Small business: Taking shortcuts not an option

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Kiwi construction industry labelled one of the worst performers in area of health and safety in the workplace.

Cook Brothers Construction chief executive and co-founder Dave Bulling says health and safety is a high priority. Photo / Greg Bowker
Cook Brothers Construction chief executive and co-founder Dave Bulling says health and safety is a high priority. Photo / Greg Bowker

The Government taskforce that looked at the state of workplace health and safety in the wake of the Pike River tragedy recently flagged the construction industry as one of the worst performers.

For fast-growing business Cook Brothers Construction, health and safety is a high priority, says chief executive and co-founder Dave Bulling.

The eight-year-old Dunedin business with offices in Christchurch, Auckland and Queenstown does not tolerate workers taking shortcuts.

Subcontractors represent about 75 per cent of the company's workforce and the most challenging part is to get them to buy into health and safety procedures, says Bulling.

"We want to promote a culture of zero harm rather than say 'you must do this'," says Bulling.

It aims to get the message across in an innovative way.

"We have developed our own health and safety app, a checklist for managers."

Company directors may be held responsible for workplace injuries under a regime to be managed by new government agency WorkSafe NZ, and this has been a discussion point at Cook Brothers' advisory board meetings.

Board members include former Meridian chief Tim Lusk, Loyalty NZ finance head Paul Chapman and Deloitte partner Kyle Cameron, who review monthly health and safety statistics at their meetings.

For clients, site health and safety standards are an issue. If a death occurs, it can stop a project altogether, says Bulling.

Bulling set up the construction firm with his brother Ben, a non-executive director, in 2005. The pair were among a group of young Dunedinites who bought the Captain Cook Tavern in the city in 2004.

"We all started out together and then as we grew, James Arnott and Richard McLeod went down the hospitality road and Ben and I went down the construction road," he says of the early days.

"We still have a very good working relationship and we still do business together," he says.

They will turn over between $50 million and $60 million this year, says Bulling.

He and Ben are the main shareholders with business development director Simon Glass owning the rest.

They work on a range of projects from residential to rest homes, restaurants, office fit-outs and a police station in Wanaka.

"We also just upgraded the Exchange, the historic BNZ building in Dunedin," says Bulling.

The company head moved to Auckland 2 years ago but Christchurch rebuild means the biggest office is in that city.

The firm, a Deloitte Fast 50 2011 regional winner, has been growing 100 per cent a year.

It has a total staff of 150 and is hiring in Australia and Ireland for skilled project managers and quantity surveyors.

Bulling expects Cook Brothers to start doing its own new builds in the future.

"We are not racing to get to the top [of the industry] - we want to do excellent projects, build great relationships and have repeat business," he says.

Top tip

Get buy-in on health and safety from your whole team.

Best business achievement

Seeing Cook Brothers be successful and that being our common goal.

- NZ Herald

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