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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Constructive engagement

JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM sits in on a training course to bring existing health and safety reps up to speed with the new legislation.

In Safety ‘n Action’s South Auckland training room trainer Kevin Homan chooses his words carefully.

“Some say you’ll have new powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act,” he says, “but I’d rather say you’ll be empowered to do some new things. You’ll have two more options available to you if all else fails: To issue provisional improvement notices (PINs) – these really are a last resort – and to order unsafe work to cease.”

The fourteen trainees in the room, all serving health and safety reps (HSRs) from a variety of workplaces, are some of the 3000 reps from around the country receiving government-funded face-to-face transition training so they can continue in their roles under the new legislation. By June a further 12,000 HSRs will have completed the same training online.

The atmosphere here is relaxed – it’s Friday afternoon, so the four-hour training session offers a break from the workplace that’s probably welcome – yet there’s also a lingering sense of destiny. When Homan opens the session with a potted history of the HSW Act, no one needs prompting when he asks why the act came into being. They respond with just one word: “Pike.”

He makes the message personal, however, quietly pointing out that safety issues experienced at the Pike River mine were probably known by many in the company, but for whatever reason no one said “Stop”.

This realisation gives context to the HSR’s new enforcement options. Reps are being given the ability to make a real difference; the time may come when, all other options having failed, lives will depend on how they use it.

It’s a heavy responsibility, but one that Homan understands well. During 30 years in the pulp and paper industry he had his share of accidents, he admits. But when he was made a shift manager the safety of his team became his top priority.

More recently he’s been a trainer in Northland, but during his days in industry he too was a rep, he tells them, and also a union delegate, when unions were some of the main enforcers of workplace health and safety.

“Now, with elected HSRs, it’s all about effective communication – engagement and participation.”

Today’s trainees are a mixed group – eight women and six men, some from recognised high-risk industries, others from desk jobs. Several have had little more than a year’s experience as reps; others were in the role before worker representation became compulsory more than a decade ago. Brian, from a construction company, has had 15 years’ service. Rangi, from an asset maintenance company, 17 years; and Tony, from the energy sector, an impressive 30 years.

Regardless of their experience, Homan makes it clear that there are now new ways of thinking that everyone must get to grips with.

“Things are going to change. We’re going from a whole lot of duty-holders to just three. Everyone associated with a workplace will be a worker, a PCBU or an officer – which means a lot of managers are now going to be workers.”

He follows up by explaining that PCBU stands for “person conducting a business or undertaking”, even though the term will, in most cases, refer to an entity rather than an individual.

Instead of just controlling hazards PCBUs now have to effectively manage risks – and that’s not just a change in terminology.

There’s lots to explain, but Homan’s not here to deliver a lecture, and he soon gets the reps down to business, conferring with their tablemates to work through a series of exercises, applying the information they’re being given. While they deliberate he and fellow trainer Arron Russell move between tables, offering advice and encouragement, and sometimes just sharing a joke.

It’s a packed programme for a half-day course, but Russell and Homan are adept at keeping things on task, while still finding time for questions and shared anecdotes.

By the end of the afternoon the HSRs will have written up a PIN and learnt when to use it, completed an assessment on this and their other new duties, and – perhaps most importantly – been equipped to foster constructive engagement and effective participation for the workers they represent.

“That’s your role,” Homan tells them. “To help workers engage with health and safety, and to promote participation. Without it we’re never going to improve.”


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