Reaching New Heights - Fletcher Construction

Building in the midst of a fully operational airport was always going to be a tricky job, but not nearly as tough as managing the hundreds of subcontractors required for one of New Zealand’s biggest commercial builds.

As the main contractor on the $200million dollar redevelopment of Auckland’s international departures terminal, Fletcher Construction were quick to realise they needed to rethink their approach to dealing with their many subcontractors.

With as many as 600 subcontractors a day from around the world working on the expansion of the terminal, Fletcher’s Senior Health and Safety Advisors on the project, Robin Barker and Dragisa Cosovic, knew communicating health and safety standards would be hard.

“At the peak of the project we had up to 70 different subtrades on site, each with their own crews, each with different backgrounds and different ideas about health and safety,” Robin says.

Working at the busy, operational airport site, which sees almost 50,000 travellers each day, meant working safely was more important than ever. Live electrical systems servicing the airport and the risk of dropping objects also presented unique challenges.

“When we first started out, we were getting very little reporting of incidents and injuries through from the subcontractors.

“They would come to our inductions to the site and not really engage with the information. But when we started running translated inductions, you could see the difference – their eyes were wide open, and they were asking questions and looking at the slides – it was completely different.”

Taking the idea and running with it, Fletcher translated all their key health and safety documents, signs and policies into five different languages and got translators to attend inductions whenever possible. Teams from each area of the build split off into small groups of their own languages to go over key project and health and safety information before starting work each day. There is a lot of visual information, and the Fletcher team sends daily safety and project updates via text to all those who register for alerts. Subcontractors can then use this information in their own pre-start briefings in the mornings. All workers must have Site Safe Passports and supervisors in charge of notifiable works must hold a supervisor-level Site Safety Card.

As well as increasing their attention to diversity, the team took on an additional senior health and safety advisor, health and safety trainee and a health and safety administrator. Since making these changes and adopting a raft of other health and safety measures, Fletcher have recorded an increase in reporting of near-miss incidents and minor injuries, and a decrease in serious injuries.

Dragisa says it has been a long journey to upskill their subcontractors, but one well worth the effort.

“When we first started, many of the companies we were working with were new to working on big projects and had gone from being a one or two-man band to suddenly employing 50 or 60 people. They might have gone from a residential environment, where they weren’t used to wearing PPE, to all of a sudden working on one of New Zealand’s biggest building projects.

“They didn’t have an understanding of health and safety law or what their responsibilities were, or what documentation they needed to do the job safely.

“We needed to help them get to an acceptable standard and that’s been the challenge.”

This has, at times, meant taking a hard line with workers who repeatedly refuse to follow safe ways of working, as well as offering significant rewards and prizes for those who do well.

He says the crews took the advice seriously once they understood Fletcher were walking the talk and applying the rules to their own staff.

“We let the guys know as soon as they come in “if you can’t do it safely, don’t do it” and that this rule applies to everyone – we’ve removed our own guys and even a senior project manager for noncompliance. The guys see that and see that we work differently here. We let them know that they won’t get in trouble for reporting, but they will get in trouble if they don’t report.”

Auckland Airport’s Health and Safety Superintendent, Allan Kendrick, says he has noticed a visible improvement in the standard of housekeeping and a decrease in dropped objects since Fletcher ramped up its approach to health and safety.

“All the training, both basic and more technical, has really helped and we’ve noticed a real difference over the past six months.”

“Taking on a project of this size and complexity is extremely challenging and Fletchers has really picked up the game.”

Blair Chant, Contracts Manager for one of the many subcontractors on site, Glenn Henderson Demolition, said the attention to simplifying, explaining and translating forms into other languages – in their case Tongan – has been backed up by an overall focus on the wellbeing of workers.

Fletcher initiatives that particularly impressed were regular free visits from a nurse, the addition of a special emergency booth in case of serious accidents and the availability of feedback forms on site.

“They are trying to drive safety through the culture, rather than through negative reinforcement. There’s a strong emphasis on wellbeing and the approach in general has been very pragmatic – rather than just a tick-the-box exercise. “

“Their team has been very forward thinking in really trying to lead the industry. It’s been different from a lot of sites – it’s a very practical approach.

“You can have a discussion with them and work together to figure out how to do the job in the safest, most practical way. They’re not just there to say “no”.

Dragisa agrees they’ve seen a huge shift in attitudes since the project first started.

“Workers want to work here – they prefer it because they feel safe and they feel valued.”

“They’ll come and tell us how much safer they feel working here than on some of the other sites they’ve been to since.”

The current stage of the airport redevelopment is due to be completed in October.



“Workers want to work here – they prefer it because they feel safe and they feel valued. They’ll come and tell us how much safer they feel working here than on some of the other sites they’ve been to since.”

Dragisa Cosovic, Fletcher Senior Health & Safety Advisor

picture of Tongan toolbox talk

picture of reward at meeting