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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

It’s a wrap

PETER BATEMAN summarises a few key messages from the tenth Safeguard conference.

Months after last year’s conference smashed the 500 barrier the question we asked ourselves was simple: could it happen again? We really had no idea. Turns out the answer – just – was yes. Extraordinary!

Irrepressible MC David Nottage engaged us from the word go with the command that each table had to choose a leader. Cue much pointing to others. There was method to his madness, however, as it turned out table leaders had real power.

Opening the conference, WorkSafe New Zealand chair Gregor Coster paid tribute to departing chief executive Gordon MacDonald, who he said had been a driving force in reading the agency for the new legislation and in galvanising each staff member into action. Enthusiastic applause suggested this was a common view.

Keynote speaker Drew Rae suggested health and safety fashions swung every few years between focusing on systems or on behaviour. Despite their apparent differences, he said, they are both more or less the same position – they take an autocratic, management approach rather than a leadership approach. Both are thoroughly outdated.

“If you tried to teach them in a management school you’d get laughed at.”

Pin-striped Chapman Tripp partner Garth Gallaway continued the stirring, warning he is still surprised how often he is invited to assist organisations after an incident, only to find they have identified serious risks but done nothing to address them. “It rather puts you on the back foot,” he noted drily.

Francois Barton from the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum facilitated a panel of chief executives, asking if they treated compliance as a ceiling constraining their efforts, or as a floor on which to build. Dean Addie from EIS said it was important never to let down your guard – to always feel uncomfortable. EIS had gone years with an LTI, then “we hurt two people in the same week”. One of them could have been a fatality if luck had gone the other way. “We thought we’d reached the pinnacle but in fact we are just starting off.”

Landcorp’s Steve Carden told a similar story: 18 months ago they thought they were going along pretty well and were regarded as a health and safety leader in agriculture. Then two staff were killed in the space of a few weeks. It wasn’t because Landcorp had become a “fundamentally unsafe” organisation; it was the realisation that changing hearts and minds – the culture change piece – would take years. “It’s hugely disconcerting to face that.”

CHEP’s Mike O’Brien said a few years ago the company had invested a lot of time in risk analysis and in putting systems in place, but was still injuring 45 people (out of 350) each year. The realisation was that the staff engagement piece was missing, and that has been the focus of work in recent years – with good results.

Helen Parkes, from Cosman Parkes, described a project she has worked on for the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum and WorkSafe, which has resulted in Monitoring What Matters – A guide for CEOs, a free resource released on the first day of the conference. Currently, she said, the H&S information received by chief executives is mostly not supporting them to take action and have effective H&S conversations.

Farmstrong’s Gerard Vaughan described the challenge of motivating farmers to consider their own wellbeing like this: how do we engage an audience which is very busy, not looking for this kind of thing, and anyway thinks it’s a bit soft or irrelevant? (Sound familiar?) Farmers will, however, listen to other farmers – and that gave them an entry point to begin the conversation.

KiwiRail’s Aaron Temperton noted that the company’s definition of zero harm was “to actively care for our staff”, while his co-presenter Karen Fletcher, from the RMTU, said risk assessment should never be a top-down process.

Keynote speaker Tim Marsh ran his session like a variety show, inviting volunteers to come up on stage and do crazy things. Possibly craziest of all was the tug-of-war between four people from Auckland and four people not from Auckland. The audience rooted for the out-of-towners, but Marsh intervened – on safety grounds – before the decisive tug could be made. He suggested that safety culture was what happens on a typical busy dayshift, and that if you can get 90% or more of people to abide by it then it’ll stick – because new starts and visiting contractors will abide by the norms they observe.

Day two started with the one-man legal whirlwind that is Michael Tooma, who said the question he is most often asked by clients is: “What do we need to do to comply?” (Though what they mean is: what do we need to do to avoid liability?) His answer is always the same: don’t kill people. He went on to share five lessons drawn from a major international project he carried out for a client to discover the characteristics of organisations which did H&S really well.

Fulton Hogan’s Nikki Ross and Danielle Holden told us why the company had brought back occupational health nursing as an in-house role, and how successful the nurses have been in connecting with workers. (Dr Bill Glass would have loved this presentation – he’s been saying this for years. Decades, actually.) Story of the session: the young man worried he had prostate cancer who fairly skipped out of the nurse’s room when told he only had an STI!

David Williams – the Undercover Brother – outlined the five elements which make up a culture (any culture) and suggested how each could be influenced in the direction you want to go.

In his second session Tim Marsh ranged amusingly over wellbeing and mental health, and suggested it would be unwise to work for a company which reached for so-called resilience training as its first option. Much better, he counselled, to invest that money in improving soft skills for supervisors.

The you-could-have-heard-a-pin-drop prize goes to Gary Leslie, director of Northern Forest Products, who delivered a 15-minute master class in what Andrew Hopkins would encourage in any leader: a sense of chronic unease. Simply outstanding in his sincerity and his insight about what being a leader in a high-risk industry really means.

A panel to discuss the topic of the professionalisation of health and safety as a career saw HRINZ’s Chris Till draw a close comparison between the skills required of both HR and H&S practitioners, while HASANZ’s Craig Smith was happy to concede it is possible to be a H&S professional without being a member of a H&S professional body – but, he said, why would you? Fletcher Building’s Sarah Maling revealed she often found success in hiring people who stood outside a conventional top three from a list of applicants for a role, prompting further discussion on the need for H&S people to be inspiring and/or disruptive, as well as knowledgeable.

Winding up the conference was corporate anthropologist Michael Henderson, who said personal values are eight times more influential than company values in determining behaviour, so safety messages should focus on the impact workplace behaviour will have on the things that we hold dear..

And that was it – another successful large conference with lots of useful connections made between attendees, speakers and sponsors. And lots of commitment to try some different things.


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