From crushing plant to directors’ table, Ollie Turner’s ongoing involvement in quarrying and contracting has been from bottom to top down. He talks to HUGH DE LACY.
For all the kerfuffle surrounding the introduction of a new extractives regulatory framework in December 2013, the reality is far less formidable for quarry operators than the fears, according to Civil Contractors’ southern regional manager Ollie Turner.
A lifetime in the quarrying, contracting and transport industries, rising from machine operator to company director, saw Turner recently become involved in the initially stormy application of the new health and safety framework for quarries that arose from the findings of the Royal Commission into the Pike River Disaster in 2013.
The underlying problem with quarry operators nationwide was that initially the framework was aimed at the underground mining industry: in the rush to make coal and gold-mining safer, it seemed the quarrying industry was becoming subject to rules and regulations that bore little relevance to the on-site realities.
While this was more an accident of timing than any over zealousness by the officials developing the framework – quarrying had to wait while the even more disaster-prone mining industry was addressed first – quarrying became rife with wild rumours about all sorts of operations in danger of being shut down, or compelled to adopt impractical health and safety measures.
For Ollie Turner, however, a bureaucratic misinterpretation of the application of the framework was what brought him into the discussion on Civil Contractors’ behalf in September this year.
The bureaucracy concerned was the Environment Canterbury Regional Council, Ecan, and the issue was over the new Certificate of Competency that has replaced the old B grade mining ticket as the basis for operating a quarry.
“Ecan mistakenly were going to require you to have a B grade certificate before they would renew your gravel consent,” Turner told Q&M, “and I got involved because two or three members rang me with their concerns.”
The Ecan interpretation was particularly significant for Canterbury regional operators because of the vast amounts of sand and shingle taken annually from the region’s plethora of braided riverbeds: operators were appalled at the idea of having to get a B grade certificate just to take – not process – metal from the rivers.
So Turner got in touch with Les McCracken, the chief executive of Minex, which acts as the health and safety body for the quarrying and mining industries, and it became the start of “a really good working relationship”.
Turner himself had once held a B grade mining certificate, and before he went to Otago University to study accountancy he had got his first taste of quarrying with Fulton Hogan on a crushing plant near Roxburgh in 1964.
Having checked the situation with Minex and McCracken, Turner then contacted Ecan direct.
“I said to them, ‘Hey, you guys are interpreting this wrongly, and extracting gravel out of a river is not quarrying unless you’re processing it’.
“When we cleared that up, Ecan were bloody good” – the misinterpretation was acknowledged and many small operators in mid-Canterbury in particular breathed a sigh of relief.
“I don’t think [the incorrect demand for a B grade certificate] was done maliciously: I think it was done by somebody in Ecan – and maybe even some of the contractors – misinterpreting the regulations.”
Turner has long been interested in the industry’s health and safety aspects, and sees benefits in civil contractors working closely with Minex and the Quarry Association to achieve their mutual goal of zero harm to people, a view shared by his Civil Contractors northern colleague James Corlett.
Turner says of his career, which began in quarrying but later included a period as a local authority bureaucrat, as involving “not a hell of a lot of planning; it all sort of happened as opportunities occurred; it was spontaneous.
“Fulton Hogan were extremely good employers and gave me a solid grounding in the basics of contracting.”
A period in the office, with time off to study accountancy was “a bit out of left field and a major change of direction”.
An alumnus of Timaru Boys High School, he had almost completed his accountancy studies in 1972 when another of these spontaneous opportunities arose.
He was awarded a scholarship by the Council of International Educational Exchange (CIEE), the non-profit non-government body founded soon after World War Two to facilitate global work and cultural exchanges.
This took him to the United States to work with Caterpillar at its Arizona proving grounds, followed by a period of operator training in the United Kingdom.
Turner had enjoyed his time working for wages, but in 1975 got the opportunity of self-employment in the trucking industry, and for the next 17 years operated his own businesses, Turner Haulage out of Geraldine in South Canterbury and Arrowtown in Otago.
He was also a publican at one stage, owning the Royal Mail Hotel in Lumsden, Southland.
In 1992 Turner returned to Otago University and the following year completed his Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme.
He took his new qualification to the Timaru District Council and the role of economic development and promotion director, establishing an economic development unit within the council, and completing its 25-year strategic plan.
From there he moved to the position of manager of the construction and mining segment of Shell NZ, going on to become South Island commercial manager of the global oil giant, before nominally retiring in 2007.
He had by this time established himself as a professional director, firstly of the South Canterbury Farmers Irrigation Society, which laid the foundations for the Opuha Dam development, to whose board he was admitted when the operating company was established in 1999.
Lines company Alpine Energy and Waitaki Transport also benefited from his directorial services, as did Oil Imports, the Total Lubricants distribution company.
In 2008, the year after his supposed retirement, Turner took up his present role with Civil Contractors on a part-time basis, and he has found himself more and more embroiled in the health and safety issues in which the construction and quarrying industries have become mired.
Not that “mired’ is a term he would use himself.
Turner is clearly stimulated by his involvement: he regards the past record of deaths and injuries as “intolerable” but, like most in the industry, he abhors any system imposed from above without consultation or reference to the businesses and people affected.
“Health and safety is paramount,” he says, “but I’m not over zealous for any regulation which is an impediment to our people doing their job and doing it well.”
Turner believes the critical aspect is creating a safety culture, and compares civil construction and quarrying with aviation, his main passion outside of work – he has held a pilot’s licence for 47 years.
“Absolutely no pilot disagrees with undertaking a thorough pre-flight inspection of the plane, checking the weather forecast and completing safety-related paperwork.
“It’s ingrained in the industry – part of the culture,” Turner says.