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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters


30 years

CHANGING THE NARRATIVE

I have been involved in H&S from my first days in a freezing works 48 years ago when I complained about hazardous fumes being given off in the bating process in the pelt department. The union delegate told me it wasn’t that bad and to harden up.

To show how things have changed, see the cover – it’s a photo I took from the crane cab at 1 Willis St during the construction of the BNZ building 35 years ago.

The most positive development I have observed is that good H&S is increasingly embedded as a standard way of working. Attitudes have changed. A lot of businesses have built their focus on H&S and the good ones know it is good for their business to have a great H&S record. The myth of health and safety being all about “a white coat and clipboards” is no longer the dominant narrative.

It means that safety and health is not seen as something to be added on after everything else is organised; it is being designed into the workplace and the work. Safety and health thinking is continually evolving and currently Safety II thinking gives us a different lens from which to approach things and make further improvements.

This change is not uniform across all sectors, types of hazards and workplaces, but if I stand back and look back over those 48 years I see it as a broad positive trend. In some sectors there appears to be a generational change happening regarding health and safety at work. However, we all know there is always more to do.

The mainstream media will cover what they think will get clicks, attention and sales. I think covering H&S after a fatality is important but not to the exclusion of other areas of coverage. The best thing the media can do is not to take at face value claims that “we had to do this because of health and safety rules”; also, to do some articles on modern thinking on health and safety and its effects, at a personal, corporate and national level.

As Andrew Hopkins says, health and safety is not rocket science – it is much more difficult than that.

Keith Stewart is chief inspector – investigations and duty holder review with WorkSafe NZ in Wellington.

SHIFT OF FOCUS

I’m pleased to see a move away from compliance-based safety in the last couple of years. The new HSW Act put the wind up a lot of businesses (via some H&S consultants) and compliance became a big focus. There is a shift now towards a focus on risk management, leadership and engagement, which is great.

The establishment of WorkSafe was a huge win for health and safety, however I think that the regulator has lost its operational focus and that is a concern. How quickly we forget in this country. Following the Cave Creek Tragedy in 1995 and Pike River in 2010 so many things were going to change, but in reality we tend to slip back to old habits and now have a regulator with fewer and fewer visible operational staff.

During the Canterbury rebuild programme we managed to get a lot of positive news onto radio, TV and newspapers. There was a real appetite in Christchurch and even the whole country to report the work that was being done, especially in the occupational health space. We had a big focus on communications and the benefits of that showed time and time again.

I always find the results of the annual survey of incomes interesting. It provides an opportunity to look at the range of salaries out there, gender, age, roles and so on, and to discuss these with peers.

The last survey in 2017 looked at how respondents’ health and safety practice has changed and it was interesting to see more focus on occupational health and wellbeing. This was encouraging and is certainly one of the focus areas here at Citycare.

Donna Burt is group health, safety & wellbeing manager with Citycare Group in Christchurch.

SALARY SURVEY REVELATION

The development of H&S capability across all leadership roles is the most positive trend I’ve seen. It’s also changed the H&S function, with a move from checking and controlling to facilitating improvements. I see this in action when leadership teams bring challenging H&S situations to their team meetings and work on getting to a solution, just as they would any other workplace issue.

In the media, often only the “what” is reported (person hurt, company prosecuted) followed by a generic not good enough/should all do better. We would get a greater understanding if more of the “how” was covered, showing where workplaces have got it right. Workers and business owners could see there are practical things they can do within their own workplaces and that they can do these things independently of a regulator, guideline or “red tape”.

It would also be nice to see more stories about effective health protection in industries not dominated by men, like a hairdresser who has skin protection under control, or a home care provider that has appropriate and sustainable methods to prevent transmission of communicable diseases.

This communication could also target the consumers of these services: this is how you can you positively encourage your hairdresser or caregiver not to cut corners and place themselves at risk on your behalf. (I would hate to think that someone who had been making my life a little better developed an occupational disease years later because they didn’t want to offend me by wearing gloves.)

The first salary survey that Safeguard published was an eye-opener. Not because of the dollars, but because of the numbers of respondents, the range of job titles, and the demographics of the people. For the first time, I saw myself as part of a profession and not just an isolated one-off that my workplace happened to have. As a result, I made more of an effort to connect with other health and safety people and to learn more about safety theory and grow my craft.

The photo shows what I’ve been doing since the early 90s. If you’re not spending a couple of hours every second month with your feet up reading the mag from cover to cover, you’re doing it wrong!

Shirlene Vautier is head of health, safety and wellbeing with ACC in Wellington.

CAPABILITIES BOOSTED

Thirty years ago H&S was typically an afterthought, a poor country cousin to production. It was seen as a compliance function and as a cost, whose primary purpose was to avoid prosecution and fines. Safety managers were seen as reactive “safety police” and health was merely in name and not in practice. Injuries were accepted as part of the job and PPE was basic and an impediment in the eyes of most. Raising safety issues was just not done, and if it was then you were either an agitator or weak.

In today’s world I find a very different attitude, largely due to the knowledge and maturity now embedded within the workers, leadership teams, legislation and regulators. Also, the calibre of the development opportunities and structures available to safety practitioners have significantly increased.

This has resulted in an increase of capable and competent H&S practitioners at all levels, from the shop floor to the boardroom, so that H&S is embedded in an organisation’s core activities rather than a bolt-on.

We still have a way to go, but it’s only when you look back at the way it used to be that you realise just how much it has changed. In this case, for the better.

As for the media, unfortunately bad news sells. It would be great to see more positive articles showcasing initiatives that are working towards injury and harm prevention. Some recent examples were the articles on the measured business and personal benefits of a four-day week, proactively addressing mental health issues in the workplace, work/life balance benefits and so on.

It would be good to promote H&S as a life issue and not simply a work issue.

Pat Kirk is group health and safety manager with Port of Tauranga.

PARTICIPATION IMPROVEMENTS

There is no doubt that in manufacturing, trades, construction and similar industries, employers are taking H&S a lot more seriously and most have introduced H&S systems.

When I first began working in H&S, it was the unions which led health and safety on the job. Where I worked, in the Engineers Union, a strike to stop the manufacturing of asbestos products was still well remembered. The provision of PPE had to be written into collective agreements, otherwise it was often not provided. Now it often is, though not always.

We are a lot more sophisticated in investigating incidents and more willing to look beyond the worker as a cause of injuries. Worker participation and representation has also improved but there is still a long way to go. Also, ACC has been a big driver of H&S management standards, after it introduced incentive programmes in the 2000s.

Recently media have picked up on some big workplace issues like harassment and psychosocial harm, even in workplaces such as law firms which previously had some protection from scrutiny. We need more awareness of the effects these experiences have on workers. Consider the high levels of client-initiated violence in the care and support sector; fortunately we haven’t had a fatality, but there are a lot of traumatised workers.

We at E tū also believe that the impact of insecure work arrangements and low wages on working families is a big health and safety issue which is largely unrecognised.

The stories in the March/April edition on the care and support sectors generated some lively discussion here at E tū and on Facebook. Many people don’t realise what care and support workers must do on a daily basis and the impact it has on them. As we result we are directing more resources towards advocating for better health and safety for our members.

Fritz Drissner is health & safety coordinator with E tū in Auckland

MEASURING OUTCOMES

More of our existing and potential clients are approaching H&S from a risk assessment perspective to determine health and hygiene monitoring. H&S needs to move towards a risk- and evidence-based approach before embarking on any sort of programme, health or otherwise.

Teamwork is now more common. It’s rewarding for the occupational health nurse to work with the H&S manager, occupational hygienist and occupational physician or specialist. The OHN is often the lead in this team approach.

The old adage “health & safety comes first” is true with most clients we work with, however the spend needs to be justified. Too often we see unnecessary and sometimes invasive health monitoring that was not required from a risk prospective, which doesn’t reflect well on the H&S profession.

Fatalities will always get headlines and so they should, as this reminds everyone that things do go wrong in workplaces regardless of how safe we try to make them.

Gradual process injuries/illnesses with a long latency period have a significant impact but are poorly measured. We are all familiar with noise-induced hearing loss and asbestos-related disease but there are many others barely mentioned – solvent neurotoxicity, occupational asthma, occupational cancers, and sensitisation to chemicals to mention a few. Illness/injury might not stop the person from working but can be significantly limit their occupation and future employment.

I was intrigued to read Ian Laird’s article on culture in the May/June 2018 issue. I’ve been involved in many a H&S culture or behaviour change programme and wondered what the long-term impact really is and how it can be measured; it’s the working together and having a common goal that institutes change.

I’m now more likely to question proposed programmes in the workplace to see if there are any outcomes that can be measured in terms of improved H & S, better engagement, behavioural changes and so on.

Lynda van Dam is a director of Business Health Services in Auckland.

Thomson Reuters

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