Health and safety culture shift needed?

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The independent taskforce, which is currently reviewing the overall workplace health and safety system, is due to deliver proposed practical measures to the government in December. “This review is timely, particularly with the rebuild in Canterbury gearing up, and the Royal Commission into the events at Pike River,” Kate Wilkinson, ex-Labour minister, said in a press release.

In the same statement, Wilkinson observed that New Zealand’s workplace death and injury rates are not improving and that they compare poorly with similar countries like Australia and the UK.

Prior to the CTU’s submission to the independent taskforce, the organisation conducted a survey of 1200 health and safety representatives, and made some surprising discoveries. Thirteen percent of respondents claimed to have been bullied for raising a health and safety issue at work. “We need to get to a place where it’s okay to raise concerns about health and safety at work without fear of repercussions and bullying and in the knowledge that concerns will be taken seriously,” Helen Kelly, president, said.

While Tim Bentley, director of the New Zealand Work Research Institute, hadn’t seen the details of the CTU study, he noted that it aligned with his observations. “There will be targets and monitoring of injuries, and obviously it’s often seen to be in everyone’s interest that they are as low as possible and, therefore, raising a problem can be an issue,” he said.

But when minor incidents aren’t reported, an organisation misses out on a ‘learning opportunity.’ When an organisation fails to identify and learn from minor incidents, it is much more likely that a serious one will occur later. “That’s why you need a culture that wants to learn – having incentives around zero harm, it’s an admirable target to aim for, but not at the expense of having that information,” he explained.

Bentley stressed the importance of good leadership, particularly since employees often act the way they do because of a background, organisational behaviour. “It’s better to change one managerial decision…it’s better to act to that level than to focus on the individual behaviour because 1000s of behaviours can be the result of one policy,” he explained.

  • Peter Denton on 5/12/2012 9:44:18 a.m.

    It seems that one of the key differences between NZ, Australia and the UK is the system for collecting workplace injury data. New Zealand is unique in that we have a centralised no-fault injury insurance scheme (ACC) that is exceptionally good at collecting workplace injury data. Are the rates of workplace injury really more than the other countries? - I'm still not convinced...

  • Craig Macdonald on 4/12/2012 10:21:40 a.m.

    I attended an incident were a builder was seriously injured (calf sliced by roofing iron) on the roof of a two story house.

    It was great to see edge protection and scaffolding all around the building.

    It was not good to see that as the builder was being carried to the ambulance, one of his colleagues climb off the roof, over the edge protection, down the side of the scaffolding and in the top floor window.

    How do we get something to 'fire' in the brain regarding health and safety? Is it just that men likle taking risks?

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