Small business: Health and safety - Nick Gerritsen

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Nick Gerritsen is a founding director of NXT Fuels. Photo / Sabrina Hyde Studios
Nick Gerritsen is a founding director of NXT Fuels. Photo / Sabrina Hyde Studios

Nick Gerritsen, is director of NXT Fuels (previously Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation) a renewable fuel company that can economically take multi biomass feedstock - forestry, algae, agricultural waste - through to drop-in petrol and diesel in direct substitution for fossil fuels and around 90 per cent reduction in GHG emissions.

He is also founder/director of CarbonScape, a biomass conversion company that transforms wood waste into carbon products, such as green coke for steel production, activated carbon for emission scrubbing and graphite for higher technology applications, together with high value chemical products, substituting fossil derived chemicals.

When you were starting these businesses, what health and safety concerns did you have and how did you make sure the enviroment for staff was completely safe?

Both companies have focused heavily on R&D for the last few years. Health and safety was fundamental in how we developed these programmes. Dealing with heat and pressure required us to design and implement and obtain approval for full health and safety programmes. Following strict operational procedures naturally followed from this.

Did you have an adviser to help adhere to health and safety guidelines? Have they changed much in recent years?

We have developed our own programmes in conjunction with professional advisors as required.

Did you have to change the way anything was done in the workplace after the deal with NZ Steel or any other large client?

No - because we have designed for R&D development and scale up from the outset.

Is it costly to ensure the staff are working in a safe work environment? What sorts of precautions do you take?

No - because it is just the way things have to be.

We have made sure that we have the necessary safety gear and have ensured good amount of free space around operating machinery, good fresh air circulation and full safety gear.

Did you know that there are going to be really serious consequences for directors who don't ensure the staff are working to national health and safety guidelines. Do you think this might put off senior business people from taking up directorships?

I think that this is simply a reality of undertaking this sort of technology development. Staff are a key asset and it is obvious to us that this is an area of investment. If directors seek to cut corners in this area then they aren't really very well suited to these endeavours.

Are your staff themselves - junior and senior -well informed on health and safety procedure?

Yes. We constantly consider the procedures based on the R&D programme and suite of experiments that we are doing.

How do you read what happened at Pike River in terms of health and safety? What went wrong?

It is hard to comment without being an experienced coal miner - but from the outside there is obviously a risk profile with old fashioned mining that is often not fully appreciated. The fact that somewhere around $200m was spent developing the mine yet 29 staff tragically lost their lives without the mine ever really getting into full production suggests that priorities weren't firmly established and that safety concerns/ alarm and warning systems were not adequate. The facts sort of speak for themselves. That is why, with CarbonScape, we are very excited about the opportunity to produce similar products without the inherent dangers associated with digging holes.

Next week, we will be looking at the energetic types who organise events for NZ's industries. How profitable are these industry events and what good comes out of them? And is there good business to be made in running events?

For a good summary of the health and safety changes afoot click here

- NZ Herald

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