Focus Construction

Congratulations to Focus Construction Group on winning the Best Health and Safety Initiative (by a small business) at this year's Safeguard NZ Workplace Health and Safety Awards.

We spoke to health and safety manager Kerry Rodda about how making safety visible is helping change behaviours and putting health and safety front and centre.

Having worked in the high-voltage electrical industry as well as in commercial and civil building, Kerry is no stranger to high-risk industries and the challenges on site.

“Focus started out about 20 years ago as a quantity surveying business but now we work on a wide range of projects, particularly interior fit out. So we have a lot of subcontractors.

“Our goal was to lift safety performance and improve our subcontractors and build a better, visible safety culture - something that would make it easier for the guys on the ground to identify their key risks.”

Kerry introduced the “SWER” concept: safe working environment rules, a catchy way for the team and subcontractors to remember their eight key safety areas:

  • Risk management
  • Training and competency
  • Plant, tools and equipment
  • Working at height
  • Working with services
  • Site preservation
  • Material and manual handling
  • Access

Each one of the eight items is represented with an icon which are used across all parts of every project, from induction, through to audits and site safety plans.

“We wanted them to be a constant visual reminder, so the guys are incorporating safety language into everyday normal construction language all the time.”

Kerry also applies this approach to her weekly “Focus on Safety” newsletter, which includes a photo of a risk seen on site as well as a discussion which can be used as a Toolbox Talk.

Currently working towards her Graduate Diploma in OSH, she also has qualifications in human resources, environmental safety and adult education. With almost 13 years’ experience in health and safety, Kerry says her background in adult education has been a great advantage, helping her to understand how different people learn and how to influence their behaviour.

“You can’t just do it the same way that you learn yourself. Adult education teaches you how to present information in different ways that appeals to different levels of education and different types of learner.”

The approach is already showing success with audit breaches down significantly, better near-miss reporting and fewer serious injuries.

The focus on safety has also helped to standardise expectations for subbies working across different Focus projects.

“Before, everything was decentralised and every supervisor or site was different. Safety was always an add on to what they were doing – but now they are able to incorporate it into their everyday work.

“Now our subbies know that whichever site they go to, those are our expectations and we’ll be actively monitoring those.”

Kerry says they’ve seen a great improvement in their subcontractors’ safety standards.

“Now they understand we have a genuine interest in their safety and that I’m actually a resource that they can call on. They’ve taken it on board and we’ve seen a vast improvement.”

“For me, it’s meant the difference between being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff or the gatekeeper at the top.”

Kerry says she has been privileged to witness several what she calls “lightbulb” moments.

“It’s great when you see the guys move from “this is just paperwork” to understanding that this really has an affect on them personally, and it can stop them from making the wrong decision.

“When that lightbulb goes on, they realise it isn’t just about the paperwork, it’s about getting them home safe at the end of the day. And that’s an awesome moment to be part of.”

“When that lightbulb goes on, they realise it isn’t just about the paperwork, it’s about getting them home safe at the end of the day. And that’s an awesome moment to be part of.”

Kerry Rodda, Focus Construction Group Health and Safety Manager

picture of kerry at awards

picture of SWER branding

picture of SWER logos