Two decades of safer sites

14 May 2019

It was an industry workshop held in 1997 in Upper Hutt that lead to the founding of Site Safe.

Concerned at the numbers of construction workers being injured and killed, ACC and OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) sat down with industry reps to work out how to improve site safety.

The model they were looking at was Ontario in Canada where a combined education and training approach across all groups in the industry saw injuries drop by 50 per cent.

A plan was drawn up in 1998 for a national organisation which was going to be called Construction Injury Prevention or CIP.  To be made up of unions, professional groups, and employers it was to get initial funding from ACC and BCITO.

On May 10 1999 it launched with the snappier name of Site Safe New Zealand.

It was an organisation of only two people – chief executive Iris Clanachan, pictured, and research analyst James Mead, who is still with Site Safe as the Group Manager Development and Delivery.

Iris Clanachan

Despite having just this dynamic duo in charge, Site Safe came with solid industry backing with 30 large construction firms signed up and a major commitment from the government.

Progress was rapid; by 2001, 28,000 people had been trained and issued with Site Safe’s first passport card and the results were instant with fewer deaths than any time in the previous 15 years.

Iris Clanachan, speaking to Safeguard 10 years on from the start, said there had been a sea change in attitudes to health and safety.

“For a long time, people were saying “we only do passports because we have got to’,” she says. “Employers aren’t saying that anymore.

“Through the auditing process and the accreditation process, main contractor sites are a lot safer than they were. They’ve certainly lifted their game.”

By then the number of safety advisors had grown to 20, there was a solid core of staff at the main centres and 84,000 people had done the passport course.

Some of the members who joined in 1999 are still Site Safe members.

Auckland’s Hi Lift Cranes is one of those.

Health and safety manager Les Dowie, pictured, says up till that point there was no focus on health and safety in New Zealand, generally speaking.

Les Dowie

“Everybody would say ‘keep safe’ on the job, but in terms of saying ‘here is a course that we can actually help people be safe’, this was the first of its kind really.”

Hi Lift Cranes takes that side of the business very seriously.

 In fact, on its website in the “about” section there’s a key message of intent:

“We want all our people to turn up to work in the morning with all their fingers and toes, work a good day’s work, then go home after and still have all their fingers and toes.”

It’s a serious message too – fingers are the bits that are often at risk, Les says.

“In our jobs we’re mainly dealing with the erection of pre-cast components. It’s very easy, if they’re lowering a panel into place, for an accident to happen.

“We put little packers underneath the panel for levelling purposes and sometimes the packers might move. The tendency for the boys is to stick their fingers under to straighten them up but all it takes is for the panel to drop on the hook or the dogman to give a signal to take it down and the guy’s fingers are caught under there.

“So the message sounds kind of funny but we like to remind our boys that you come with four fingers and a thumb on each hand and you take them home.”

Another founding member is Duncan Taylor of the Christchurch building firm of the same name. Duncan started in the industry as a cadet with  Fletcher Construction, doing everything from quantity surveying, joinery, structural steel and metalwork, plant yard operations and plant maintenance.

He has always backed safety in the industry and saw the value of an industry body right away.

“I thought Site Safe was a great initiative for that purpose”.

Duncan Taylor

"The  documentation and support that Site Safe provides for the industry is beneficial for a company like ours to have."

Duncan, right, says for the organisation to have become a byword for safety says a lot - "Site Safe means a safe site".

But while there has been 20 years of training and education, Duncan says it’s a never-ending battle to help keep people safe.

“The acceptance of health and safety has been a battle. In fact, we still battle with compliance from the occasional  sub-contractor who has gear that is not up to scratch.

"Our staff deal with that in differing ways depending on the situation, but suffice to say compliance is achieved.  We’ve got a regular string of subcontractors that we work with that are reminded of their obligations as per the industry standard at tender and acceptance and then again at site induction.

“It’s an obligation of a mature contractor to lead. We’ve been in the business for years and if we don’t do it, who will?”

He says one of their minimum requirements for sub-contractors is the Building Construction Passport which reflects the value of Site Safe's role in the sector.

"The training courses, the trainers and the support staff have definitely been instrumental in saving lives  and  the improved  lives of workers."

Current Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray says the organisation is proud of its contribution to making the industry safe for all its workers.

“Every New Zealand worker has a right to expect a safe work environment and an employer committed to ensuring their workers go home safe to their families at the end of the day.

“That’s what drives us as an organisation, and our mission of ‘building a safer construction industry together’,” he says.

“Our vision is for a construction sector that is unashamedly: Proud to be safe.”