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July 2019

The fall that changed it all

14 Jun 2019, Learn, Safety

Sometimes a near-miss is a wake-up call that can change a life

This was definitely the case for Sione Lolohea, who had a bad year after being caught working at heights without his safety harness attached – but went on to have a great one when wearing a harness saved his life.

The winner of the Safety Contribution Award at last year’s Site Safe Health and Safety Awards, Sione is now a key safety trainer and mentor for APS Ltd in Auckland and is described by the company’s general manager as a hero.

APS is a multi-trade commercial property maintenance specialist that employs roofers, builders, painters and working at height specialists. A builder by trade, Sione was recruited into the heights team eight years ago. After an early mistake – when he was spotted wearing an unattached harness – Sione was quick to change his ways and adopt the strict APS approach to safety.

It was a change which probably saved his life, according to APS General Manager David Karam.

“About 12 months later, Sione was installing a fall arrest system on a brittle roof when the sheet exploded and he fell between eight and ten metres towards the concrete floor.

“Thankfully, he had installed a temporary fall arrest system, which stopped his fall in mid-air. He was able to abseil to the ground without a scratch.”

David says his lucky escape made him an overnight hero within the company.

“He had turned a huge corner in his life and stepped up, and from that point onwards the team saw him as a bit of a hero. He really woke up to the risks that we are exposed to and the impact he can have as a leader and a senior member of the team.”

The near-miss experience also gave Sione a unique advantage as he went on to become the senior heights trainer at APS.

“The experience gives his training such realism. He’s become an invaluable team member and made quite a cultural shift for both himself and those around him.”

Now senior heights high trainer Sione Lolohea

Sione now works with all new abseilers as a coach and mentor and inducts new employees into the heights team.

 “For us, we are able to utilise his skills and mana to our advantage,” David says.

“We can get up and preach about safety… but nothing brings it home to the guys like his story about that near-miss experience – and how if he hadn’t learnt from that he would have been dead or crippled today.”

“There’s so many guys that think that they are bulletproof and Sione has a great story to tell them.”

David says Sione’s “gentle giant” personality also makes him an ideal coach.

“He’s not bolshy or arrogant; he’s a quiet guy with a big smile and an incredibly giving person – the sort of guy who will provide after-hours help and volunteers to come in on the weekend. He’s just very giving and thoughtful – if anyone needs a hand, he’s always willing.”

For Sione, winning the Site Safe award was a big honour, but it’s really all about helping his teammates.

“I like to share the knowledge and skills that I’ve gained in health and safety, and what I’ve learned so far at APS,” says Sione.

“The guys all come from different backgrounds, and it’s great to see them evolve from a nervous person when they first start, to getting the confidence and sharing their own knowledge with the team. “Every time we are up on the roof, we are putting ourselves on the line, so we need to trust each other and know that everyone is taking safety seriously.”

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