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Taking a human approach

Diana Dobson talks to Jessie Bourke about her work in the forestry industry, and about the many community interests which helped her win an inaugural scholarship to furthering her development as a health and safety professional.

As a child, Jessie Bourke figured she would make her mark on the world as a doctor or flying equine vet . . . and while she didn’t pursue either of those career paths, she is turning into quite the star in helping to save lives.

Her most recent accomplishment is winning the inaugural IMPAC Scholarship, organised to develop a health and safety professional. The prize is a $13,500 NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) training scholarship.

“This is a pretty big award nationally and I am absolutely thrilled to be the recipient,” said Jessie who is the health and safety lead at Logic Forestry Solutions.

“NEBOSH is a qualification that is well known internationally as a top health and safety standard, and full tuition is pretty big. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time but just had it on the back burner.”

Her course will take five years to complete with each module involving six to nine months work.

“I have heard it is a rigorous diploma to complete but Logic have been amazing in their support of me pursuing further study. Logic have always been supportive of all my pursuits — they really are a great company to work for.”

Organisers said there was huge interest in the scholarship with applications from all over the country. A short list of 10 was whittled down to the final three.

Judges were impressed by Jessie’s ambition and dedication to promoting change with forestry. She has recently been elected to the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Forest Industry Safety Council (FISC) and Safetree Certification, with the goal to develop the contractor certification into an industry-wide accreditation. She is also one of 10 appointed to the National Worksafe think tank project around faller fatalities.

“They said it was great that a rural candidate from an isolated region had won the scholarship,” says Jessie, “and that it would benefit the many other community groups I am involved with.”

That’s no small list either. She is on the executive committee of the Poverty Bay A&P Show, is involved with Ngatapa Sports Club hockey, Unity Theatre, the Poverty Bay Hunt, and is New Zealand’s youngest RAS (showing) judge and ESNZ-listed dressage judge.

By her own admission, her work is interesting, varied and challenging but hugely rewarding.

“My job is a mixture of looking at policies, procedures, rules and regulations and then applying that to people in real time in a way that is both practical and understandable for them,” she says.

“I get a real kick out of it. I take something that is super long and boring and deliver it in a way people can understand that impacts on the way they go about their work. Together we implement change and do things better. It is long hours and challenging work conditions with a lot of driving but the result of people going home safe, healthy and well at the end of the day will always be worth it.”

Jessie, who earlier this year won the emerging leader award at the Eastland Forestry Awards, says she is immensely proud of the impact she continues to make on so many people and their whānau.

“I spend half my time in the bush and forest, boots on the ground, with the men and women working out there. It is great when you work with a contractor or alongside someone and you can see how they have slowly changed the way they have done something to ensure safety conscious behaviour and risk appreciation is a normalised part of what they do. They see the benefits and are proud to tell their story.”

Health and safety and forestry go hand in hand

Health and safety and forestry go hand in hand, and even more so in recent years. “It is certainly not an industry or part of anyone’s business that is getting smaller,” she says. “It is becoming more important to be able to understand the rules and how they apply. Generally it is about taking a human approach and working alongside people to improve their businesses. That can be challenging for those who may have been in the industry for a long time and are set in their ways. I work to find that common ground to help them understand their obligations and help them meet it in a way that isn’t going to be a huge cost in either time or money. It has to become a natural part of doing business.”

Last year when the forestry industry was hit by the impact of Covid, Jessie was contracted to Gisborne District Council alongside the Civil Project Solutions team to work with contractors as part of the Provincial Growth Fund and Tairāwhiti Redeployment Programme. It involved 23 contractors and she thrived on the pressure and challenge of helping each of them.

“The future for health and safety in forestry is really positive. There has been a massive change within the industry over the past four years and although there is more work to be done, we are now moving more into the wellbeing space,” she says.

“Sometimes the growth of health and safety is seen as a European way of doing things, so it is good to see a tangata whenua lens coming over that too in what it means to our workers and how it aligns with them.”

Jessie is very proud to be from Te Tairāwhiti and working in a space that makes a difference.

“I look forward to having a further impact on forestry and the region,” she says. “I am really passionate about the rural scene and helping others. I do love being in that rural space and making a difference.”

She rolls her health and safety hat through all the community organisations she is involved with. Horses are her love and for two years she has been judging showing all over the country.

“I don’t ride any more as work is my priority but am really enjoy judging. I love meeting people and seeing all the beautiful horses. It is nice to still be a part of something I don’t have the time I would like to have to still compete in. As a child it was a sport that gave me so much, so it is really nice being able to give back in some small way.”

Jessie Bourke. Picture by Rebecca Williams Photography
TWO SIDES: Jessie Bourke and Nickers riding at the Poverty Bay Hunt Jubilee. Picture by Rebecca Williams Photography