The Koru Journey, an educational framework driven by Rachael Te Toko, has won multiple awards and international recognition. Honours include the 2018 HR Health & Safety and Wellbeing Award from the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand. Last month Rachael, Spotless Zero Harm Advisor for Northland region, also presented at the prestigious Think Indigenous International Education Conference in Canada – winning a standing ovation.
However, she says the most rewarding outcome has been helping people truly understand the importance of identifying and managing risk. While The Koru Journey was developed for the Housing New Zealand (HNZ) facilities management program, other Spotless divisions have adopted elements and it is now expected to be rolled out more widely across FS&U.
The Koru Journey was inspired by Rachael’s former role as Zero Harm advisor for the HNZ contract in South Auckland. Changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act in 2016 shifted focus to proactively identifying and managing risks to ensure everyone in the workplace is safe and healthy.
Delivering presentations on the new requirements, Rachael realised many people struggled to grasp the concepts, and language and cultural barriers were a major part of the problem.
“There’s huge cultural diversity in South Auckland and within the team,” she says. “For some, English isn’t their first or even second language. For others literacy was an issue.”
Rachael’s response was to develop safety documentation and systems that bridge the gaps from cultural diversity.
“The emphasis was on crossing cultural divides, by safety practices being grounded in cultural backgrounds and seen through an indigenous lens,” she says. “In Māori and Polynesian cultures, the Koru is a foundation for continuous learning and engagement.”
The programme benchmarked a shift from generic styles of safety consultation, communication and cooperation. It was developed as an educational framework. While the initial, successful, goal was to educate, engage and empower a culturally diverse workforce effectively around health & safety, the contextual nature of the framework allows it to be applied in practice across all areas of education.
Results were remarkable. Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rates (TRIFR) dropped and Rachael says that, as she delivered the new programme, she saw “the penny dropping”.
“People really got it. Like the koru, we grow at people’s own pace and the journey is continuous. If people don’t understand risk assessment or how to identify hazards, we teach them and if they don’t get it, I go back and show them again.
“People who hadn’t even understood what a safety noticeboard was, now recognise that hazard identification and management is important, not just for the business but for them personally.”
A Te Wānanga o Raukawa Māori university lecturer friend suggested Rachael submit an application to the Canadian conference. She was delighted to be accepted. “Whanau offered to help fundraise to get me there, but then James Kafanelis, FS&U Executive General Manager, heard about and came to meet me. He saw the worth of the model and said the company would support my participation,” says Rachael. “I was proud to represent the diversity and richness of our people and cultures and to showcase our business and the support we have for our diversity initiatives on an international stage.”
Stand out moments at the conference included meeting Billy Morin, traditional Chief of Enoch Cree Nation, Canada’s largest tribe, and Alberta University lecturer Karen Pheasant. Feedback from fellow delegates to Rachael’s presentation, which began with a karanga and finished with a waita, was exceptional.
“People could see the framework in their own indigenous culture and how they could apply it to their everyday work,” she says. “It’s about the people, for the people, with the people – and it works,” she said.