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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters


Gainful employment

JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM reports on an award-winning initiative that provides medical facilities on construction sites.

Andrew Scott, or Scottie as he prefers to called, puts it very simply: “We believe that everyone should come out of our company’s projects having gained something personally.”

It’s a worthy objective, but when you take into account that the company is international dairy processing provider Tetra Pak, and the projects he’s talking about are multi-million dollar construction sites involving as many as 250 people, it sounds like a big ask.

The most surprising thing about it, however, is that Scott and his colleagues – he is the company’s Oceania safety manager and OHS cluster driver – actually make it happen.

For the bigger players on the sites it’s easy enough – Tetra Pak is a world leader in the supply and installation of milk treatment and packaging solutions, so there are new skills on offer during set up of the high-tech processing equipment.

But how do you ensure personal gains for dozens of itinerant construction contractors who operate their businesses from the backs of vans? Theirs is a no-frills lifestyle, chasing jobs from site to site, and spending their working weeks in dormitory-style accommodation, often far from home.

It’s not the healthiest of lifestyles, says Scott. “They often work two weeks on, one weekend off, only getting home for Saturday and Sunday, so if they’re carrying any health concerns there’s no chance to see the doctor. And when you’re at the lower-paid end of the scale as they are, you can’t afford to lose wages by seeing a doctor in working hours.”

The solution, Tetra Pak decided in early 2014, was to offer free consultations with an occupational health nurse on all project sites.

“The idea originated from my boss, projects director John Middleton. He said he’d seen a nurse on a site and we could surely do something like that to help our people?”

Scott had set up occupational health services for two different employers when he worked in the whisky industry in Scotland, so he knew what was needed. It sounds deceptively simple, but it was the project’s careful planning – focused firmly on the needs of end users – that saw it named best initiative to address a health risk in the 2015 NZ Workplace Health & Safety Awards.

Scott’s quietly proud of the award, but prouder still that clinic bookings are trending upwards, and contractors are beginning to ask about the on-site nurse when they sign up for new projects.

“Our contractors tend to move from site to site with us, and the feedback from them has been great. They really appreciate that there’s now someone to turn to with their concerns.”

In many ways the project’s success is a product of the company’s considered approach to its role as a construction principal. With hi-tech dairy industry projects across the country being managed from its Hamilton headquarters, a lot of thought has gone into site dynamics.

All sites operate a strict ring-fence policy, where everything happens in accordance with Tetra Pak safety systems and values. This means JSAs, risk assessments and permits to work, but it also means that at the hub of the site is a well planned portacom village, where offices, services, toilet facilities, smoko rooms, and, in some cases, even a proper canteen, are clustered in a way that facilitates interaction and creates a feeling of community.

The villages provide an ideal venue for a nurse’s clinic – but that doesn’t mean it goes in the first available space.

“We need a clean hut with running water and a wash hand basin of course, but it also has to be located so it isn’t overlooked, because people won’t go to the nurse if they can’t do so in privacy.”

Patient confidentiality is one of the initiative’s key concerns, so to ensure it is maintained the company seeks only limited information about the service’s use.

“We get rough figures – the numbers who have seen the nurse and the sorts of issues being discussed – but that’s as much as we want. The minute the nurse is seen to divulge any personal information we might as well shut up shop, because no one would come again.”

Site nurses come from occupational health provider OK Health. A single nurse runs the clinic for the duration of a project, spending half a day on site each week, beginning with the 7am pre-start meeting, so everyone gets to know them.

Anyone on site can book a one-on-one consultation with the nurse, at no cost to either the individual or their employer.

“We ask our contractors to free up staff to visit the clinic. We don’t want a queue of 20 people in the half hour smoko break, so we expect people to be released from work.”

Uptake of the service generally starts slowly, with an initial two or three appointments a day, but by the end of the job there will typically be 12 bookings for each four-hour session.

Scott acknowledges that a visit to a nurse is not always an end in itself, but says simply sharing a problem can be helpful. One person, he recalls, had had a bereavement and was trying to work through it. When eventually he came to the nurse for assistance, he got a lot of benefit from it.

“At the other end of the scale I know we’ve picked up a couple of cases of type 2 diabetes. In that situation the nurse will give them a letter for their GP, and as far as we know people follow it up.”

Between appointments the nurse is out on site, talking to workers informally about the health risks of their job, and what to do about them. Kiwis, says Scott, are pretty good at understanding immediate hazards, but not so good with long-term harm. The nurses talk about things like occupational asthma, skin rashes, hearing loss, and safety data sheets for chemicals.

“Sometimes they use a noise meter to show the guys what they’re exposed to – and it makes a difference. Workers are now warning their colleagues before they start noisy activities.”

From time to time the clinics also offer health screening programmes. One site did a cardiac risk assessment, where people got scores for different risk factors like age, family history and smoking.

“At the end we had people walking around with their personal assessments, comparing totals. It generated a lot of interest, and I’d like to think that for those with high scores it was an incentive to do something about it.”

The clinics have now been used on four sites in New Zealand, and will be introduced at two Australian sites later this year. It’s not a cheap exercise, but Scott is confident it’s a sound business decision.

“It reduces absenteeism, and getting your concerns listened to by someone who knows what they’re doing also reduces accidents, because you can keep your mind on the job rather than worrying.

On top of that, he says education to prevent long-term harm increases the longevity of the company’s contractor base, and it ties in with the new legislation’s requirement to monitor health effects.

“Just the other day we were talking about the new officers’ liabilities [under the HSW Act] and someone said: ‘Surely if you just care about everybody you’ll never find yourself in breach?’, and I thought: ‘Yes, that’s what it’s all about!’

IN SUMMARY

  • • 
    Tetra Pak provides an on-site nurse at each project site.
  • • 
    Helps counter unhealthy lifestyle of some contractors who are itinerant.
  • • 
    Nurse’s room positioned on site with discretion.
  • • 
    Take-up of nurse’s services builds up over a project’s life.
  • • 
    Nurse also tours site advising staff on health risks.

JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM

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