foresee myself ever deciding to pursue additional studies, but it turns out it’s something that I’m pretty passionate about and now I am struggling to stop learning.

I am a professional level member of the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM) and currently studying a Governance and Directorship Programme (ADP) with Sirdar NZ through the Skills Consulting Group.

Q3:  Were there any specific people who helped you on your journey?

There are many people who have helped me on my health & safety journey to date but none more important or consistent as Mike Buchanan. Mike is the Quality Assurance and Investigation Lead at Orion New Zealand Ltd. I was lucky enough to work alongside Mike while undertaking technical investigations and have learnt more from Mike than I could ever document.

Q4:  How has health and safety changed over the last few years?

We have seen a major push for proactive health and safety over the last few years as well as seeing a balanced approach using leading and lagging indicators with a health and safety emphasis in the design side of things to eliminate issues before they arise. Technology has also played a significant role in hazard and risk assessment and control, continuing to do so in an ever-evolving fashion.

Q5: What are the biggest challenges you face now?

Although it has changed considerably over the last decade, we still have a long way to go to change our health & safety culture, as the occupational injury statistics are still alarming high for a developed nation.

Master Electricians are currently working with CHASNZ on a ‘Work Should Not Hurt’ campaign to try and produce preventative injury strategies to educate workers on how to undertake work in a manner that will not cause injury or illness to the worker or others.  The Electrical Training Company (ETCO) is owned by Master Electricians and are therefore bringing this campaign into the classroom to ensure our apprentices are educated and trained to the highest level regarding health & safety. We are assisting with designing processes and procedures to eliminate or minimise occupational injuries.

Q6:  How has the health and safety culture developed over your time in NZ?

The culture has changed massively over the 14 years I have been in NZ which is fantastic to see but it’s still not enough. Sadly, we still see people putting profits before worker safety and in my opinion, we still aren’t seeing tough enough prosecutions from the regulator.

Q7:  Where do you see the industry heading in the next few years?

I believe we need smarter procurement processes and better project management, currently we rely on things like prequal scores to even be eligible to tender a job but a prequal is simply a snapshot in time and not a true indication of whether a company is managing hazards and risks appropriately. In my experience most of the health & safety controls reduce when deadlines become tight, and the main contractor needs the subbies to complete their work and sign-off on the job.

For example, If there is a delay with a building foundation, then the project deadlines should be altered. The main contractor should not expect the sub-trades to bring in additional labour or working additional hours to complete the project.  In my opinion, this needs to change as it is factors like this that drive the suicide rates in the industry.

Environmental and sustainability plans will become a standard part of site work much like a SSSP has over the past decade, and I believe you are going to need a full environmental and sustainability plan before your tender is accepted, particularly when undertaking high level works which will then filter down to the smaller projects.

Q 8:  Any advice for someone wanting to start a career in health and safety?

Start small, join your workplace health and safety committee, or become a health and safety representative, you will learn invaluable skills and information this way. If you are serious about a career in health and safety, I would suggest you undertake the Level 6 Diploma in Workplace Health & Safety Management.  From there I strongly recommend you apply for membership of NZISM and of course join the Canterbury Safety Charter, attending their interactive workshops and events.

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