Member Profile


Member Profile

Stephanie Cerpa – H&S Manager

Originally from the United States, Stephanie and her husband have made New Zealand their home. Stephanie is passionate about health and safety and like most, by chance fell into the role.  Working for Contract Construction, Stephanie willingly shares her knowledge and experiences with others and is a valued member of the Safety Charter’s Health and Safety Leaders’ team.    

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

Originally, I started out as a Project Coordinator for a residential construction company. The Health and Safety Manager came up to me one day and said “you would be perfect for health and safety”. I instantly felt honoured and like wow he thinks that I would be able to make a difference in this role, little did I know I probably was the only person who didn’t say no!  But I am grateful I said yes as I found that I was very passionate about health and safety which sparked my career to grow very quickly. I became the full-time Health and Safety Manager within 6 months, learning everything on the job.

I got a scholarship with Site Safe NZ , studied Nebosh and did a Project Management Diploma, so it was all a go. 2-years down the track I switched from residential to commercial construction which has bigger risks, bigger challenges and more subcontractors to work with. Today, I still work in commercial construction and am loving it.  It is so great to be a part of something that really makes a huge difference in both the workplace and industry, not just by having good practices but actually being a part of the process that helps get our team go home safe at the end of each day. It’s so rewarding!

Q2:  How has your health and safety journey progressed?

My journey has definitely developed from surviving and figuring out what good looks like, to now thinking how we can make things better, how do we engage our staff more, how do we truly implement change. My thinking, planning and strategizing has evolved and shifted and I am excited to continue to learn and grow as health and safety constantly changes and evolves.

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

There have been many amazing people and organisations who have helped me along the way, SiteSafe NZ mentoring me through their scholarship program when I first started out, The Canterbury Safety Charter providing continued professional development and opportunities to network, engage and participate in upskilling the industry through various workshops and mentoring. A special shout out to Matt Jones, Advanced Safety who was there at the beginning of my health and safety journey and who encouraged and always believed in me.  Alison Molloy formerly SiteSafe’s CEO taught me about personal resilience as we face some difficult challenges in our chosen career and without this your wellbeing can take a significant hit. There have been so many incredible people over the years who have been more than willing to assist along the way it’s hard to name them all. Without these amazing people who donated their time, expertise, talent and resources I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

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

Overall, health and safety has become a more positive experience. When I first started whenever I told someone on or off site that I was a Health and Safety Manager I would always get the same response , “Oh your one of those people”, and then they would roll their eyes. But I would just smile and respond and say “yeah, I am a Health and Safety Manager, I get to make a difference every day and be a part of making sure people like you make it home safely to their families each day”. I loved how stunned they looked, like ‘oh yeah that is actually a good thing’. I made it my personal mission to make health and safety a positive and achievable experience and it has been amazing to see that consistent approach filter into all those that I have worked with through the years.

Q5: What are the biggest challenges you face now?

Some of the biggest challenges I personally face, is how to manage my current workload practically, reminding myself that I really have to prioritise where my time goes.  I actually can’t do everything each day and so I self-managing by communicating and delegating as much as is practical to upskill my workers and utilise my team as I am the only official Health and Safety Manager role within our organisation. Our organisation is in need of updating our systems and we are striving to digitise more and transition from paper to digital, however our more mature workforce have finally come to love their paperwork and are resistant to technology and it’s going to take some time to transition, train and support this change in our organisation. We are all working through the process and it takes time to implement properly.

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

With the Health and Safety Act 2015 being revised and education provided around what that means and it looks like in workplaces, I have seen a shift in management attitude towards health and safety, including General Managers and Directors. They take it more seriously and are on board and continue to strive to implement good health and safety in the workplace.  There can still be a top-down communication breakdown that needs improvement, as I observe the message does always get through to the workers on site. I am seeing that New Zealand is more on track then we have ever been before.

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

I believe we will see more innovation in how to do things better and safer, I also believe that health and safety will become more site and company specific rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach which is not always practical. I hope to see the smaller companies getting on board with health and safety, seeing it as a positive rather than in the too hard basket and finally, I wish our fatality statistics reduce significantly.

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

If you love being a part of making a difference, improvement, wellbeing, problem solving, and so much more then a health and safety career path is for you. The industry required inspired and passionate people to really lead the way with health and safety to make the continuous and necessary changes.  There is greater support around these roles now which makes it clearer on how to get into this career. It can only get better from here, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of this movement. Yeah, sometimes you have a lot of paperwork and administration, but anything worth doing requires a good record.

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