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NZDF Safety Person of the Year 2023

Asbestos in Defence buildings doesn’t have to be a hindrance or a barrier, but it does need to be managed safely.

27 November, 2023

Matt Wrigglesworth, Asbestos manager for Defence Estate and Infrastructure, has been named NZDF Safety Person of the Year.

Joining the Defence Force more than two years ago, Mr Wrigglesworth overhauled the NZDF asbestos management systems to create the NZDF’s Asbestos Management Plan.

The Plan, as required by WorkSafe NZ, demonstrates how the NZDF maintains its compliance with all New Zealand asbestos regulations. The Asbestos Management Plan ensures all asbestos activities are conducted safely and regulatory compliance is achieved and recorded.

It’s common for NZDF buildings built before the year 2000 to contain asbestos. This means Mr Wrigglesworth often has to engage in courageous and uncomfortable conversations with others to find solutions to multiple different situations.

His citation describes him as a strong, confident and calm leader, able to demonstrate that health and safety requirements are not a hindrance to getting work done, but in place to ensure everyone can work as safely as possible.

“Matt is approachable, enthusiastic, and passionate about ensuring NZDF avoids exposing any personnel to asbestos risks,” says his citation. “He consistently goes above and beyond his job description to achieve this, including making himself available out of work hours to assist with projects and safety events. This has led to him being a well-liked and trusted team member in NZDF. He adapts his approach to situations and audiences as needed, and is always willing to help and be part of the solution.”

Mr Wrigglesworth came to the asbestos industry following environmental studies at university in the United Kingdom.

“It’s perhaps not the most glamorous career choice, involving old buildings and confined spaces, but it’s pretty interesting,” he says.

He spent six months of a gap year in New Zealand and fell in love with the country. He later moved to Auckland, helping to develop an asbestos consulting firm eight years ago.

“I was aware of the issues that Defence had. The estate is old. Defence were needing some in-house expertise. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to move forward in my career and contribute something valuable.”

It’s a job that is widely varied across the Defence Estate.

“It’s the size of the estate, with hangars and barracks and officer space, with different kinds of risk. That’s why we needed a plan that covered everything, something that made sense to all of Defence.”

He has an excellent relationship with WorkSafe, who he engages regularly with as part of the technical asbestos reference group to review and update NZ’s asbestos regulatory framework.

“Asbestos is a very specialised subject,” he says. “I’m part of the Environmental Services Team, and we handle everything from archaeological finds to heritage issues to contamination. All sorts of things can come up at Defence, and it’s our job to react and problem-solve to keep things moving.”