Transpower Alliance

Safety and culture journey

The North Island Grid Upgrade Project is one of the largest electricity infrastructure developments in New Zealand for more than 40 years. The Transpower Alliance recognised that keeping more than 300 staff safe on more than 50 simultaneous work fronts, along with landowners and communities, was going to be a major challenge.

The alliance has recorded just two lost time injuries in more than 1.2 million man-hours worked on the North Island Grid Upgrade Project so far.

The alliance says that this result, given the unique challenges, in which up to 70,000 man-hours were worked a month and crews travelled more than 10,000 kilometres a day, is an outstanding achievement for the project.

It attributes the success of its safety results to the implementation of a strong culture and consistent engagement with staff and particularly subcontractors, many of whom had generally operated in lower-risk industries. The alliance also recognised that compliance with minimum standards does not always keep people safe, hence a best practice approach was integral to the safety culture.

Over 1,500 people have been inducted on the project to date, with pre-induction and random drug and alcohol testing introduced across the project, which was a first for the industry.

A high level of hazard and incident reporting has been achieved, including the use of anonymous reporting boxes and an 0800 reporting number.  Operating a "just culture" encouraged incident reporting and focused on systems and organisational factors rather than seeking blame.

Zero harm

The project's ‘safety first' and `zero harm' goals mean hazard analysis was carried out for each individual site and task. Safer processes have been developed, ongoing training has been provided throughout the project and improved techniques and systems have been shared through tool box talks and safety workshops.

Safety has also been engineered into the project. Towers and monopoles were redesigned to add access walkways and rigging points; crane and drilling pads were engineered to improve machine stability; handrails, scaffolds and temporary work platforms were installed to improve safety on steep sites.

The first installation of a 400 kV-capable line meant the towers installed were larger and heavier than seen in New Zealand previously. Towers were assembled on the ground, using pioneering assembly techniques to reduce the amount of work at heights.

The nature of the work was multi-disciplined and much of it with a high-risk potential, including access installation, civil works, tower erection, redundant transmission line removal, vegetation clearance, undergrounding and conductor stringing.

Even the terrain was challenging. A project already traversing steep slopes, swamps, forests, and archaeological areas then had to contend with unexpected tomo - areas of subsurface erosion in pumice sand up to 10 metres deep. A systematic approach was taken to ensure the safety of workers in the area and the development of an engineering solution to this unique problem.

Those measures, along with root cause investigations of significant events and the swift implementation of solutions, have seen a steady decline in injury and non-injury events as works proceeded over the past two years.

The Excellence in Health & Safety Award category is sponsored by Siemens.