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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

People before law

People before law
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Publication Date:
New Zealand

“Society gets the kind of law-breakers it deserves. It also gets the kind of law enforcement it insists upon.”

Not every health and safety conference features a paraphrased quote from Bobby Kennedy, but in citing him Safety 360 conference speaker David Tregoweth sought to engage delegates in the mission of influencing fledgling agency WorkSafe New Zealand.

“Let’s get active. We should be helping to mould the way the regulator operates. The enforcement agency we have will be the one we help create.”

Tregoweth, head of risk and safety with Progressive Enterprises, suggested that having new health and safety law and a new regulator is exciting and a once-in-a-generation opportunity, but it could be squandered if OHS practitioners paid too much attention to legal details and continued to speak in jargon.

“My advice? Go out there and break the law. Do four or five things really well, starting with your directors.”

If that didn’t wake up the post-lunch crowd, there was more. “Safety turns off the very people you are trying to protect. People are afraid of it because we make it complex and arduous, because that makes organisations need us.”

Of course, he wasn’t really advocating breaches of the anticipated Health and Safety at Work Act – just making the point that the law is all very well, but that OHS practitioners should be focused on reaching people in simple language they can engage with. “I think health and safety is all about people. Even process safety.”

Health and safety management, he said, was at risk of becoming little more than a book-keeping exercise, with LTI graphs going down and profits going up. “Who uses those lines to justify your existence?” he challenged delegates. “There’s a place for diagnostics, but should it come before our people?”

All the laws, regulations, jargon and processes that health and safety people focused on were just “levers and tools – they are nothing if your people don’t believe you.”

Much of the jargon, he said, leads only to anxiety and confusion, the term PCBU being a classic example. The challenge is to make the language clearer so that people get it, without having to resort to in-group terminology.

"Who here is a health and safety consultant?” he asked. A few hands went up. “Who here is a health and safety manager?” More hands. “Who’s thinking about becoming a high-paid consultant?” Laughter. He showed a slide full of mathematical equations. “What we don’t need is mumbo-jumbo.”

WorkSafe’s biggest role, he said, was education: getting people on board with the health and safety message and making it easier for organisations to be better at doing it. “I have been an advocate for years for a much stronger regulator because it has a leadership role in society.”

He took a swipe at the Government’s stated goal of a 25% reduction in fatalities and serious harm injuries by 2020. “I find that dreadful. Is that as bold as we can get? What will galvanise us into action? What about a measure of how society responds to tolerance of risk?”

The only measure of success, he said, is how people’s views change, so whatever measures are used, they must resonate with people. “I have to figure out what an officer and a PCBU is. I won’t be waiting for a lawyer or a judge to tell me.”



People Mentioned:
David Tregoweth
Organisations Mentioned:
Progressive Enterprises; Conferenz
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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