Henare Thompson has always wanted a job where he could help people.
Almost four years ago, Henare was working towards joining the police when he was offered an internship with Link Alliance to work on Auckland’s City Rail Link. As a health and safety advisor for the CRL, Henare has found a role that not only allows him to help people, but that he finds both challenging and very rewarding.
Though he once considered becoming a police officer, Henare wants to debunk the idea that health and safety officers are like police officers on work sites.
“People misunderstand health and safety, thinking we act like police officers to get people in trouble or even fired, and that we’re there to enforce the law on individuals.”
Instead, he says, the role of today’s health and safety teams is actually all about collaborating and working together around risk management, looking at the likelihood and consequences of risks for different tasks and how to prevent them.
Henare, who is also an emergency response team lead for rescues, says his favourite part of his job is investigating incidents to find the root causes, then applying controls to prevent those incidents happening again.
“Health and safety gives me endless challenges at the worksite, investigating how we can prevent workers from getting injured,” he says. “I like figuring out what happened, where the errors are in our system and how to improve things to prevent a recurrence.”
When Henare started with Link Alliance he had little knowledge of working on construction sites, but says the organisation has been hugely supportive in regard to his professional development, with both on-the-job learning and external training.
With three years of health and safety training units under his belt, covering everything from site safety analysis to operating atmospheric testing equipment, safety for working at heights and even the impact of sleep on safe working, Henare says he is now confident about working on such a large construction site and being actively involved in keeping people safe.
He says his one piece of safety advice that everybody should keep in mind is to “Stop and take five”. “Meaning take five minutes to think about safely at their work site; is it safe to work? Do you have everything? Are you satisfied with your care?”
Henare plans to keep up his training and take his career to the next level by working toward the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health, an international safety certificate.
“Safety is a high-stress job but it is highly satisfying. You won’t achieve zero harm every day, but knowing that on Monday someone got first aid, but on Tuesday no one got hurt, is a reward on its own.”