A career that started working on farms in Australia, to being the Safety Coordinator for BESIX Watpac, the major contractor building the Christchurch Stadium, David has had a long career within the health and safety space, is passionate about keeping workers safe and shares his journey with us.
Q1: What is your background, and how did you get started in Health and Safety?
David started his career 40-year odd ago working on farms in Australia, then transitioned to being a traffic controller / gate person with BESIX Watpac in 2005 on the Gold Coast Titan Rugby League ground. This was his first job in construction and at the end of that project, BESIX Watpac asked him to train as a Site Safety Coordinator. In those days it was called a Workplace Health and Safety Officer and, while he has had many different job titles over the next 16 years, the role has remained largely the same, as a site-based Safety Coordinator.
Looking back to years working on farms, when at the time things were very ‘loose’ and safety was never considered, you really felt the effects of it. David worked on a farm for a family friend and had to assist in retrieving him after he drowned, so when people say things like ‘she’ll be right’, David knows it will not always right, unless there is proper planning and awareness.
Q2: How has your health and safety journey progressed?
Since starting his career as a Safety Coordinator in 2007, David has worked on some keystone projects for BESIX Watpac. To assist his learning, the company enabled David to work with more experienced Safety Coordinators, and after one large project in a safety assistant role, progressed to managing safety on a project on his own. The exposure David had to critical risk aspects of construction projects like lifting and suspending structural steel and precast concrete regularly serves him well. David has learned a lot about managing safety committees and the importance of consultation and pre-empting workers concerns around safety and wellbeing and has been very fortunate to have been involved with some major infrastructure projects in Queensland.
Q3: Were there any specific people who helped you on your journey?
Many people within BESIX Watpac have been a great assistance David in his journey, his first Project Manager Stewart Roberts and Construction Manager Phil Corcoran were both very supportive and encouraged David to complete his training.
After that Safety Managers, Justin Simpkin and Jimmy Andersen have both been great and David collaborates with other Safety Coordinators to bounce ideas off, get their thoughts and have a laugh, because that’s also important. David is extremely excited to start his New Zealand journey and looks forward to building professional relationships during his time here.
Q4: How has health and safety changed over the last few years?
Associated to David’s Australian experience, when he started in a safety role everything seemed to be an argument, as safety was just getting more important in the industry. “Show me where it says that mate” was something he would hear regularly.
Now there seems to be in a real buy in from industry members, especially around providing input at Safety Committee Meetings, from planning work procedures to general issues that are identified as you walk around site. Workers are willing to bring up things they think can be improved. Everyone now realises that safety is there for their benefit and at the end of the day everyone wants the same thing, for everyone to go home to their families.
Systems and processes would have advanced about 400% from those early days when David began as a Safety Coordinator, which made it difficult to manage a project with just one Safety Coordinator. David believes we are finally making steps to lessen the amount of paperwork and keep the things that actually make a difference to the safety of the workers.
Q5: What are the biggest challenges you face now?
David arrived in Christchurch after Easter 2022, and as you would know, the project is just getting started so his New Zealand experience in is still very much in its infancy. However, he says, to ask him again in 18 months.
Mostly David sees things a very similar, but simple things around terminology have been a bit of a challenge. David is used to work procedures being called SWMS whereas here they are known by many names SWMS, T/A, JSEA, JSA etc. The SSSP isn’t something we require on jobs I’ve been on in Australia and the fact that the client is a PCBU is different also. One of the more challenging parts of David’s job is identifying the different training / licencing frameworks required in NZ. In Australia all high-risk work licences, dogging, rigging, crane drivers, boom type elevated work platforms, scaffolding, forklifts, concrete pumps, hoists etc are on the one high risk work licence / card, that makes it pretty simple. However, from experiences ‘safety is safety’ no matter what side of ‘the ditch’ you are on—the principles and concepts are universal.
Q6: How has the health and safety culture developed over your time in Australia and can we learn from them in NZ?
The ‘buy in’ into safety is the main development David has witnessed over the years. It is no longer seen as a ‘tick and flick’ anymore, it really is about keeping people safe. One thing David believes helps with this culture is ‘consistent language and expectations’ around best practice, which is how the Charter can assist in unifying the industries.
David notes, that “we can’t rest on our laurels, and we still need to work hard at improvements in everything we do”. We all have to remember that safety isn’t about the paperwork in the office, it’s about keeping everyone on the site safe.
Another component that is receiving greater attention, and rightly so, is inclusiveness, we need to be an ‘industry for all’ and we still have a lot of work to do here. Mental health and wellbeing for workers in the industry should not be understated.
Q7: Where do you see the industry heading in the next few years?
With the same problems on both sides of the ditch around mental health and wellbeing following COVID, pressure of the job, long hours, stable employment etc all continue to be a juggling act in our industry. Mates in Construction is a good organisation and supportive of those in our industry. As with most things they don’t fix themselves overnight, it will take a while, and if we work together collectively as an industry on these issues, good things will happen.
Q 8: Any advice for someone wanting to start a career in health and safety?
David’s advice, you need to enjoy the safety side of the industry, you can’t just ‘do it as a job’.
This, along with ability to listen and communicate with workers, after all they are the ones doing the actual physical work. If the only time you talk to them is when they are doing something wrong, they are less likely to buy into what you’re asking them to do. ‘Good manners cost nothing, and you get more bees with honey’. Workers may not understand legislation or the paperwork and sometimes the written procedure and how the task is actually completed may not line up. So, conversations need to be had and effective work procedures need to be established, in consultation with the workers doing the work. Listening is as important as talking, maybe more so.