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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

State of the Nation - the survey

PETER BATEMAN analyses the results from Safeguard’s second annual State of the Nation survey. Later, four people give their views on how the HSW Act has changed the conversation one year on.

People believe health and safety in New Zealand is improving, according to our second annual State of the Nation survey. As you can see in the table, for every question except one, people took a more positive view than in the first survey last year.

For two questions in particular – that safety is taken seriously, and that PCBUs discuss H&S with other PCBUs sharing the same site – the increase is around ten percent.

The only issue where perceptions went backwards related to the competence of H&S practitioners, which went down slightly compared to 2016.

The number of participants in the survey was almost identical in both years: 786 in 2016 and 776 this year. We sought responses from people in three different but highly motivated groups: H&S practitioners, H&S representatives, and business owners/senior executives. To obtain these responses we used multiple channels: our own networks (subscribers to Safeguard Update, Safeguard Insider, and the Safeguard forum), union networks (for H&S reps) and business networks (for business owners/executives).


When analysed by each of the three respondent groups, some differences emerged. Health, safety and wellbeing practitioners weren’t so confident that the health and wellbeing side is taken seriously, nor that organisations view H&S as an opportunity to improve. Ironically, they were also the group least enthusiastic about the competence of, er, H&S practitioners! Their pessimism extended to their confidence that no one would be harmed at their workplace, H&S reps, for their part, were markedly more confident that health & wellbeing is taken seriously, and in the performance of the regulator too. Their view of H&S practitioners was the sunniest, and they were the most optimistic that no one would be harmed in their workplace.

Business owners and senior managers, as you’d expect, had a slightly different view. They were the most confident of any group that both safety and health were taken seriously, and that workers are involved in identifying risks and having their views heard. They were also significantly more confident that staff are asked for input on H&S, and extremely sure that senior managers and board members ask questions about H&S.


We analysed the data by sector for those sectors with 100+ respondents, and for healthcare (N=69) because it is one of five focus sectors for WorkSafe and ACC. It soon became clear that respondents from the healthcare and government sectors are broadly more pessimistic about H&S than people from any other sectors.

Healthcare respondents were 10%+ less confident than the average that NZ’s H&S performance is improving, that organisations view H&S as an opportunity to improve, and that workers’ views are heard by management or are asked for their input.

Government respondents were just generally less optimistic over all questions, particularly that senior managers and board members regularly ask about H&S.

The only other sector to exceed the 10% variation limit was agriculture, where respondents were notably less confident that health & wellbeing is taken seriously.


Nine options were presented to respondents, who had to choose only one as their primary H&S challenge over the next 12 months. As in 2016, culture (25.6%) and contractors/other PCBUs (23.8%) were far and away the most popular choices, accounting for nearly half of all respondents.

Coming a distant third were health risk exposure (9.2%) and leadership (9.1%). The only issue which changed at all significantly from 2016 was compliance, which fell from 8.6% to 4.6%.


While most respondents were broadly more optimistic than last year, there was still widespread concern expressed in the (new) optional comment question. An edited selection of comments is presented on page 40.

State of the Nation 2017
 2016 – all (N=786)2017 – all (N=776)Difference2017 – practitioners (N=463)2017 – reps (N=188)2017 – business owners/execs (N=125)
In NZ the safety of workers is taken seriously67.177.710.674.779.786.0
In NZ the health & wellbeing of workers is taken seriously42.548.15.638.361.065.3
NZ’s H&S performance is improving78.282.03.878.687.486.8
The H&S regulator WorkSafe NZ is performing well56.760.53.859.367.055.4
In the last 12 months my experience with WorkSafe has been satisfactory54.260.86.663.255.559.5
Organisations in NZ view H&S as an opportunity to improve, not just comply40.345.65.337.455.049.6
An organisation that manages H&S well is more likely to be successful91.994.32.495.691.893.4
In my experience most H&S professionals are competent63.360.8-2.554.874.762.0
H&S has improved at my workplace over the last 12 months78.283.04.883.878.886.4
In my workplace workers are involved in identifying risks and making decisions about how to control them81.986.04.183.986.094.1
In my workplace when a worker raises a H&S issue his or her views are heard by management83.186.02.983.785.595.8
I am confident no one at my workplace will be harmed or made unwell as a result of activities in my workplace44.747.32.640.958.754.2
In my workplace staff are regularly asked for input into how H&S is managed75.380.35.075.781.794.1
In my workplace senior managers and/or board members regularly ask questions about H&S70.977.36.476.868.792.4
In my workplace we discuss H&S risk with other businesses which share our site62.972.29.374.363.178.0

Q: What do you think of the state of health & safety in NZ?

An edited selection of replies from survey respondents.

The plus column

In a state of transition from poor performance and perception in the recent past, to being taken seriously and applied. I feel positive – the resistant organisations will drop out of the system from poor performance and regulatory action.

There is a beneficial generational shift under way. People under 35 are interested in H&S and what it means for them. WorkSafe’s pro-active approach to engagement and education has greatly improved, which helps break down stereotypes about the regulator.

We are at a better place than we were five years ago. H&S requires consistent communication with simple messages across multiple media. The direction set by WorkSafe’s Gordon MacDonald has contributed to how organisations look at H&S issues.

I think the focus is changing from (paper-based) compliance to a concerted effort to ensure the complete H&S culture is managed towards improvement.

Some things are in a state of flux: no case law yet from the new legislation, ACC’s WSMP and WSD programmes have ceased, and ongoing recruitment of new staff into WorkSafe.

Great to see an increase in fact sheets and other information from WorkSafe. But why are quad bikes still legal? The message it sends is that a known killer machine is an acceptable business risk.

Improving, but there is still the thinking that “the H&S guy is doing H&S so I don’t need to.” It is also still too dominated by paperwork and policies. Literacy levels among those most at risk of injury are low so we need to provide safe systems of work outside the “write a policy” thinking.

We need a focus on managing psychosocial risks, which internationally are recognised as the greatest health and safety risk of the modern workplace.

Improving but it is slow progress. Most of my clients are more concerned with compliance than actually preventing bad things happening.

The WorkSafe website has lots of material on the “hard” approach to H&S: systems, regulations, laws, engineering controls. But it needs balancing material on the “soft” skills of motivation, engagement, communication, and collaboration.

Improved, but there is still considerable ignorance and/or avoidance, particularly in small business where there is no governance structure or other accountability. WorkSafe should prioritise this group as they employ a significant proportion of the workforce.

Improving, but many are too fearful of legal action to embrace H&S as a positive. PCBU and contractor management isn’t clear enough, and many subcontractors refuse to work to higher standards, including refusing site drug and alcohol testing. With limited workforce in regional areas PCBUs just have to accept this risk.

The agriculture sector needs a good kick in the backside and needs to get with H&S as a culture change, not just a compliance exercise.

Improving, and we can accelerate that change by focusing on our people and the work they actually do rather than on legislative requirements.

Getting better, but sadly there are large organisations – many within the public sector – which should be leading the way but aren’t.

Overall good, but too much emphasis at management level on compliance rather than worker engagement and input.

The minus column

The Kiwi attitude of she’ll be right is still in play. As a rep I feel workers leave it all up to me though they are regularly told it is everyone’s responsibility.

It’s now taken seriously as a compliance risk, but only seeking legal compliance is about being as bad as the law will allow you to be.

In construction there’s a sense of fear, mostly created by WorkSafe, which is not seen as employer-friendly. This is the feeling from engineers/architect down to the workers: WorkSafe is not helping us.

There are a lot of incompetent safety practitioners out there. Slowly they are being uncovered and moved on, as businesses bring in competent people who have the “yes I do give a shit” factor and who understand health, as well as safety.

A lot of PCBUs noted the legislation change and just asked: what are the new compliance rules? They literally just changed their tick-sheets.

Some corporates are more interested in reputation risk mitigation and public profile than the wellbeing of their workers. This is apparent in the Canterbury rebuild, with arbitrary mandatory rules not justified by actual risk assessment, and which lack input from workers.

Local government does not lead by example, always going for the lowest-cost tender.

It varies greatly from region to region: strong in Canterbury, weak in Auckland.

Unfortunately many H&S consultants perpetuate negative attitudes by offering generic documentation and taking a compliance-first approach.

Improving, but still considered a burden by businesses, and uncool by media and employees.

H&S education is in disarray due to the lack of moderation of the myriad courses and course providers in the market. The quality of training is hugely variable.

The removal of the ACC discount is going to have a big effect as there is no longer a monetary reward.

A large proportion of SMEs rely on generic H&S packages which do not reflect their business activities.

H&S requirements continue to be poorly understood and are made overly complicated by so-called consultants peddling generic off-the-shelf “systems”.


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