Looking through the health and safety lens: Amanda Benson

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Amanda Benson’s curiosity about nature and people turned into a fulfilling career in health and safety. From blasting the ground at petrochemical sites to a near-death encounter, Amanda’s unique experience shows how a health and safety mindset can help you achieve anything if you take the time to understand the science.

You never know what life might throw at you

Amanda fell into health and safety by chance – and yet it saved her life. Several years ago, the Health and Safety Manager was feeling unwell at work. Her team noticed something wasn’t right, and when she collapsed, they took swift action.

‘No one could believe our operations manager could slide like James Bond over the boardroom table to get to me quickly and respond. What a champion,’ she said.

‘The team around me were from finance and logistics – not construction workers on site – but everyone knew health and safety inside out. They had the confidence to know what to do and worked together to save my life. I’ll be forever grateful and very proud of them,’ she says.

Amanda was later told she experienced an epileptic seizure for the first time. Her inspiring journey and career path has encouraged her to share her story to motivate others to prioritise personal health and workplace safety.

‘Health and safety is much more than hi-vis and PPE – it’s critical to everything,’ she said.

Amanda’s story began with a curiosity about science and nature

As a child, Amanda spent holidays on a wheat farm and by the ocean, marvelling at the immense power of nature and how we build our lives around it. Amanda’s curiosity led her to study environmental science, and one of her first jobs was cleaning up soil and groundwater contamination at old gas worksites and petrochemical plants.

‘Science absolutely underpins everything I do – it helps me to take emotion out of a situation and understand it. But I love the human side too, the connections and conversations, because health and safety is about helping people to apply the science to run a successful and fulfilling career and life,’ she said.

In her spare time, Amanda volunteers as a Surf Lifesaving Patroller at Portsea surf beach.

‘When I’m patrolling and coaching young kids, I’m educating people of the hazards and risk so they can enjoy themselves in an unpredictable natural environment. Seeing people enjoy the rough surf safely is priceless.’

How health and safety teams help us to see things we normally look over

In her career, Amanda appreciates the mentors who encouraged her to reach bigger goals.

And it shows, Amanda has led teams who received the 2019 Excellence in Construction Award, as well as the APPEA Contractor Safety Innovation Award.

‘I do what I do because I love making work in high-risk settings possible,’ she says.

‘In health and safety, we’re the enablers, we don’t want to stop something. So when I heard about Victoria’s biggest ever rail project, I thought “let’s do it” and find a way to do it safely,’ she said.

Building a positive culture with the highest regard to health and safety is one of the most important concepts in high-risk settings.

Nurturing the next generation of health and safety experts

As well as leading health and safety programs at Suburban Rail Loop Authority, Amanda is also a post-graduate sessional lecturer at RMIT University and shares her expertise to help shape the next generation of health and safety professionals.

‘I love the generations coming through because the world’s changing. My opportunity is to impart my knowledge, while I also get to learn about them and their view of the world and workforce,’ she said.

‘I would like to see health and safety embedded into all decision making – planning, design, contracts, program milestones, training, communications – all of it.’

As a once-in-a-generation project, the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) will bring in 24,000 new jobs and the next generation of big thinkers who will help build bigger and greater connections across Melbourne.

Suburban Rail Loop