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Safeguard Magazine

Regulator Report—Profound change ahead

GREGOR COSTER, who chairs the establishment board of WorkSafe New Zealand, outlines the nature of the challenge ahead.

It is a great honour to be chosen to lead the establishment process for WorkSafe New Zealand, the new Crown agency that signals a new direction in workplace health and safety in New Zealand.

This is a unique opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of all New Zealanders, which comes just three years after the tragedy at Pike River in 2010.

The legislation required to establish WorkSafe New Zealand is currently before Parliament. This will come into effect, all going well, in December for the commencement of the new agency.

We have an excellent Establishment Board in Paula Rose, Ross Wilson, Don Stock and Patrick Strange, all of whom bring invaluable skills and expertise to the task of preparing WorkSafe New Zealand to be effective from Day 1. We are also looking forward to working with the Acting Chief Executive-Designate Geoffrey Podger.

As a medical practitioner, I have a long history with and great interest in the health and well-being of New Zealanders. While I am not an occupational health physician, as professor of general practice and still a practising clinician, I have had a lot to do over the years with occupational health-related illness and, of course, with injury diagnosis and management. I do believe my medical background will be useful to the new Board.

I was born and bred in Wellington and initially completed a masters degree in thermodynamics at Victoria University. Attracted by the virtues of medicine, I completed a medical degree at Otago University. I worked at Waikato Hospital and at hospitals in Christchurch for several years, then went into full-time general practice in Auckland, although I have worked in other areas of New Zealand too.

After 15 years in general practice I was invited to become the Professor of General Practice at Auckland University, and was also head of department there for ten years. Subsequently, I was Dean of Graduate Studies, managing the university’s postgraduate programmes across all disciplines, which included managing 2000 doctoral students. My own PhD is in the area of public policy with a particular interest in health policy.

I also have considerable experience in Crown agency governance. In 2000, I was appointed to the Health Funding Authority board and to the Counties Manukau District Health Board. I then became Chairman of the West Coast District Health Board for four and a half years. During that time, I developed quite an affinity with the West Coast and understand some of the ways the Pike River disaster has affected families and people in general on the West Coast.

I also served for nine years on the board of Pharmac, the national drug purchasing agency, including three years as Deputy Chair.

Six years ago, in 2007, I was appointed Chairman of the Counties Manukau DHB. The experience of chairing this DHB – whose budget of $1.3 billion represents 10% of New Zealand’s health spend – has provided a great confirmation of the importance of how boards, and the senior management team and staff, and indeed ministries, can all work together to achieve the organisation’s aims and objectives.

In the case of WorkSafe, there is a chance for the board, the executive and staff to demonstrate a different approach to improve the culture of health and safety in this country. Everyone can expect to come home from work every day safe and uninjured – people are what this is all about. I see this as demanding a greater focus on providing guidance and knowledge on good health and safety practice while being able to enforce compliance when this fails.

At the same time, Work-Safe needs to reach out to the rest of New Zealand. I believe businesses and workers can drive this more effectively than anyone else. We want to work collaboratively with the business community, partner with agencies such as ACC and Maritime New Zealand, key stakeholders like the Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand, and everyone in the workforce to bring about change.

The establishment of Work-Safe New Zealand, and the Government’s reform package due out shortly in response to the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety report, represent the most profound change we have seen in workplace health and safety for 20 years.

This is a huge opportunity for us to make a major difference – we’re aiming for a 25% reduction in work injuries and fatalities by 2020.

That’s a huge goal and I invite you all to be part of that journey.

Professor GREGOR COSTER is the recently appointed Chair of the Establishment Board for WorkSafe New Zealand.

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