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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

DoL Report—Soft on the outside

The DoL wants to get its safety messages out relatively gently, but has not forgotten it can still wield a big stick, writes LESLEY HAINES.

Too many workplace deaths, too many serious injuries, and persistent problems in some sectors.

That conundrum has bedevilled the health and safety sector for years. We’ve made some progress, and that’s to be celebrated, but the rates are still too high

At its starkest level of impact, there’s a family left grieving for a loved one, or having to rehabilitate an injured father, mother, brother or sister. It is critical that we see the statistics in human terms – numbers are impersonal, the loss of a family member or a colleague is the reality.

The acceptance of the need to change the grim statistics is universal. The Department of Labour is now involved in a series of programmes designed to comprehensively address the fundamental issues which are supporting this failure to reduce our work toll.

They differ from the approach taken in the past in that they are not telling employers and employees and industry bodies what to do. They are characterised by two drivers: collaboration with the sector; and a commitment to the twin E’s of enforcing and enabling.


Collaboration is an often used statement in environments where industries and regulators have to co-exist. Too often its reality is a series of meetings followed by the regulator issuing a raft of edicts.

True collaboration is a process of real understanding of industry drivers and issues on one hand, and on the other, how a regulator can influence and effect positive change. Common understanding and acceptance of the issue at stake and the ways in which that issue can be resolved are the hallmarks of good collaboration.

The Workplace Health and Safety Strategy’s national action agenda exemplifies this new approach from the department. A review a year ago determined that the strategy was not finely enough focused on action. The Minister of Labour was very clear – the strategy in implementation needed action, not words.

The result is the action agenda, to be launched in mid-December at the Workplace Health and Safety Council meeting. The agenda addresses five sectors which personify the persistent problem definition – agriculture, manufacturing, construction, forestry and fishing. What differentiates this agenda from previous approaches to these industries is that it reflects the true partnership of industry and regulator working to common goals, and practical actions to address the tolls in those sectors.

An action plan specific to that sector will be developed to:

  • • 
    identify the most significant causes of harm to workers in the sector;
  • • 
    develop consensus among key sector organisations and relevant government agencies on strategies and activities to reduce those harms;
  • • 
    agree on priority actions and direct resources to those areas;
  • • 
    share information;
  • • 
    give effect to the Government’s goal of healthy people in safe and productive workplaces;
  • • 
    contribute to the National Action Agenda to reduce New Zealand’s work toll.

These plans are outcome focused – practical plans with specific dates for achievement. The construction sector action plan – the first of the five – is already in consultation with industry and is scheduled for launch in late January next year.

The hierarchy of the department’s initiatives is very clear. The national action agenda will lay down the principles and lead the development of the individual sector action plans.

Those plans will deliver a multitude of carefully and clearly planned and delivered programmes, with concrete measures of success, to meet the objectives of the sector plan, and so, in turn, meet the National Action Agenda’s objectives.

Enforcing and Enabling

US President Teddy Roosevelt once said: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” It’s an informative statement when you break it down and align it to the department’s approach to workplace fatalities and serious injuries.

Over time, we have spoken softly – we’ve taken the “educative approach”. We have tried the appeal at an intellectual level.

At other times, we have taken the “big stick approach” – the heavy reliance on enforcement to achieve our objectives.

Our new twin E operation is best demonstrated by our approach to quad bike fatalities and injuries on our farms. To date, the educative approach has resulted in little more than everyone agreeing the unsafe use of quad bikes on farms is a problem – what was missing was action to change behaviour.

The bike distributors, the regulators and the national bodies representing quad bike users have all agreed on the problem and they have also agreed on the approach.

Quad bikes are not intrinsically bad. They’re very useful tools for a farmer’s work, and used properly they are contributors to productivity. Failure to use them correctly and the resulting harm immediately negatively affects farm productivity.

The approach will be simple. We’ll all take a role in ensuring it is almost impossible for a farmer or a farm worker not to know the limits of these machines or the key elements of the campaign to reduce deaths and injuries.

Manufacturers and distributors will be involved, we’ll be involved, Federated Farmers will be involved, and the rural servicing industry will be too. There will be no excuse of ignorance of the issues.

That will enable good behaviour. But, alone, it is not effective. History tells us that.

We will step up enforcement on quad bike safety in parallel with the enabling work.

Our message is simple – you know the problem. If you’ve chosen not to address it., you will be held to account.

LESLEY HAINES is the DoL’s deputy secretary workplace.

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