Leading through tragedy
Cos Bruyn, former CEO Downer NZ, now Group CEO Fulton Hogan
From shock, a new determination
In 2012 one of my employees, Graham Brown, was killed at work. It was one of the hardest things I've had to deal with as a chief executive. Graham had worked for Downer for nearly 40 years when he was struck by a metal hose clamp after a high pressure hose flew off a compressor while rockfall clearing near Milford Sound. I still remember the shock when I got the call. But it has made me even more determined to make sure we manage our critical risks and to do everything I can to prevent another event like this.
Focusing the mind
From this tragedy I learned three things a chief executive needs to focus on. Be there for the victim's family and workmates. Be sure to identify the lessons and quickly share and act on them. And put moral obligations to protect your people ahead of your duty to protect your company's legal position. I spent three days with Graham's family and workmates, arranging help and support and assuring them I'd do everything I could to find out what went wrong. Their welfare was most important to me and it was really important to be there personally. This experience impressed on me that my first duty of care is always to my employees, and others who could be victims of a future accident.
Changes made and shared
The investigation uncovered a lack of clear information to the industry on working with compressor equipment. This led to a number of changes at Downer NZ, including to how we use this equipment. It was important we shared what we'd learned as widely as possible. We developed our own "best practice" guide, and shared it with the contracting and roading industry. Probably the biggest lesson for me is how quickly things go awry if you let legal concerns dictate how you interact with the family, the regulator and people in your business.