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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters


Hi-Vis—Paul West

DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR

LIFE IN THE HEALTH AND SAFETY SECTOR

What is your background?

I have worked in sales, retail, security and surveillance and for the Ministry of Justice as a collections officer and was also the region’s health and safety rep. It was that role which sparked my interest in health and safety, and led me to apply for my current role as an OHS inspector with the Department of Labour in 2006.

Describe your current employment.

I am based in Hamilton and have two key responsibilities -as an inspector and as a HSNO enforcement officer. Most of my work involves investigating serious harm accidents and fatalities in the workplace.

The team I work with can see anything from a fall from height on a construction site, to a quad bike accident on a farm. These sectors are still seeing too many accidents and part of my job is to work with them to develop targeted plans to reduce the accident rate

I also spend time speaking to businesses and individuals about health and safety and how they can build on the processes they have in place to create a safe and healthy work environment. It’s an educational as well as a compliance and investigative role.

Why did you become involved in health and safety?

After working for four years at the court I wanted to be in a role where I could help make a positive change in people’s lives. I also enjoy the investigation aspect of my job and the challenges it brings.

What training have you had for the role?

When I started with the DoL I was put through quite an extensive training programme which covered the legislation, investigation procedures as well as occupational health and safety issues. I have also been trained in HSNO enforcement and prosecutions. There are always new courses to attend and I’ve recently completed one on machine guarding. The department has around 150 inspectors in New Zealand, many who are experts in certain areas, such as electrical engineering – so we call on them if we need detailed information.

What has been your most satisfying achievement so far?

The most satisfying thing is working with an organisation or a company and watching it grow from having very little engagement or support for health and safety to being fully engaged from the very top down. It’s about getting people to think for themselves and to start taking ownership of their own industry. I enjoy hearing of the benefits that their investment in health and safety has provided for controlling loss and improving safety, staff satisfaction and commitment.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do?

You’d think that the hardest part of my job would be visiting the scene of an accident or attending fatalities, but it’s not – it’s later on in the investigation when I have to speak to the family of the deceased. That’s the most difficult thing.

What has surprised you about the role?

Machine guarding remains a huge issue, which is surprising as it’s been in legislation for years and still a lot of small to medium size companies do not seem to understand the basics. This is an area of focus for the department and we will continue to work with the manufacturing industry to address our concerns – too many people are being hurt because the right controls are not in place.

How has the role changed you?

I am definitely more aware of hazards because of the line of work I’m in – I see risks every day from very serious incidents to strange accidents on escalators.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the H&S field?

Health and safety can be a hard field to work in. I would advise anyone thinking of working in this industry that they need to be passionate about OHS. You may not always be the most popular person, but you may be the reason why someone goes home alive. It would also be helpful to get some sort of formal training in health and safety.

What is the most risky thing you have done?

It would be a tie between bungy jumping from the railway bridge over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or skydiving with an old round army parachute at the Vic Falls airport … it seemed like a good idea at the time and I was a few years younger.

Thomson Reuters

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