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Health and safety – from oil industry to school

  Karl Emson was well-placed to be the health and safety representative at Evans Bay Intermediate in Wellington. Before he retrained as a teacher, Emson worked in the oil industry…


Karl Emson was well-placed to be the health and safety representative at Evans Bay Intermediate in Wellington.

Before he retrained as a teacher, Emson worked in the oil industry where health and safety was imperative.

“Health and safety was first, everyone had to stay safe – this was the whole philosophy.”

He came to Evans Bay Intermediate as a beginner teacher six years ago and last year he did the Health and Safety rep training through NZEI Te Riu Roa.

He is also a scuba diving instructor and used to teach first aid and although this is not part of the workplace health and safety rep brief, it is a good addition to his role.

Emson became interested in the role by being the teacher rep on the Board of Trustees. With the roll out of the new requirements under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, he attended the NZ School Trustees Association’s training for schools. It seemed a natural progression to be the worksite health and safety rep, so he put his hand up.

Even though the legislation only contemplates workers at the site the school (effectively the BOT as the Person in Charge of a Business or Undertaking, PCBU), also has a duty to volunteers on the site, and of course the children.

Everyone who comes to the school has to be inducted and this includes health and safety, Emson says.

“They must know about the hazards and the emergency procedures.”

“The gist of the new Act is that everyone is responsible for health and safety. As much as I am the health and safety rep, I really only get involved when people don’t feel comfortable about raising issues with the board or senior management.”


The power of a health and safety rep under the legislation is quite extensive, he says.

“We can shut down a school, effectively.”

He has had to issue a “recommendation” – a provision under the Act – through the principal to a contractor when work on down-piping was not complete.

There was a danger of water coming into entrance ways and on to floors.

“The principal was chasing the contractor with no joy. I issued a recommendation which was passed through the principal/BOT to the contractor.

“They were there the next day,” he says.


He said the health and safety training through Te Kete Aronui was very practical. The course he attended was for the education sector and this allowed them to think of some issues and solutions unique to schools and early childhood centres.

“The training was really practical and scenario-based.”

He says it is also a transferrable skill and he now has a unit standard from the Health and Safety rep training toward an NZQA qualification.

He would recommend that others become health and safety reps.

“It’s an eye-opener and if you are interested in what the legislation actually means and want to make a difference in your workplace, put your name forward.

“It’s no more work if things are going well, and if things are not, there is the provision [under the legislation] to get the time to sort things out and the employer is obligated to give it to you. And of course a Board is going to support that.”

He says that what has changed since the new legislation and health and safety requirements had come in, is that schools are “actually doing it.”

“It has become part of the culture here.”

Information on Health and Safety and other courses for educators is available on the Te Kete Arounui website: www.tka.nz

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