Providing health and safety simplicity in a complex environment

By NZISM Secretary


Nick Engelmann is the Director of Occupational Health and Safety at Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) - we talked to him about his goal to provide a simpler approach to health and safety, and the importance of continuous professional development.

A background in the Australian military, Police, shipping, mining and logistics, gave Nick Engelmann a taste for the complexity of his current role at the Auckland DHB where he and his team are responsible for a community of 11,000 people, about the size of a small New Zealand town.

By any measure his career has been varied but throughout he has picked up vital lessons to put him in good stead to lead a team responsible for health and safety in one of the country’s largest DHBs.

It all started in his late teens when he saw a friend sitting on a “flash motorbike,” who went on to explain he had joined the Army so he would get paid through Uni.

“I left TAFE and did the same,” Nick explains, “and spent two years studying and serving full-time, then following my Dad’s footsteps into the Police, serving for 13 years in the northern regions of Queensland.” He reached the rank of Sergeant while continuing reserve army service, including a peace-keeping tour of East Timor with the Australian Defence Force in support of the UN.

“It was the Police that kick-started my interest in health and safety - I loved the north, a reasonably wild part of the world and police work is full of situations where health and safety is the top priority. But after my UN work, I needed a change and had a stint in the coal mining industry before doing a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Health and Safety Science.”

On the back of this Nick became the Health and Safety Coordinator for MacMahon Mining at the Eaglefield Open Cut Coal mine and then the Senior Safety Advisor for Seaswift, Australia’s largest privately owned shipping company, operating maritime supply chain and logistics in Far North Queensland, the Northern Territory and through the Torres Strait.

Following this he became Asia Pacific Safety Manager for Defence Operations for Serco and then moved with the company to the Auckland South Corrections Facility at Wiri. He worked for Toll Group for a short while before being snapped up by the Auckland DHB.

“It’s been a lot of moving around but the roles I’ve had in public and commercial organisations have given me a unique foundation for what I do now and it’s strengthened my passion for integrated health and safety solutions,” Nick explains.

When he joined the Auckland DHB, the health and safety process was effective but disparate, and therefore less effective. Health and safety overall had become even more important, following new legislation, and the DHB’s processes needed reviewing.

“My most important initial goal was to help my team reduce the silos and develop an integrated safety framework aligned with ISO45001. Our goal now is to be leading edge,” he says.

“The vision is having one safety framework across all 12 directorates in Auckland DHB as an agreed standard, with individual directorates able to build upon these procedures if required - this provides both control and flexibility so every area of health and safety is more effective.”

The ability for individual teams to have input is resulting in simple but innovative solutions and processes.

“An example of this is the fast reporting of abuse or violence in a busy emergency department using electronic display readers with three reporting buttons for different levels of seriousness, whether verbal or physical. All a team-member needs to do is push one of the buttons and this will soon integrate with our incident management system, so other immediate action can be taken,” he says.

“This system gives our emergency department staff confidence to report situations easily. They are our eyes and ears, so if we get feedback, we can constantly improve our workers safety.

“Most importantly, they need to feel safe when doing their job,” he says.

“Instant reporting can be followed by later analysis if needed. It’s all about simplifying the health and safety process - just push a button to report and it’s done - ultimately this leads to a more content workplace, lowers stress levels and is more efficient.

“If health and safety isn’t simple, it will be ignored because people just don’t have time, and that doesn’t help us or our staff.

“Simplicity is important because of the enormous range of different health and safety situations we encounter, and probably a lot more than most work spaces. We deal with all sorts of things such as sharps and needles, blood, chemicals, labs, sterilisation, biological and hazardous substances and waste, transport and logistics, worker ergonomics, pre-employment screening, occupational health monitoring, and then contractors onsite involved in work like construction. And this is the job of a team of 20.

“Simplicity also means it just becomes part of the way we work - health and safety is good business, so it shouldn’t be a chore,” Nick says.

In the last year, the ADHB Occupational Team has grown from 15 to 21 people comprising six health and safety advisors, four nurses, two occupational health physicians and ACC case

managers, one occupational health nurse and nurse trainer, and three administrative support people. It has evolved from being one reliant on external contractors to an internal team.

Nick explains this is because it’s vital to have a consistent approach.

“We are the team who is looking after the health and safety of a huge range of professionals who are subsequently looking after the health of Auckland’s population. We have a very important role in serving our community who are serving others,” he says.

Another issue being faced is finding people with the right training and qualifications, at a time when this is increasingly difficult.

“Health and safety has advanced as a profession but the volume of people graduating from tertiary institutions with an Occupational Health qualification is behind the number needed.

“Our minimum requirement is for our team members to have an OHS Science degree and be an accredited member of the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM), and be on the HASANZ register.

“High standards are important for us and this is where NZISM plays such a vital role,” he says.

“Many OHS professionals have studied but often years ago and while they have the theory, this profession is evolving so quickly that knowledge needs boosting continually.

“Continuing professional development (CPD) days, webcasts and seminars are all crucial for staying in touch and hearing about the latest process, health and safety incident or case study. Having a community where knowledge, ideas and experiences are shared becomes the foundation to developing a career and growing the health and safety profession overall,” he says.

The ongoing complexities of healthcare, the importance of having a stable and knowledgeable team and the external support of a professional body is an example of a health and safety system working well but also aspiring to be better.

“You need the best people, easy processes so you can continue to improve the way you serve your community, and for this to be supported to provide a career direction for very passionate people,” he says.

The efforts of Auckland DHB haven’t gone unnoticed by other DHBs, with ongoing collaboration with Counties Manukau, Waitemata and Bay of Plenty DHBs all interested in sharing ideas with the Occupational Health team in Auckland.

“In these jobs you can feel like a lone operator at times but this is changing as we make strides towards achieving the ISO45001 standard in health and safety,” he says.

For the size of organisation and complexity of operations, Auckland DHB as a whole, or in part, is a good case study about the recent evolution of health and safety, in response to legislation and public need. The largest change has been that the practice of occupational health is now integral to the way Auckland DHB serves its community and the people of Auckland. It is not a subset to healthcare but part and parcel of the way it is delivered.

Photo caption for ADHB OHS photo:
Left to right: Sunny Chauhan OHS Advisor GradNZISM, Nadia Kozlova OHS Advisor GradNZISM, Wendy Means Manager OHS, Dr Caroline Allum OHS Clinical Lead, Nick Engelmann Director OHS GradNZISM MInstD, Tamalyn Parsons OHS Advisor TechNZISM