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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Meeting of Minds

PETER BATEMAN reports on some of the key messages from the 2014 Safeguard National Health and Safety Conference.

The eighth Safeguard conference saw a record turnout of people eager to be challenged with some new thinking and to get more of a handle on how best to cope with the impending change in health and safety legislation.

Labour minister Simon Bridges couldn’t be there in person but recorded a video message to open the event. Reviewing the many changes prompted by Pike River, he said New Zealand was “perhaps half way up the mountain”.

Dr Sharron O’Neill from Macquarie University told delegates our new Australian-based legislation would provide the opportunity to tailor regular reports to the CEO and board according to the decisions senior leaders are required to make. “Focus on the critical risks and give them information on the defences, including leading and lagging indicators, to show if these defences are effective.”

Site Safe’s Alison Molloy presented half a dozen case studies from the construction sector, including changes to the way staff working beside highways are protected, the development of an OHS toolkit by a growing Christchurch plastering company, and the decision by a residential construction company to use scaffolding and working platforms on all its builds.

Grant Nicholson, a partner with Kensington Swan, drilled into some of the detail of the Health and Safety Reform Bill currently before Parliament, which he said would lead judges to take a dim view of any defence case based on finances. If it costs too much to carry out an activity safely, and the company is unwilling to bear that cost, then the answer is simple: cease to carry out that activity. “I wouldn’t put forward any argument based on cost. That’s my free legal advice.”

WorkSafe NZ’s chief executive Gordon MacDonald emphasised that the regulator is not the centre of the health and safety universe – that honour, he said, went to the business enterprises which created risk and which were therefore required to manage it. Then it was the turn of ACC, whose GM injury prevention, Megan McKenna, showed a video made fifteen years ago for the scheme’s 25th anniversary, including a clip of the late Len Ring exhorting us not to use our back like a crane. ACC, she said, was making better use of its “astonishing” claims dataset which would lead to better predictive analysis of injury trends.

The second Australian speaker, Genevieve Hawkins from Wesfarmers, challenged delegates to think how they would answer three simple questions from an incoming chief executive or chair of the board, namely: “Can I please see the organisation’s safety risk profile?” (GH: focus only on the critical risks which could cause death or serious injury). “Can you explain the risk profile to me?” (GH: if you have to take more than 10 minutes, you’re in trouble). “How should I spend my time on safety?” (GH: your opportunity to influence).

Jeremy Smith, managing director of Holcim New Zealand, recalled the moment, barely a month in the role, that he received a call to tell him one of the company’s contractors had been killed at its Westport site. “From that day on I vowed we would do everything we could to prevent anyone else being killed or seriously harmed.”

Opening day two of the conference was the chair of the WorkSafe board, Dr Gregor Coster, who invited all delegates to start moving from thinking about hazards to a more risk-based mindset.

The third Australian speaker, Catherine Herriman from Leighton Contractors, spoke of the company’s major project to tackle life-changing risks, and how taking another look at the hierarchy of controls gave the company a lever to tackle entrenched customary practices. “The challenge is to continually question whether the risk controls are at ‘engineering’ or above,” she noted, because administrative controls such as PPE are insufficient. Her co-presenter, Andrew Stevens, noted that the company’s Safety Essentials programme had to be communicated clearly and with total consistency of application. “Once you head down a divergent path it is very difficult to pull people back.”

Fonterra’s Emma Brookes reported on the results of research which looked at differences in national cultures and how they could be used to customise safety messages for maximum resonance, using the dimensions on the model created by Geert Hofstede. In the context of health and safety, two of these dimensions – Power Distance and Individualism – provided to be good predictors of behaviour.

Dr David Beaumont, president of the Faculty of Australasian Occupational and Environmental Medicine, challenged delegates with a simple question – where is the “health” in health-and-safety? – and put forward the case for occupational medical specialists to abandon the traditional medical model in favour of the biopsychosocial model.

AUT’s Professor Grant Schofield ranged over work-life balance in the context of modern communications technology before outlining his “brain rules”, which he summarised as: move it, feed it, defend it, do important things, connect, and take notice.

A joint presentation from the EPMU’s Joe Gallagher and Northpower’s Andrea O’Brien and Vern Rosieur began with a clip from the DVD they helped make, using actors from the electricity supply industry. Regarding the harm caused by use of drugs and alcohol, the biggest step, they said, had been for the industry to admit it had a problem.

Concluding the conference on a high-energy note was Doug Healey from Bullet Freight Systems, with his powerful and inspiring message of how he overcame a serious workplace injury – a broken back – to take up running and inspire thousands of others to follow, literally, in his footsteps.

Scattered through the two days were four brief presentations from mystery speakers. Mike Cosman was first up, and asked one simple question: on 25 April each year the nation stops to remember Anzac Day, but only three days later very few people are (so far) aware of Workers’ Memorial Day. Why?

Hamish Brown from Concordia NZ deconstructed the notion of safety culture by dividing into three parts: the obvious visible factors such as high-viz jackets; the factors promoted by leaders, such as Zero Harm and audits; and the unspoken behaviours and rules which make up a set of shared assumptions.

Kevin Sanders from Gerard Roofs outlined the huge impact of the company’s workforce literacy project on health and safety and many other factors.

David Tregoweth from Progressive Enterprises called for professional bodies who seek to represent practitioners to get their house in order, and challenged delegates to stop waiting for new legislation and make changes now.

Whew. It was quite some conference, and delegates left buzzing with new ideas and with the business cards of people they’d met. Which is what the Safeguard conference has always been about.

Peter Bateman

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