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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Conference snippets

PETER BATEMAN reports on some of the speakers at the Safeguard National Health and Safety Conference and has a chat with the Minister of Labour.

The seventh annual Safeguard conference drew a record turnout and some very positive feedback. Our thanks to all delegates, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors who together contributed to a great learning experience.

MBIE’s Lesley Haines opened the conference with a promise that the health and safety regulator will be more visible, will take a firmer regulatory stance, and will place greater emphasis on preventive work.

Alluding to the Pike River and Taskforce reports, she said it was a positive time for OHS in New Zealand. “We stand on the threshold of what I predict will be the most significant change in a generation.”

Keynote speaker Professor Sidney Dekker from Griffith University in Queensland electrified delegates with an edgy, take-no-prisoners style well matched to his shake-things-up message. He said the Swiss Cheese model – with its focus on searching for upstream risks – has sometimes led to the creation of safety management systems focused on paperwork and spreadsheets.

“If we truly believe that a safety culture resides in process, in paperwork, we haven’t moved on from the early 1900s. This idea that managers are smart and workers are dumb is Taylorism from 1911.”

Safety, he said, has little to do with compliance and rules and more to do with resilience, where people can recognise new risks as they arise dynamically and can adapt – safely. “Safety gets made and broken out there, not in our spreadsheets.”

A case study in employee engagement from Refining NZ’s Wade Alsweiler made its own point by including significant contributions from four Marsden Point staffattending the conference. He noted the company tried using a zero harm vision but hardly anyone could connect with it until it was reframed as “safely home every day”.

Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum executive director Julian Hughes noted that the Forum had adopted the idea of zero harm. “It’s a mindset for chief executives – it’s not a target.” His co-speaker, Coca-Cola Amatil NZ chief executive George Adams, said he didn’t sign the pledge lightly. For his company, he said, zero harm was the vision and the target. He put up a photo of a WOF sticker on a car window. Compliance expires, he said, so put culture first.

Workwell’s Meghan Ruha explained its accreditation process for workplace wellness programmes and pointed delegates to its website,, where all resources are freely downloadable.

ACC’s John Beaglehole introduced us to Jake, a composite individual constructed from multiple claimants. “He’s not a real person. No one’s privacy has been breached. But we have a lot of people like him on our books.”

Turns out Jake is a 24-year-old construction worker from New Plymouth with type 1 diabetes who’s had a few injuries over the years. His tale of woe included a work injury leading to a bust-up with his girlfriend, drinking with his mates, getting into a fight and breaking his hand, leading to loss of girlfriend (and job), and an extended stay in hospital due to poorly managed diabetes. And a day in court.

Beaglehole’s point was that workplace injuries need to be placed in a wide context involving many affected parties, and with far-reaching consequences.

Dr Derek Roger described stress as a self-inflicted injury. Stress is just ruminating about emotional upset. Pressure, on the other hand, is simply a demand to perform and is not inherently stressful unless we decide to make it so. “Right here now, is all there is. Everything else – past, future – is just thoughts.”

Opening the conference’s second day was Minister of Labour Simon Bridges, who described the Pike River report as a watershed and the Taskforce report as full of game-changing recommendations. He announced the new OHS agency – to begin operations in December – will be named WorkSafe New Zealand and that it would be “firmly focused on workplace health and safety and it will and it must do things differently.”

Paula Rose, a member of the Independent Taskforce, recalled that in her former police career she had done “more death knocks than I can count” and that it was the worst job of all. But hearing people’s stories as they made submissions to the taskforce was “from a personal perspective, one of the most privileged and moving experiences I have had.”

Nicholas Davidson QC, who represented the Pike River families at the Royal Commission, said one lesson he had learned was the need for eternal vigilance on the part of company directors and senior executives. Any organisation which trumpeted a long period without an LTI, for example, was likely to be at its most vulnerable to a serious incident.

“Think about the worst thing that could happen to your business. Don’t assume anything is being done as you might think.”

Simon says

As a warm-up I ask the minister if he has encountered danger in his working life before politics, which prompts him to recall his time as a youngster working at Foodtown. One day he got carried away and stacked far too many glass bottles of cranberry juice on an aisle end. The end buckled and the whole lot came crashing down on him. Looking back, he realises he was lucky to escape “shaken but not stirred”.

The hazards of politics aside, he says it’s a great privilege to be Minister of Labour at a time when health and safety is on the cusp of change.

“We are implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations. That’s a significant Government priority. Then there’s a range of other things, not least our response to the independent task-force. While I haven’t replied formally to that there’s no doubt it’s going to lead to significant change.”

He lists other things going on, including more inspectors and increased OHS requirements in the resources sector. He also acknowledges – after visiting Christchurch and talking to Lawrence Waterman about the London Olympic build – that a safe post-earthquake rebuild must be a priority, right up there with doing it on time and on budget.

“Lawrence Waterman’s story is a very inspiring guide to how it could look.”

As for the Taskforce’s recommendations, the Government’s official response isn’t expected until late in July so he can’t go into any detail, but he speaks highly of the report and even describes it as a good read.

“It’s a pretty ambitious report but it is also – as we asked – very practical and sensible. I think much of it is doable. Of course there are areas that are chunky, complex, and will need to be thought through.”

One area of challenge will be the inter-agency work, simply because, he says, it will involve so many ministers. He agrees in principle with the idea of locating all “safety” functions in a single agency, but says in practice it’s not so easy.

“For example, energy safety will be coming across to the new Crown agency. Some of that arguably isn’t work-related, but it needs a home. So you get into those quite practical rather than principled issues of where is the best home for this sort of safety work.”

He doesn’t wish to pre-empt the Government’s official response, but it’s fairly clear that anyone hoping for a new offence of corporate manslaughter to be created shouldn’t hold their breath.

The taskforce, he recalls, did not recommend a stand-alone corporate manslaughter charge for individuals. “With respect I think that’s probably absolutely right that they didn’t, because if you look at Australia and the UK, those sort of charges have proved to be highly complex and almost unworkable.”

He points out, however, that the taskforce did say that manslaughter, which applies at the moment only to “ordinary persons”, should be extended across to corporations. “We’ll have a good look at that. I can certainly understand where the task-force is coming from.”

In the minister’s view, the main obstacle holding back New Zealand’s OHS performance boils down to culture. Rules and regulations are important, he says, but cultural leadership at all levels of an organisation is required to make a difference.

“That’s not airy-fairy,” he hastens to explain. “It’s actually a very structured kind of leadership. It’s leaders in workplaces embedding this in daily practice. It’s also democratic because it is leadership top down from the boss but also bottom up, so that workers feel empowered to speak up, to call time where they see unsafe practices. Those are not without their complexities and issues, because there are productivity considerations to be factored in, but they are important.”

How, then, to achieve cultural change? He recalls with delight that at the awards dinner the previous night one winning entry – from Pacific Steel – had been inspired by the Ghost Chips TV campaign.

“It really got into the bloodstream of younger people, they quote it chapter and verse.”

He says this is the kind of campaign WorkSafe New Zealand could do, and it will certainly be within its remit.

“I think you’ll see when we introduce the legislation that among the purposes of the Crown OHS agency will be enforcement – of course – but also softer roles in education and facilitation.”


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