It’s a big but rewarding job making sure everyone gets home safely at the end of the day.
When Roger Weldon, Farm Source General Manager of Health and Safety, walks into a Farm Source store, the first thing he asks is: What could go wrong? Taking the time to ask ‘What can go wrong?’ and then using that information to respond appropriately is what nearly 1000 Farm Source staff are embracing under good risk management practice and the guidance of Roger and his team.
“There’s always a new risk or problem that comes up and being able to work with the people and facilitate a workable solution for them is hugely rewarding."
“The wrong thing is to dismiss it under the ‘she’ll be right’ mentality,” Roger says. As the General Manager of Health and Safety, his role is primarily around managing the risks to Farm Source people on a day-to-day basis. Those ‘people’ are the staff, customers, farmers and all others who engage with Farm Source. The role spans across the network of Farm Source stores and Farm Source manufacturing sites, with an additional role to also promote health and safety on farms and support farmers in that.
“The agriculture sector is under-performing in health and safety, a disproportionate number of people don’t get to go home to their families safely.” Roger explains. It’s no surprise he describes the work as “hugely rewarding” with no day being the same. "It is about being able to make a difference in peoples’ lives."
Roger knows first-hand the impact losing a loved one can have on a family. He lost his brother 20 years ago but the impact of that is still with him and his family. “I remember hearing something once ‘You never get over it, you learn to live with it’ and that’s true. There is an opportunity for us in the health and safety space to make a difference, so other families don’t have to go through it.”
As if that isn’t motivation enough, from a business perspective, Roger says good health and safety equates to good business. “I’ve never seen a successful business that is poor in safety – they go hand-in-hand. To run a successful operation, you need to understand risks and have disciplines in place to manage those.” That’s where Roger and his team come in.
Each environment and each task can have its own nuances, so they get under the hood to get a true understanding of the people in the workplace and the work being done. It’s not enough to tell people what to do. The only way to get that full picture of the risks comes from speaking to the people on the job. “As a solid rule, people know the work they do and the shortcuts and where things can go wrong. A good health and safety professional can extract that and help make it safer,” Roger says. He adds it’s also important people recognise that no risk management plan is absolute. There will be instances where new people in a workplace or a change in weather conditions, for example, alters what is right at the time.
“Best practice is understanding the specifics of an activity at that moment in time and then coming up with the right approach.”
Seeing health and safety professionals work to engage with people on the ground rather than act with a compliance mentality has been a noticeable shift since the Pike River mine disaster. Roger reports a shift change in the way senior leadership in workplaces look and manage health and safety. In saying that, he says New Zealand’s legislation is about performance-based outcomes, motivating workplaces to action the suggestions made to them by health and safety professionals.
It’s something he picked up on when he made the move to New Zealand from South Africa – a move motivated by a better place to raise his family. “I was surprised at how receptive most workplaces are to getting on with it. In South Africa, I didn’t feel like I was making much of a difference in the safety space. Most organisations I worked with were just ticking a box with the inspection but two years later, nothing had been done with the information.”
Roger’s career in health and safety started in a consulting role, which saw him work in all kinds of workplaces from agriculture to universities, hospitals and large manufacturers. When he moved to New Zealand, he was initially working with government before moving to civil construction, but his eyes were always on Fonterra. Fair to say, when the opportunity came 10 years ago, he jumped on it.
“Fonterra is a real people-centered business and I’ve had a lot more out of it than I initially thought I would. It’s really grown me as a person,” he says. “I came from a science/technology background so my people skills have gown. Being farmer-facing/customer-facing and getting to meet people who are authentic brought out the best in me and grew me as a people leader.”
With that, Roger goes on to say he is in his “happy place” when out and about meeting people, however, on a typical day you’ll find him in the office. His team of four, on the other hand, is 50/50 in the office and out on sites. In that team, Roger tries to have balance of multiple backgrounds and insights. Right now, for example, he works with an ex-store manager.
While they are health and safety qualified, he values their experience in the stores and on the job – a perspective that goes back to the approach of getting under the hood to understand workplaces. “Humans are people, and people make mistakes,” Roger says. “The challenge is preparing an environment in a way that that when a mistake is made, people don’t lose their lives – they fail safely not fail tragically.”