Ensuring safety comes first: Meet Mark Donaghue, Assessment Manager

Mark Donaghue is firmly focused on making sure Kiwis are safe in their workplaces. So much so, even when he’s not at work as assessment manager and inspector for WorkSafe in Wellington, he is always in health and safety mode.

[image] Mark Donaghue, Assessment Manager

 ‘‘I can’t help it, I’ll be off duty and out with my family and I’ll still take an active interest if there’s scaffolding I walk past, for example, or if I see someone doing something that doesn’t look safe that could lead to something quite serious.’’

He says he’ll speak to those concerned and make a mental note to return to that site when he is back at work.

Donaghue has seen the effects of far too many accidents to look the other way.

‘‘Technically emergency services like police or ambo are first on the scene, but I’ve attended some serious incidents in my time, going to a place where someone’s lost their life and it’s quite sobering.’’

WorkSafe’s goal is to reduce workplace injuries and fatalities by 25 percent by 2020 and part of Donaghue’s role as assessment manager is to come up with work plans and strategies to achieve that in the Wellington region.

With his assessment hat on, Donaghue could be visiting workplaces to assess sites on health and safety practices, or supporting his team of four inspectors to carry out their programmes of work.

Each year more than 12,500 workplace assessments of that nature are carried out – proactive, planned visits that are not usually triggered by a report of serious harm or a health and safety complaint.

His main focus is on the industries identified as high risk, which includes manufacturing, construction, forestry and agriculture.

‘‘If you think about the number of injuries or risk of day-to-day work in the office, not much attention is needed from us. But if you think of some of the higher risk industries, such as forestry, agriculture and manufacturing, that’s where we need to focus our attention.

‘‘At the end of the day, we’re here to improve health and safety practices in workplaces and reduce the accident and injury rate and focusing on high accident rate industries is how we are going to affect change.’’

To raise awareness, Donaghue or the team also make presentations to groups such as Master Plumbers or Master Builders, discuss the new legislation with other association groups about issues including such things as working with asbestos, or the scaffolding industry about new guidelines.

Or on any given day, he and his team may be looking into complaints or concerns from workers or the public about work practices they’ve seen or been affected by.

‘‘The most common issues could be around commercial or residential painting, whether a chemical is used for paint stripping for example, concerns about traffic management, working at heights or the types of products or processes being used for construction work.’’

Donaghue says a lot of work was generated by the November earthquake which raised numerous queries and concerns.

‘‘We were heavily involved in the demolition work on the Molesworth Street and Tory Street sites, and we put a post-earthquake response group together who worked with stakeholders like Wellington City Council, contractors and building owners and tenants around building safety, closures and evacuations.’’

Donaghue is very familiar with construction sites, having earnt his pocket money by helping his builder Dad during school holidays as a youngster.

‘‘I look back to health and safety performance in those days though and it’s a lot different than now, not only the general understanding but also in the technology and equipment available today.’’

Interested in construction, Donaghue continued to work for his Dad while also studying construction and architecture at Petone Polytech. However, architecture fell by the wayside and he instead took on a job at Petone-based engineering supply firm Saeco.

‘‘I was doing sales and supply of products like motors, gearboxes and bearings and belt drives to the industry.

‘‘I also got to go on site to measure up for equipment and to make sure we supplied everything they needed.

‘‘I enjoyed that whole process of going to site and seeing the machinery and how things are made.’’

Saeco was big on safety and the message to never get yourself into a situation where you could be seriously injured was loud and clear, Donaghue says.

‘‘Having worked in the building industry with Dad I was aware of health and safety, but coming across engineers in this role who had been injured in some way, like missing fingers, was quite horrific for a young guy coming into the industry.’’

What really shook Donaghue was when his best mate suffered a severe injury at work which put him in hospital.

‘‘It was a life-changing moment – he was hit by a piece of machinery that had shattered and it almost cost him his life.’’

A while later Donaghue embarked on his OE, ending up in London and finding himself working in the fire, health and safety field for a private company with a good number of Kiwis working there.

‘‘Safety was in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to get into the industry.’’

He remained in that role for 12 years, during which time the company grew from 11 to about 90 workers and built up a solid client base of Britain’s main commercial property owners and managers.

On his return home he worked in property management while he figured out his next career move. A year later he successfully applied for a job as health and safety inspector for the then Department of Labour and he hasn’t looked back since.

‘‘Initially, there was a lot to get my head around, there was a really well structured training programme and a lot of legislation to sift through in order to be able to apply it in the workplace.

‘‘I was in my element – I got to meet different people on lots of different work sites, from abattoirs and packaging and manufacturing plants to chocolate factories where all the processes are completely different. It was, and still, is hugely interesting.’’

Back then, and now too, most satisfying of all is getting that engagement and commitment from businesses and workers alike, Donaghue says.

‘‘There’s nothing worse than going to a work site and have someone say to you they are not interested, go away.

‘‘But once you start giving examples and talk about someone in a similar situation who almost didn’t make it home from work that day, they sit up and listen because even near misses are quite sobering.

‘‘We can’t tell people how to work, but we can make sure they are aware of their responsibilities and give them options as to how they can work to get their staff home safely to their families at the end of the day, that’s our ultimate goal.’’