For SIT2LRN graduate Richard Yardley, health and safety isn’t just about creating good plans and processes, it’s also personal.
Yardley, a 47-year veteran of New Zealand’s fire service (now known as Fire and Emergency NZ - FENZ), has been a driver in improving the systems that keep firefighters in the southern region and across New Zealand safe, and completing a Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety Management (Level 6) has helped support him with that work.
“I’ve been involved in health and safety in the fire service, probably ever since the Health and Safety Act came into being,” he said.
“I was in a group of four guys that set up our first policies, and we had also entered into an agreement with the ACC accreditation programme – at the time no one knew what we were in for.”
The ACC partnership programme is an exhaustive process and results in a significant reduction in ACC levies, but for Richard it’s the personal aspect that is the most important.
“Health and safety has very important ramifications, particularly for an organisation like us, because we do have quite a few injuries. While our injury numbers are on the way down, we do still have some that crop up, mainly muscle and joint-type injuries.”
The SIT2LRN Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety proved a valuable framework for Richard’s ongoing work with FENZ, but also helped support practical examples in other areas.
“I was fortunate to have the fire service as a platform to work with, and I used it for some of my study. I also have a son-in-law who has a large farm north of Outram, near Dunedin, and I was also able to use that as a case study and put some processes together to help him move with the times,” he said.
“When I started all of this, there was quite a fear in the farming community about ACC and we were able to alleviate that and put some good policies and plans in place.”
Physical injuries are not the only issues firefighters have to deal with, as it is a role that is often also mentally demanding.
The mental health of those working in the emergency services has been highlighted in recent years, including in a FENZ report 18 months ago.
“I’ve been in the job for 47 years and wellness issues have been part of the job that whole time, but we’ve never really understood them well,” Richard said.
“However, in the past 18 months there have been several suicides in the organisation. I serve on two Health, Safety and Wellbeing committees - Area 24 Health and Region 5 Health - and Safety and Wellness committees. I also serve on the New Zealand Professional Fire Fighters Union (Dunedin branch executive). Along with other committee members, I support and promote the organisation’s wellness policies.
Through these committees I have taken special interest in staff welfare, and gaining my diploma through SIT has provided me with valuable tools in helping colleagues when dealing with wellness injuries and illnesses.”
Returning to study for the first time since doing University Entrance had been a challenge for Richard, but he was able to get good support.
“At night it can be quiet when there are no fire calls, so I was able to pour a lot of my energies into my study.”
Having a good rapport with SIT2LRN was important. “Once I settled into it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I looked forward to my papers and I looked forward to the comments from facilitators.”