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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

DoL Report—On guard

Machinery-related accidents need tackling, while not forgetting the occupational health side of the OHS equation, says JOHN HOWARD.

Fingers, hands, arms or legs being crushed or amputated because of inadequate machine guarding are among the most common workplace accidents investigated by the Department of Labour. Each year hundreds of workers are injured – and several killed – after becoming trapped in machinery.

Based in Auckland, as the general manager northern region for the department’s Labour Group, my team and I see a wide range of workplace accidents which could have been prevented if safety practices had been followed.

Alongside the four other general managers for the Labour Group, I am responsible for leading a team of health and safety, HSNO, labour inspectors and mediators from Auckland to Northland.

One of my roles is to promote machine guarding nationally. I have worked for the DoL for six years and, like my colleagues and all those involved with machinery at work, have been concerned that New Zealand has not seen a substantive reduction in machine guarding incidents.

We believe that we can make a difference by changing the attitudes and behaviours of both employers and employees, which is why the DoL is currently undertaking a three-year Safe Use of Machinery Project.

Our project reflects the high human and financial cost of manufacturing sector accidents. The sector has the highest rate of ACC claims, costing employers $124 million alone in the 2009-2010 year, with 26 fatalities between 2005 and 2010.

To date, our inspectors have visited 1700 workplaces nationwide to talk to employers about their responsibilities under the HSE Act and emphasise the importance of properly guarded machines.

But we’re not stopping there. In late March the Minister of Labour launched the Manufacturing Sector Action Plan as part of the National Action Agenda.

The plan was developed in consultation with industry, and outlines a number of key activities that are designed to improve safety in the manufacturing sector.

This includes the establishment of clear safety standards for machine guarding, more health and safety training, the promotion of safe work practices to youth and the development of guidelines for safe work in the metal industry.

Vehicles, such as forklifts and gantry cranes, also involve hazards that can lead to serious injuries and their safe use will be promoted under the Action Plan. We are not just dealing with the immediate issues that present to us – we are also putting an emphasis on gathering data to help identify emerging trends and issues.

Another area my team and I work on is occupational health. This is an area that isn’t talked about as much as the safety aspects of “health and safety” but it is just as important for workplaces to be aware of the health risks their industry can pose to employees.

Occupational health is recognised as a complex area due to long latency periods and the lack of associated long term surveillance data. Occupational health issues are often insidious and diffi cult to track.

The Department is committed to ensuring that more attention is paid to occupational health issues in the workplace.

For that reason the DoL has worked with employers, unions and industry bodies to produce an Occupational Health Action Plan, released in December last year.

The plan consists of 21 actions and establishes priority to reducing exposure to five known occupational health hazards: occupational cancer, respiratory hazards, noise, skin irritants and psycho-social hazards.

The 21 identified actions are not just for government, but also constitute actions for employers, employees and occupational health professionals. We know that the plan isn’t an instant fix – but the actions have been agreed by all parties as being relevant and achievable and will result in reduced exposure to health hazards within New Zealand workplaces.

Both the manufacturing sector and the occupational health action plans show the DoL’s commitment to the National Action Agenda, and we’re confident this new closely targeted approach to improve health and safety will work.

Most importantly, it puts the onus on everyone to understand and accept that workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility – and underlines that we all have a role to play in reducing workplace accidents.

JOHN HOWARD is the General manager northern – Labour Group, at the Department Of Labour.

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