New approach needed to health and safety

New approach needed to health and safety

New approach needed to health and safety by Richard Gill.  Available from <> [Last updated 15:36, September 20 2017]

According to WorkSafe New Zealand, 32 people have died in workplace related accidents between the beginning of the year and the 16th of August.

If this trend continues, 54 people will have died by the end of the year – the highest number since 2013.

Despite a change in legislation, more inspections and scrutiny and more awareness for workplace health and safety, we still don't seem to be any closer to a real solution.

The recent deaths in the forestry industry tell us a lot about the culture of safety in New Zealand, not least because of the response from the industry itself.

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff told Radio New Zealand the government needed to address the issue of why safety standards were not being met and called for a new code of practice as the old one had never been "fit for purpose".

"It needs to be updated, made sense of, more practical and needs to deal with the issue of fatigue - it doesn't.

"Why haven't we got improved codes of practice that we've been asking for for ages? Why isn't there a greater presence of WorkSafe inspectors in the industry?"

Yes, having codes of practice and safety standards is important, but the piece that is missing and which nobody seems willing to talk about is culture.

In the tech sector we have a saying "culture eats strategy for breakfast" and it's as true in health and safety as it is in building the next Google or Uber.

Culture defines how you operate as a company. It sets the tone, it permeates every action and interaction between your people and your products. Safety should be baked in at this level not left to rules that are imposed from on high. If you have to stop and think about what the rules are regarding the activity you're undertaking, you leave yourself open to mishap, injury or even death.

Instead, health and safety should be built in to every decision and every action taken. It's a bottom-up model and in effect is the only way we can improve our shocking safety record in New Zealand.

Currently, the model is the traditional one. Rules are defined by parliament and then handed down to the Ministry and from there down to employers who enforce the rules on employees and on contractors and their staff, and so on down to the newest apprentice.

Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Woodhouse says it is not possible for codes of practice to cover every possible scenario and he's quite right. The top down model simply doesn't work in a fast moving environment. Instead, we need to move to a new model that embraces three alternative ways of looking at health and safety.

First, it must be driven by the people who are most at risk. Contractors and sub-contractors are the front line staff in many industries and they need to be not only aware of the rules but fully engaged with the culture of safety first.

Secondly, management have to understand that worker safety is more important than deadlines or completion targets because a site shut down for three days while inspectors figure out what went wrong is a site that is not productive.

And thirdly, the world now operates in a real-time environment. Holding a meeting at the start of the shift or writing up potential risks on a white board at the gate simply doesn't cut it. Real time updates, delivered to the right staff and contractors in the field is the only way to engage fully in a health and safety culture that can and should do better.

Management's role is to set up the framework that enables this shift. On site shift managers have a key role in making sure everyone is abiding by the rules, but the biggest move will have to be empowering those on the front line to put their safety and the safety of their workmates above everything else. No more getting the apprentice to move the digger without checking their skills first. No more "she'll be right" or "it's only a short walk along the edge, I'll just get on with it" or any of the other lies we tell ourselves.

Health and safety has to be a generational change, much like New Zealanders' approach to seatbelts or drunk driving. What was considered a misdemeanour offence 20 years ago is now clamped down on vigorously and is considered strange and mystifying to the next wave coming through.

Wouldn't it be great if we could do the same with health and safety in the workplace? Then we might be able to send everyone home safely at the end of each shift.

Richard Gill is the founder and chief executive of Blerter, a real time app that connects and engaged the entire workforce to take an active role in health and safety.

New approach needed to health and safety by Richard Gill.  Available from <> [Last updated 15:36, September 20 2017]

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