Te Poroa Heurea - 2016 Safety Champion recipient

One of the earthworks contractors engaged by PF Olsen is Wilson Bros Earthmovers Ltd (Wilson Bros), a company with its base in Waiotahi, near Whakatane. One of Wilson Bros employees, Te Poroa Heurea (Choppy) was a recipient at the 2016 Safety Awards, for his work with risk management.

Choppy says when managing risk he uses the tools supplied to him by Wilson Bros. It’s a simple and easy to follow matrix that follows a standard format with coloured groupings – high risk (red), acceptable risk (yellow) and low risk (green).

Choppy has become adept at using the risk matrix as a tool to assess his work and as a guide for important communication. He says, “if you can measure something you are more able to communicate about it accurately, and pass on what you need to do to bring the risk level to acceptable. In my job I need to be able to identify what is high risk and what is required to make things safe. Communication is a big factor when you are in a high-risk situation. That’s when you know straight away what’s required and who needs to be involved.”

Some of the situations he gets into are “mind boggling” and that’s when he uses the risk matrix system exactly as it was intended. He says that success comes when he steps back and takes some time to assess the risk. In his words: "There are times when you have to step away, make a cup of tea, have two cups of tea – before moving ahead with a new plan.”

Choppy is well respected and known for paying close attention to what is happening in the wider forest environment and to the people working in it. He once spotted some tree fellers working as the wind was coming up, he called the harvesting crew to tell the foreman that the tree fellers were working in a high-risk situation. This achieved the right response, and the workers were removed from that situation.

On another occasion, he assisted a harvesting crew out of a tight spot when they needed to move their hauler up the hill to a new position. This was on a steep section of a track he was building with unstable batters. The crew was impressed at how Choppy used his risk management process to ensure the job was made safe. Because of the risk he asked for an observer in radio contact. The observers job was to immediately alert Choppy to any earth movement that could compromise the safety of the operation.

Choppy mostly works on the lands he is affiliated with such as the Tūhoe forests. When talking with Choppy it’s very clear that he has great respect for his environment and people. His local knowledge helps when identifying those that have gone before him and preserving the history and mana of the area.

“Respect the land you are working on – other people have been there before you! Step carefully round a Pa site – don’t do anything wrong on the land.”

While the land may now be covered in trees, communities once thrived in these hills. The combination of his local knowledge and physical identifiers enables sites to be preserved. Choppy adds: “It takes good planning and earthworks to ensure the ground is preserved. Earthworks around a Pa site need to be minimised or another route taken rather than just cutting into the hill.”

A Pa site (pictured in the scrub above the road) that was worked around (not compromised) by altering the planned engineering works.

When starting work in a new forest Choppy will take time to say a karakia. “Safety and looking after the environment is not just a physical thing. If you go in to a job without consideration of all the factors it’s going to end up with a rough job which is no good to anyone.”

Choppy grew up in this rural setting, and went to school locally.  At every chance he’d get on his horse and take off for the hills. His passion now is another type of horse power, as he and his granddaughters are into V8 racing cars. He is also a volunteer planting native species around streams to restore the environment. These efforts are commendable and along with his work in safety made him a worthy recipient of the 2016 Safety Champion’s Award.

Well done! Keep up the great work Choppy!