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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

In the spotlight—Vern Rosieur


What is your background?

I grew up in Omaha in a family of ten children. I began work with the Auckland Electric Power Board as a cable layer in the early 1980s. I then worked in the field and from there progressively worked my way up through the ranks in a number of roles, which included foreman, supervisor, project manager, training, auditing and different managerial positions. I also worked through different areas of trades in supervision roles until joining Northpower’s Safety and HR team in a leadership role where my coaching, mentoring and leadership skills could be shared more widely. Along the way I have been exposed to, and supported by, some incredible leaders throughout the industry.

Describe your current employment

By title I am Northpower’s Safety & HR Field Services Manager. In effect, my role is looking after the welfare of our people on the front line, trouble-shooting, guiding them to be the best, helping them with challenges and supporting them in times of need. I assist with incident and accident investigations and work hard to find corrective actions. I also provide mentoring and coaching support for managerial and field staff. And there are times I have to have the hard conversations. If that means telling someone to look for another line of work, then I will.

Why did you become involved in health & safety?

In all honesty, it is just one of those life journey things. I set out on a path and ended up going down this road. The more involvement I had, the more determined I became to make positive change in our sector. In the past, attitudes to safety were quite flippant. Alcohol was rife, and when drug testing was first mentioned in our sector it was like a bombshell. Seeing the results of this culture in the remnants of families, of widows struggling to make ends meet, was upsetting. Safety was second and we had to make change. We had to take ownership and be the doers. There is still more work to be done on leadership in the field. The leader needs to give sight to those who follow and those who follow need to give purpose and meaning to the leader.

What training have you had for the role?

I guess I have had a lifetime in the industry. I started out as a cable jointer and worked in the field for a long time. I know what it’s like out there – the challenges, the pressure, the shortcuts we used to take, the risks we used to take, the camaraderie, the culture. So I know how the guys think and I know what they have to contend with. But, again, I come back to passion for the people and relationships and being straight up.

What has been your most satisfying achievement so far?

Like many of us, I realised long ago that there was an acute need for the electricity sector to step up in health and safety, and that starts with attitude. You can have all the PPE gear you want, and it is your last line of defence and can save you. But ideally, no one should have to rely on that. Mostly I am proud of the advances Northpower has made in its safety journey – and that is down to the people. So many people from the company and the industry have worked really hard to lift the game around safety. We work very closely with industry groups, other lines companies and the EMPU to forge a better way. We have produced DVDs on drug and alcohol awareness.

Perhaps one of the proudest achievements is the Brothers in Arms display I put together and the broad impact that has had in our sector and others. It has blown me away, to be honest. I wanted to provide a lesson people simply could not visually escape from, because while you can talk at people, hand pieces of paper to them and create safety posters, ultimately, it means little or nothing and the message isn’t long-lasting.

I dressed five mannequins in burnt and damaged PPE gear. The mannequins were designed to be seen as their brothers. Those brothers were standing in that gear when things went wrong.

I have seen first-hand that the right PPE can be the difference between life and death. Some of the work we have done has set the standards for CAL ratings in New Zealand and that’s pleasing.

I have been part of the Northpower PPE committee for a long time. We review potentially new equipment and PPE; we monitor trends and incidents and we look for ways to do things better. When one of our staff had a safety incident in the field, I told him to take the next day off and come back to me with a letter outlining what was going to change to ensure this never happened again. His wife got involved in the conversation and the result was really positive.

Our safety journey never ends and it takes all of us to do it – not just one person. We need to be shoulder to shoulder. Safety does not have a company name.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do in health & safety?

Seeing people hurt. When people are injured or killed it hurts me. It hurts everyone in our sector when anyone in our industry is injured. I often tell : “When one person is hurt, we all bleed. I take it personally.”

What has surprised you about the role?

The willingness of people to embrace change and work more safely – and the fact that has been driven equally by the Board and the field workers and everyone in between. One of the greatest things for me is when people come up to me and tell me they have made changes. One guy had never worn a switching jacket before. After my presentation on Brothers in Arms he started wearing a switching jacket and was involved in a flashover within a matter of weeks. He is here today because of that. The same with drugs and alcohol – it’s about changing habits and mindsets and behaviours. It’s all about health and safety and wellness of our staff and that’s an incredible thing to embrace and be able to say that I love this job. One thing I will not stand for is anyone treating their life cheaply.

How has being in health & safety changed you?

It has boosted my awareness of the need to look out for others – but also to take responsibility for your own actions. And those are the messages I try to put across to our people.

What advice would you give anyone thinking of entering the field?

It’s a great sector full of great careers and with huge opportunities. If people like working outside, doing a physical role and working in a team – then being a frontline line mechanic or jointer is probably the way to go. Our industry desperately needs skilled staff. We are always on the lookout for potential talent with the right attitude and behaviour. At our boot camps we are looking for potential leaders for the future – not just arms and legs.

What is the most risky thing you’ve done?

It’s more about what I have observed. Back in the day, in the 1980s and early 1990s, a couple of themes were ongoing – a lack of testing and lack of spiking cables, which I certainly do not advise but it was prevalent in the sector. These things have long gone. They have been well and truly superseded with best practice systems and processes which we see now in the Safety Manual – Electricity Industry (SM-EI) and other recognised work instructions/procedures for the electricity sector.

Thomson Reuters

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