When safety gets personal

April 20, 2020
  • Health and safety and environment
  • People and community

graemeGraeme Silvester’s career story is an example of the passion our safety teams bring to our operations. Thank you to everyone who is looking after our people on site, helping us to continue delivering critical projects and essential services for our clients and communities, especially as our nation responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his first job as an apprentice carpenter, Graeme Silvester lost the top of his fingers.

“As an apprentice, I had to maintain all of the machines in a joinery shop, including keeping them sharp. Being 19 at the time, and thinking I was 20 feet tall and bullet proof, I became over-familiar with the machines and didn’t use the safety guards and precautions that I should have.

I lost the tips of two fingers, one joint, and part of my thumb.”

From that traumatic start, Graeme has built a career in safety and is now CPB Contractors General Manager for Safety, Health, Environment, Quality and Sustainability (SHEQ).

But his first job after leaving carpentry was as a policeman in Queensland.

“I worked on different cases – murders, armed robberies, break and enters, the works. One of my responsibilities was to investigate fatal incidents including work related fatal incidents, with a view to prosecuting people for negligence and manslaughter.”

After a while, he decided he wanted to focus on preventing deaths and injuries rather than investigating them after they had happened.

“I realised I was holding a bucket under a dripping tap when I should be trying to turn the tap off.

Whether it was because of my own injury, or whether it evolved from what I had seen up close in the police force, or perhaps a bit of both, I decided I wanted to get involved in health and safety.”

Graeme’s first safety role was 45 miles offshore from Brunei on a large oil and gas platform.

“When you are sanding and blasting a 300mm line that runs back to shore, while it is being used to pump 30,000 PSI of gas and you’re on a platform 45 miles out to sea, that really focuses your mind on safety. You don’t want anything to go wrong.”

After starting in off-shore oil and gas, his safety career has taken him across industries including rail, mining, electricity, civil construction and building.

Now, with three decades of safety, health and environment experience behind him, Graeme is delivering CPB Contractors’ Safe Work Strategy which emphasises that keeping people safe is an absolute priority for the company.

“We have a Safety Essentials framework that aims to eliminate risks in seven key areas. We have senior leaders in the field, demonstrating visible engaging leadership, and showing that with our One HSE Culture, safety is an absolute priority.

Whenever I have the chance to talk with staff, I always tell them: The most important reason for working safely, is not at work. It is what waits for you when you get home.

From my time in the police and in industry, I can remember every fatal incident I’ve ever had to investigate over the last 38 years. They are horrible, tough things. Every one of them stays with you and you never forget them.

Most people think that when bad things happen that it’s because of something unusual. But it’s not. Everyday things kill everyday people, every day.

People don’t realise, they don’t stop and think, and they get too familiar with their surroundings.

We get de-sensitised to things. We see it on the news, we see it on ads, on billboards, online and people always think: ‘That happens to other people. It is not going to happen to me.’ 

Until it does.

The challenge in safety is to influence people at the point they make decisions because we want them to make the right decision, so they go home safely at the end of their day.

Everyone in CPB Contractors knows that we will not compromise on our Safety Essentials.

Health and safety have been my career journey. Looking after people and making sure they go home is what drives me.”

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