Health and Safety professionals should remember this Maori proverb - He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata - It is the people, it is the people, it is the people!

Case Study: Oliver Bones

In our latest interview, we spoke to Oliver Bones, Safety, Health, Environment & Wellbeing Business Partner for AECOM New Zealand, about his career.

Oliver, you emigrated from the UK to New Zealand back in 2012 and for the first six years continued to work as a scaffolder. In 2018, you secured your first health and safety role. Can you tell us why you wanted to move into health and safety and how you made this happen?
My interest in health and safety began way before I moved to New Zealand. After a day on site as a young scaffolder, I returned home and had a conversation with my dad about our respective days. He worked in logistics and was employed by a shipping company as a container park manager. That day he’d attended an interesting safety course which was delivered by an ex-scaffolder who had built a rewarding career as a trainer, sharing his experiences to encourage others to work safely. Though I never met him, this chap’s change of career gave me hope that I could eventually get off the tools and do something that would help people. The starting point to making this my reality came years later when I chose to take an entry level safety position on a site I was working on as a scaffolder. I took a bit of a pay cut initially, but the decision has paid off for me financially, especially with my NEBOSH qualifications. More importantly I am doing something I love now.

How does your experience working as a scaffolder help you?
My previous experience on the tools gives me valuable insights that I can utilise in my role. I know that there is often a difference between work-as-imagined by the people in the office and the work-as-done, and I also know how to speak to colleagues to establish the real situation. A safety practitioner must be able to build rapport and trust so they can understand where these gaps are. This allows meaningful solutions to be identified with input from those who do the job. Empowering people in this way enables better work. For me good safety is good for business and good business is good for safety.

You completed your first NEBOSH qualification, the NEBOSH International Construction Certificate, back in 2020. Why did you choose this qualification?
I had heard of NEBOSH and knew that its qualifications were trusted all over the world. I felt a NEBOSH certificate was the best formal qualification for me to start with as it would give me the foundation health and safety knowledge to build on.

I looked at my options and booked through Coachio, who are an agent of RRC here in New Zealand. Achieving my NEBOSH Construction Certificate gave me confidence and acted as an outward demonstration of my capabilities. It really was my foot in the door to the career I wanted for myself. After achieving my certificate and adding it to my profile, I was immediately contacted by recruiters offering me fantastic opportunities.

I understand that you were awarded a HASANZ Scholarship to continue your studies. Can you tell us about this organisation and the purpose of the scholarship specifically?
Health and Safety Association of New Zealand (HASANZ) is the umbrella organisation representing workplace health and safety professions in New Zealand. It supports the dissemination of information, initiatives, resources, and tools that contribute to excellence in workplace health and safety here.

It’s scholarship programme began in 2019, and I am fortunate to be one of over 100 beneficiaries who it has helped since then. The programme aims to nurture individuals who show drive to make a difference and elevate the visibility of health and safety as an appealing career choice. Ultimately, this initiative helps to create safer workplaces here in New Zealand. Scholarship recipients receive financial assistance and mentoring from experienced health and safety professionals and sponsors. You can find out more about HASANZ and its scholarship scheme on its website;

Your scholarship enabled you to complete the NEBOSH Level 6 International Diploma for Occupational Health and Safety Management Professionals. Can you tell us:

  • What attracted you to this qualification in particular?
    As I had already gained a NEBOSH certificate, taking the Diploma felt like the natural progression route for me. After my positive experience with my Construction Certificate, I booked my Diploma course via Coachio. When they heard about the HASANZ initiative, they really liked the concept and decided to contribute the fee for my Diploma. They have continued to be a supporter the HASANZ scholarship scheme ever since. I didn't just choose to do the NEBOSH Diploma because I had done a NEBOSH Certificate. I did my homework and looked at what employers asked for when recruiting. I challenge safety professionals the world over to have a look at job adverts and I guarantee a fair share will ask for a NEBOSH Diploma or equivalent. This shows the recognition and value employers place on NEBOSH success. I also liked the way the Diploma was split between Health and Safety and the foundational principles.
  • What did you gain from your studies?
    More confidence, more credibility and more in-depth knowledge that built on what I gained by completing my NEBOSH Certificate. In the Diploma you learn about the principles of health and safety which are relevant to all industries. The scenarios that are set can be for industries that you have no previous knowledge of, but I found that this only strengthens the learning experience. The research you must do to complete your assessment helps develop an enquiring mind. You learn how to approach a challenge and where to look for information (eg regulatory sites, papers, and books etc). None of us can know everything but my NEBOSH studies built confidence to work through challenges to find answers. Those assignments are no easy feat, so if you employ a NEBOSH Diploma holder you can have confidence that they will approach a challenge in the right way to find answers.

You have been in Health and Safety Lead roles since 2019, and have recently been appointed Principal - Safety, Health, Environment & Wellbeing Business Partner – New Zealand at AECOM. Can you tell us a little about your new role?
I am incredibly proud to be entrusted to lead the SHE&W function in New Zealand. At this stage ‘a little about my role’ is all I know. I can hardly fathom the varied nature and scale of the projects we do. I know no two days are the same, in fact no two hours are! Today I was reviewing methodologies for a civil engineer to go away for two weeks to the Solomon Islands before discussing wading in a river with an ecologist! The staff at AECOM fascinate me and I am lucky that they will openly and authentically discuss their work and the real risks associated with it.

You have held Health and Safety lead roles in a range of businesses for over four years now. What qualities and behaviours do you think you need to possess to be a great health and safety professional?
This role is a privilege and we have a duty of care to always act with integrity. For me an effective health and safety person is someone who works with the business to find solutions that work for everyone. As I said before for me good safety is good for business and vice versa. We should not be blockers but must strive to be enablers who help get what needs to be done completed, but in the safest possible way.

Being approachable and working in partnership is what its all about for me. I already love that my colleagues at AECOM come to talk to me about the risks they face and want to work together to find solutions. You want this open dialogue because that ensure risks and challenges are identified addressed. When you hear of situations where businesses try to keep health and safety teams at arm’s length, this really concerns me, and is likely to put workers in unnecessary danger.

You have clearly flourished since making health and safety your career. What advice would you give to others with similar aspirations?
I find my answer to this question in a Māori proverb:

He aha te mea nui o te ao? (What is the most important thing in the world?)

He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people)

What this means for me in practice is:

  • Learn about humble inquiry as this is how you will learn - It will teach you that not having the answer is often ideal because a better answer will come from speaking to others.
  • Find a mentor - I have about 6 and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. Most people will happily give their time to support you.
  • People are the solution, not the problem.
  • Do not be put off if you come from an operational space - your experience will hold you in good stead.
  • Safety is an outcome of better work.
  • We must enable work and improve overall business performance.
  • Get close to the pointy end of the operation - those are the people we are trying to help.
  • Focus on what can kill or seriously harm people.
  • Learn basic concepts and theories - these help us explain stuff and give our ideas credibility. Learning the theory will give you an idea of where and why organisations and people act a certain way, or why safety is where it is.
  • If you work safely because it is the right thing to do, you will exceed legislative requirements – As a case in point, the titanic had enough lifeboats to meet the legal requirements of its day.
  • You can blame and punish, or learn and improve, you can’t do both – and I am clear which approach is most effective in most situations

And always remember the Māori proverb, He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people).

You are an active member of the NZISM. Can you tell us about the institute and how it supports you?
The New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZIM) is a professional association for health and safety practitioners based in New Zealand. It has 2,700 members whose interests it represents. NZISM promotes industry excellence and leads by example with a membership dedicated to volunteerism, knowledge sharing, mutual support, and continual improvement.

I volunteer as a committee member for the NZISM Auckland branch. It provides a platform for motivated members to connect, engage and participate in quality discussions about health and safety. You learn from others and they learn from you which is how it should be.

In terms of your professional development, what do you plan to do next?
No rest for the wicked, I have already started my next learning journey, which I would highly recommend. I am doing David Provan’s Advanced Safety Professional Practice course. David, who has over 20-year experience as a safety professional, outlines theories and tools, to do our job better. The way this course has been laid out, is incredibly powerful. The reason I choose it was to take a pause from technical learning, because without the soft skills to influence change, we cannot possibly be as affective.

What do you enjoy most about our profession?
I love its multi-disciplinary nature and the fact that it is all about people! Health and Safety is primarily an ethical pursuit, which empowers organisations to do the right thing.

To do it well I think you need to get close to the work so you can gain insights from the people. You can learn a great deal from those who are at the coal face and solutions that are co-designed are going to be more effective than those created in isolation. They will reflect the work as done and if workers are part of the solution, you are more likely to have their buy in. Its this strive to do the right thing and to resolve challenges collaboratively that I love most about working in health and safety.