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‘Gold standard’ health and safety

A Gisborne health and safety business has a vision to support the entire country from its Gladstone Road offices. Sophie Rishworth spoke with Andrew Burns, the man behind ThinkSafe, to hear how he is turning consultancy upside down.

In early 2016, the oil price crashed. This meant no work on the horizon for Gisborne man Andrew Burns, who was working in the oil and gas industry at the time.

While standing on a helipad in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) jungle that year, an idea came to him which has led to an international health and safety business being run from an office on Gladstone Road.

In a nutshell the idea was: “I’ll give you all my health and safety knowledge, 24/7 help, all for an annual fee.’’

ThinkSafe was created in 2016 shortly after that lightbulb moment.

Andrew says the ThinkSafe model has turned consultancy on its head. Instead of clients paying large sums of money for an hour of consultation on health and safety, they are given all the information they need, access to a 24/7 help desk, and pay a set annual fee.

It is a partnership between the companies and ThinkSafe, he says.

From zero clients in 2016, ThinkSafe has grown “organically” through word of mouth.

“We have still done no advertising except for four months of radio in 2016.”

The company is now just over three years old but has already been picked up across 90 industries with clients in PNG, Australia, South Georgia, Samoa, Canada, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Niue and Tonga.

ThinkSafe is now expanding into South America, the United Kingdom, and growing its business in Australia and the Pacific Islands.

The simplicity of what the company delivers to businesses makes it very popular.

“We provide resources and support to provide health and safety in their business,” he says.

“Send ThinkSafe an email. From there we can produce what companies want.”

Andrew identifies the key risks for each industry, with each client getting a tailor-made health and safety system for their industry and business size. The whole system can be easily monitored online or via smart phones with ThinkSafe apps.

The client range in Gisborne goes from small sole-trader businesses with no employees, to big companies that have more than 300 employees.

It is the beauty of the model he has created that means it can adapt to any industry and any size, he says.

This scalable model, combined with technology like Skype and smart phones, means Andrew can hold meetings with people in four different countries some weeks.

“You don’t need to jump in a car and drive for three hours to talk to someone.’

Where most health and safety plans can be around 180 pages long — which Andrew describes as death by paper — ThinkSafe has its core plan in a grunty, uncluttered three-page document full of powerful processes to manage risk.

“It’s super easy, and within half an hour you can be up and going.”

The company was boosted at the start by a $30,000 grant from Activate Tairawhiti to develop its apps.

“My vision is to support the entire country from Gisborne.”

If there is a health and safety incident, Andrew reviews the details personally.

A report is created, the root cause identified, corrective action prescribed and, if required, assistance provided for communicating with WorkSafe.

It is a “gold standard” response, he says.

“I want to make health and safety affordable and sustainable. We really provide the full spectrum of what is required.

“From the support we provide our clients, WorkSafe has not taken any incident further.

“We add quite a lot of value when it comes to that.”

As ThinkSafe continues to grow, there will be more jobs in Gisborne for its support side.

The staff at ThinkSafe are Andrew’s wife Sophie Burns, sales agent Sally Dalrymple, Bob Back (client support and sales), Kelly Ryan (incident support) and administration staff Michelle Knight and Rhonda McKnight.

Sally says the company’s user-friendly approach sells itself.

For 10 years Andrew was an economics and business studies teacher at Lytton High School. Then he and his family took up an opportunity in 2009 to teach in Rarotonga.

It was while living on the Pacific Island that Andrew decided to do something else. His criteria for what to do next was based on finding something hardly anyone else did. So he completed post-graduate study in health and safety. The year he graduated, Andrew was one of only eight people in New Zealand who did.

Between 2011 and 2019 Andrew was a health and safety manager in the primary oil and gas industries in Papua New Guinea.

His job entailed making sure the 800 staff of the company who worked remotely in the jungle were safe and going about their jobs the right way.

Andrew still travels to PNG on a two weeks on, two weeks off basis for ThinkSafe. While there he spends one week based in the capital Port Moresby, with the other week based in the jungle flying around in a helicopter, or travelling on the water by banana boat.

He loves the adventure, and the ThinkSafe office on Gladstone Road is furbished with mementos from his trips in PNG.

Gisborne has been home for Andrew, Sophie and their two children — son Felix, 21, and daughter Sacha, 18 — since 2000.

THINKING HEALTH AND SAFETY: The team at ThinkSafe are, from left, Rhonda McKnight, Bob Back, Michelle Knight, Kelly Ryan, Sally Dalrymple, Sophie and Andrew Burns. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell