NZ safety awards — turning tragedy into positivity

Site Safe Construction Health, Safety and Wellbeing Award winner Paul Lynch.

The first-ever three-way win at the Site Safe Construction Health, Safety and Wellbeing Awards got a huge round of applause from more than 400 people at the recent awards event in Auckland recently.

The annual awards, hosted by Hilary Barry with a guest speech by New Zealander of the Year Mike King, salute the work being done by construction organisations in the areas of health, safety and well-being, and honours the graduates of its Health and Safety in Construction programme.

Wellbeing was added to this year’s awards for those leading the way in this hugely critical area, and three very different and inspirational entries were joint winners.

Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray says it is a fantastic result that recognises the hard yards put in by the three winners to talk about all kinds of mental health issues among tradespeople and construction personnel.

“These are traditionally male environments, and the traditional Kiwi male is bloody awful when it comes to talking about the pressures in their lives,” Mr Murray says.

“Our three winners are all from the sharp end of the construction sector, and have either dealt with depression or lost close relatives to suicide.

“They are out there talking to people, writing books and engaging at worksite level to help people talk through issues before the pressures just get too great.”

The three joint winners of the Kalmar Mental Health and Well-being Award were Paul Lynch of Christchurch’s FloorRight Installations, Dave Burt of Team Cabling in Auckland, and The Switched On Group.

The three judges were impressed by all the 19 entries in the category, but said the three winners had something special in common.

“They’ve all experienced tragedy in their lives, they’ve all turned that experience into something that’s made them stronger, and they’re using what they’ve learned to strengthen the wider construction community.”

Carpet and vinyl installer Paul Lynch lost his younger brother Brett to suicide in 2013. That rocked Paul tremendously, and it took him a while to shake off the rage and darkness he felt. He decided he needed to work on himself, and published a book called Suicide; Aftermath & Beyond.

He and wife Wendy reach out at every level to talk honestly about the things that matter.

Dave Burt had his own issues with depression, and details it all in his book Lengthening the Shadow. He says it’s not that blokes don’t want help or don’t want to be there for their mates, it’s often they just don’t know how.

The Switched On Group was already talking about mental health when, in 2019, Jonny Hughes, the business partner and brother of chief executive Chris Hughes, took his own life.

The company has used Jonny’s memory to create more awareness of mental health and to help in all kinds of community collaborations.

The Site Safe awards acknowledge all the people, companies and organisations who have shown innovation and leadership in improving health and safety.

In the Bettabuilt Safety Innovation Award for large organisations, Auckland’s Spiral Drillers Civil followed up their win last year by taking out the award with a range of home-built innovations and inventions to make life easier and safer.

The company specialises in large piling and foundation work, and showed off six tools they have come up with, which range from a concrete pile shaver which reduces the need for workers having to go up scaffolding to remove waste concrete from piles, to a portable, weathertight, welding shelter.

At the other end of the scale, the Dominion Constructors Safety Innovation Award for small-to-medium-sized organisations went to Biggins Interior Solutions, a fibrous plaster manufacturer based in Lower Hutt, that makes plaster sheets, ceiling centres and other architectural mouldings.

Their issue revolved around how to safely lift and move freshly-cast sheets of fibrous plaster that weigh around 80kg. They solved the problem by inventing their own custom trolley-lifter.

The winner of the Mitre 10 Trade Safety Leadership Award was Acrow Ltd, a national scaffolding firm that wanted to get strong health and safety messages through to all its staff.

One of the initiatives was a series of videos shot at Acrow branches that were so good they won an award at the 2018 US Internal Film and Video Festival.

The Vero Liability Safety Contribution Award went to Daniel Bradley and the Bradley Project Management Team. It’s a consultancy of just 11 people that has put wellness right at the heart of its dealings.

So much so that they are working to spread their values throughout the construction industry by incorporating a mandatory wellness policy into their contractor tenders.

With a motto of “we get sh-t done”, the firm is keen to share its wellness programme with everyone in the industry and offer any advice on how to implement it.

There were also two judges’ special mentions this year. They didn’t quite fit in with the award categories, but they were important in showing how looking after people makes a big difference.

One was for the NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail and NCTIR Alliance, which worked to repair the damage done around Kaikoura by the 2016 earthquake. In total, 8000 workers worked
5 million hours on more than 180 sites, working on 3300 “things to be fixed”.

One of the key parts of the job was looking after all those workers who were living away from home, while integrating them into the local community to make sure wellness was front and centre.

The other special mention was for Andrew Breward and Kelly Wood of RMBA company Premium Home Builders in Christchurch.

They were nominated by employee Peter Murphy who struggled when he lost his home in the Kaikoura earthquake and his life started unravelling.

He says Andrew and Kelly never gave up on him, supported him in every way, and made it clear that Peter’s recovery was their business.

The judges said the story didn’t quite fit the criteria of the awards but they wanted the story told — “and for Andrew and Kelly to be recognised by their peers for their outstanding contribution to Peter and Emma and their whanau”.

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