Accidents will happen: A simple kiwi invention aims to reduce workplace fatalities

Accidents will happen: A simple kiwi invention aims to reduce workplace fatalities
When the blade of an angle grinder exploded in his face on the job, Pieter Muller had an epiphany.

The plastics factory accident – which left him scarred physically as well as mentally – resulted in three hours of plastic surgery and forced Muller into ten days bed rest. When he did go back to work, he was horrified to find that his co-workers still refused to wear the safety equipment that had been provided to prevent the sort of accident he had just survived from happening again.

“I was struggling to get the guys [at work] to wear the [safety] equipment,” he says.

“One day when I was busy working, I came up with the idea that if you don’t wear your protective equipment, your tools should not be able to work.”

Following that seed of an idea, Muller set to work.

Safety Buddy is the name of the prototype that Muller now hopes will revolutionise the way New Zealanders think about safety around power tools. At it’s most basic, Safety Buddy is Wireless Bluetooth-enaled  app which ensures power is only supplied to a power tool when all necessary safety equipment is being worn by the user.

Pieter entered Safety Buddy into the Fieldays Innovation Accelerator last month and was amazed to find himself in the top 20 contestants. Safety Buddy also claimed second prize for the People’s Choice Award. This encouraged Pieter to enter into this year’s New Zealand Innovation Awards to create more exposure for his idea.

“I realised there and then that this could become very massive. I think this will be able to go global.”

Muller has now entered his invention into the New Zealand Innovation Awards, and says that his entry takes him a step closer to saving lives and reducing injuries in the workplace.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt like I did.”

Now Muller is planning of adapting the technology for life jackets and ATV helmets, and is thinking big and dreaming of global domination.

With one investor already on board, Pieter is looking to meet people who will be able to help him fulfil his dream of getting Safety Buddy onto the New Zealand market, while also being able to learn how to make it an export product as well.

“I am extremely excited,” says Pieter. “It’s been amazing and I never thought it would become so big.”

Pieter was diagnosed with depression and anxiety six months after his accident. He came through with the support of his business and his family and made a plan on how to give back to his community.

Image: Muller pre-surgery

“I almost committed suicide and I was feeling sorry for myself. But with all the support I received I had to pick myself back up and think: how can I give back?”

“My biggest aspiration and goal for Safety Buddy is to give back and be able to save someone’s life. I will never be able to stop an accident from happening but I will be able to reduce the injuries. If I can give back and help reduce costs to ACC and save lives, that’s my future and that’s what I want to do.”

The health and safety of people at work is covered by a variety of laws and regulations that govern the way in which work may be done and the operation of the equipment used to do that work in the workplace.  Injuries resulting from the use of power tools such as angle grinders are numerous and the most common injuries are to the head and face.  In the main, these accidents are caused by ignorance or the abuse of machinery and equipment.

Safety Buddy is just one of many entries in this year’s New Zealand Innovation Awards.

If you have an innovation (at any stage of development), ENTER NOW.

Entries close August 4. www.innovators.org.nz