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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

True confessions—No regrets

Incidents witnessed by CRAIG OLSEN have taught him to challenge unsafe behaviour and to live each day so that you can look back on it without regret.

Five and a half years ago I had a call that anyone would dread. My father had fallen from a ladder while gardening and suffered serious head trauma. He was being taken to hospital. I was living and working in a different city at the time and raced to the airport to board a flight home. It was only a short flight but felt like the longest I had ever taken.

My father passed away from the injuries he sustained. It brought home to me a number of other incidents that have shaped and influenced my approach to safety and health personally and professionally.

Although trained as an accountant my background is in workers compensation, having worked in both Australia and New Zealand to help organisations and individuals manage the financial costs of workplace injuries through insurance. While that sounds dry, dealing with the physical and emotional consequences of people’s injuries has been anything but.

A pivotal moment for me, while working in New Zealand in 1999, was visiting the family of a forestry worker who had been killed on the job. My role was to talk about what financial support there would be for the family, but the conversation was about much more than that. To this day I can see the faces and feel the grief of whanau who had just found out that their father, brother, son, and loved one had gone to work but wasn’t coming home.

While on a work trip to India I witnessed workers in the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai smelting aluminium to recycle drink cans. It reflected great local enterprise, however the fumes were clearly toxic. We couldn’t endure the poisoned air for long at all. The workers there lived with it day and night – or they died with it; the life expectancy of workers there was horribly short.

In another incident, in a meeting with a potential insurance partner in a highrise building in Asia a fire alarm rang out. I suggested we adjourn and address the rising panic that was visible among others on the floor. The meeting continued. Finally, I insisted we call a halt to the meeting and as we went to evacuate, most people went to the elevators. I insisted we use the stairs only to find the stairwell being used as a storage area, severely hampering the evacuation. When we exited on the ground floor we found that there was indeed a fire on the lower levels. No one was injured but it could so easily have been the sort of tragedy you read about in the papers.

I have learned that vigilance to ensure personal safety must be unrelenting. Behaviours good and bad must be called out without fear. However the “she’ll be right” approach still puts lives at risk, and we are just as vulnerable to it in New Zealand as everyone else. Just before Christmas I was shopping at one of our large homeware/DIY stores. Another shopper was seeking something from high on one of the stacking shelves and asked an employee something like: “Can you just stand on those boxes and try to get that down.” And the employee was going to do it. I stepped in and the employee went to fetch a ladder designed to safely access the top shelves.

I have talked with a lot of injured workers and their employers. Asked if they could have that day again when the injury occurred, would they have done anything differently, the answer is invariably “yes”.

So the lesson I have taken is to treat each day like that “day you would have again” and live it in a way that would leave you with no regrets, whether as an employee, a manager or as a CEO, it doesn’t matter. Don’t set yourself up for a life asking “What if I’d taken just a little more care …?”

Craig Olsen is the newly appointed CEO of IAG New Zealand.

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