Meet Dilworth's Director of Health and Safety - Steve Ralph

Date: 11 Jul 2023

Student wellbeing is a top priority at Dilworth and the school is fortunate to be in the position to have a full-time Director of Health and Safety. Nicknamed ‘Safety Steve’, it’s Steve Ralph’s job to ensure the school meets all its health and safety requirements – and even more importantly, to make sure that every student at Dilworth is kept safe.

We chat to him about what health and safety really means, and why he’s so passionate about it.

Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself.
My wife and I were both originally PE teachers and moved to New Zealand from Wales in 1997. I first taught at Opunake High School in Taranaki,  later becoming Acting Principal at the newly opened Coastal Taranaki School. From there I spent 12 years running the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre (TOPEC). A change of focus saw me return to study to gain health and safety qualifications (including a Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety), and commit to helping organisations improve their health and safety. I set up my own consultancy doing work for regional sports trusts, not-for-profits and a range of other organisations, and in 2019 I moved to Auckland to take up the role of Health and Safety Manager at St Kentigern College. I was there for four years before starting at Dilworth this February.

What appealed to you about Dilworth?
The whole philosophy around Dilworth sits really well with me. I’ve spent the majority of my career working with not-for-profits and have always valued opportunities to pay it forward and give back. The model that was set by James Dilworth all those years ago was established for the betterment of these young men, and that’s the guiding light in everything we do here. What I do as Director of Health and Safety really dovetails into that.

So what exactly do you do?
Ultimately, if I’m doing my job well, you don’t see anything! My role encompasses everything from putting systems in place to ensure safe work practices, to conducting audits to review any gaps and carrying out staff training. All of it is designed to ensure that our students and staff are kept safe. There’s a lot of admin and compliance work, and time spent developing systems, policies and procedures, but there’s also a lot of mentoring and support, which is what I like to spend most of my time on. You can have all the best policies and procedures in the world, but if you haven’t got the buy-in from the team and a positive health and safety culture then things can easily go wrong. I’m based at Senior Campus but work with staff across all levels of the organisation at all three Dilworth campuses. For me, there’s no such thing as a typical day!

Tell us about the work you’ve been doing at Dilworth’s Mangatāwhiri Campus.
Naturally, some of the outdoor activities offered here are considered high risk so I’ve been working closely with Head of Campus Jamie Pennell to support them through all the health and safety aspects of the programme and facilities, mainly through coaching and collaboration. Given my experience in outdoor education, I have a unique view on things in that regard, and that has certainly been helpful. At Mangatāwhiri it’s about making sure safety management systems are robust so that when students do go out, they can have a whale of time doing what they’re doing, but we also know that they are safe.

Sometimes health and safety officers put a dampener on the fun stuff. Do you?
In some organisations staff call their health and safety representatives the ‘Fun Police’, but my job is not to stop things happening – it’s to facilitate them happening in a safe way. I don’t want to be the guy that says ‘hey, you can’t do that’. I’m more like, ‘yes, that’s an awesome idea, how can we help that happen in a safe way?’. I work quite hard to be approachable and my method focuses on coaching, mentoring and advising. We’re all in this together, so it’s about building a culture where everybody is responsible, and where everybody does their bit to keep our students and staff safe.