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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

All part of the service

An award-winning health & safety representative can’t quite understand what all the fuss is about. JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM reports.

Brett Swanson’s workmates should be glad he doesn’t like reality TV. As Swanson – universally known as Skeeta – tells the story, the only reason he spends long hours of his leisure time on the computer, doing “work things” related to his dual roles as an AA roadside service officer and a H&S rep, is because his wife likes the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and he doesn’t.

Last year those “work things” included a comprehensive ergonomic review of service vehicles that prompted some significant design changes, taking a lead in a major organisational risk assessment process, and helping with projects to update the safety clothing and computer hardware used by service officers.

“I probably put my hand up for too many things,” he says, without a shred of regret. “But I like doing the extra things, and if it’s a matter of health and safety they’re going to get my feedback on it, because it’s got to be done properly.”

AA health and safety manager Tim Beach puts it differently.

“Skeeta is an attention to detail person and he goes the extra mile to get things right. He believes the work he does to improve health and safety is just normal, but he goes above and beyond what we expect.”

Swanson, who won the H&S rep category at the 2017 NZ Workplace Health & Safety Awards, certainly gives the impression that he likes to be busy, living up to his nickname, given in childhood because – mosquito-like – he was constantly buzzing about.


When we meet at his North Shore home we’ve barely made our introductions before he’s telling me about the latest project he’s working on – a redesign of the equipment storage in service officers’ vehicles.

“I get carried away,” he says a little sheepishly, showing me the 1:5 scale models he’s made of all the tools and equipment that service officers carry. “But I’m pretty fussy with how things should be. They have to be practical, to work properly – and I’ll say something if they’re not right.”

With the redesign of the box body – the storage compartment that goes on the back of an AA ute – there are a lot of factors to be worked through, and Swanson reckons the models are the best way to reconcile the conflicting requirements for maximum storage and easy accessibility.

“Everything has to be put in the right spot, not only for manual handling, but for the handling of the vehicle itself. You’ll have 14 or more batteries, each weighing 20 to 25kg, plus containers of water and fuel, a jack, and a big toolbox, so you need to keep the weight low and central.”

There are other issues too. The tool boxes have sliding drawers, which can cause problems when working on slopes. Wet weather gear, the fire extinguisher and the things used most regularly, like road cones, must be easily accessible, even when parked on the side of a busy motorway. Batteries and fuel containers must be kept well apart, but stowed in such a way that they don’t require awkward lifts. And everything has to fit neatly into the back of a standard-sized utility vehicle.

It all sounds a little daunting, and even Swanson says the project is going to be “a real biggie”, but it’s clear he’s relishing the challenge.


And perhaps he should be, given that this project is in some measure the natural corollary of his participation in an earlier redesign initiative.

Last year those overseeing a service vehicle safety improvement project asked Swanson, and others, for ideas. He gave them plenty, including repositioning lights and reflectors, so they would be clearly visible to approaching traffic – even when parked at an angle to the carriageway – but not blind those working around the vehicle. Others included synchronisation of flashing lights, and changes to a reflector on the toolbox that, in certain conditions, created a pool of light on the rear window, reducing driver visibility.

“Skeeta’s suggestions went well beyond just making improvements,” Beach says. “He came up with a complete redesign of the vehicle, incorporating some ergonomic and lighting improvements that required a change of vehicle model.”

The review team loved his ideas, but the scope of the project allowed only for improvements to the existing fleet, so it implemented what it could of his suggestions, and sought funding to build a new service vehicle that could incorporate all his designs.

It is as part of this initiative, now approved and under way, that Swanson has inevitably turned his attention to the finer design details that were not part of the original project’s brief.


He attributes his passion for health and safety to his long involvement as a volunteer fire fighter. When he started with the AA 20 years ago, after deciding life as a workshop mechanic was not for him, health and safety was not a key focus for service officers.

“We never used to wear high viz, didn’t have steel cap shoes, safety glasses, ear muffs, bonnet support props, gloves – it wasn’t really thought of.”

But, having already had three years as a volunteer fire fighter, he realised the brigade’s safe working procedures were equally relevant to his new role.

“I could see there was an overlap. A fire is a more dangerous situation, but there will be at least four of you watching out for each other. On the road you’re by yourself, but you’ve still got to control the scene.”

Over subsequent years he reworked the brigade’s safe person concept and dynamic risk assessment processes to suit roadside situations, and helped train service officers to use these models.

“They’re the foundation of the operations we’ve got now.”

Life has changed a lot for service officers over the years he says, with H&S now front of mind at every job, backed by strong management support.

“Management listens to us. If they want to make changes they always want to know what we think, and if a guy sees something out there that will help us, they’ll definitely look into it.

“We’ve got lots of PPE now, and a while ago we were having shoulder injuries from using a wheel brace to change wheels, so they got us impact guns, and they work very well.

Swanson makes no apology for being “finicky” about H&S but is slightly troubled that his efforts often earn him credit that, in his eyes, he doesn’t deserve.

“I don’t lead any of the projects – I just put my hand up. A lot of what happens isn’t my doing,” he insists.


Such is his natural modesty that Beach had to keep his nomination for the rep of the year award secret, until finalists were announced and it was too late for him to withdraw. His team leader summoned him to the AA’s Penrose headquarters to break the news, but when he received the invitation Swanson’s first thought was that he was in for a reprimand.

“When I was greeted by the regional and national managers, and the H&S team as well, I thought, this must be something pretty big. Surely I’d remember doing something bad enough to qualify for this reception?

“When they told me I was one of three finalists I was humbled – but in some ways I would rather have had a telling off, because I knew that if I won I’d have to make a speech.”

He admits his fear of public speaking took some of the shine off the big night, and, while he felt honoured and grateful for the recognition received, still doesn’t quite understand it.

“Health and safety isn’t about one person,” he says. “I’m part of team of 12 on the North Shore, and five of those have been in the job for between 35 and 40 years. With their knowledge and experience, I can bounce ideas off them.

“They’re the ones who make me look good.”


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