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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Safeplus: Ahead of its time?

The SafePlus site assessment tool has been available for two years but has yet to establish itself in a crowded market. PETER BATEMAN summarises an evaluation of the tool, and four people who have used it give their views.

The onsite assessment and advisory tool SafePlus struggled to gain traction in its first year on the market, with little more than 40 onsite assessments completed by the end of 2018. The only formal evaluation of SafePlus – not made public but obtained by Safeguard a few months ago – suggests it is still not yet widely known, and that businesses might simply not be ready for it.

Of those larger businesses that are aware of it, most were found to be not yet mature enough at board level to invest time and money in a strategic improvement process which lacks a financial incentive to participate, and which does not produce a compliance-based pass-fail score.

The researchers also found the legacy of the discontinued WSMP audit still looms large, finding it helped entrench the notion that health & safety is about compliance and that an audit is the way to measure it.

The SafePlus onsite evaluation tool was launched in October 2017 as a joint initiative from WorkSafe, MBIE and ACC. Accredited assessors spend time on one or more sites and engage significantly with workers to evaluate how a business is doing against 12 measures, and suggest next steps to improve.


Towards the end of 2018 independent researchers spoke with 19 of the then 51 accredited SafePlus assessors, as well as to 15 businesses which had been assessed and another 23 who intended to be assessed. The assessors had completed 40 assessments between them; communication with a further 28 assessors led the researchers to conclude that those 40 were likely to represent most of the completed assessments at that time.

(It should be pointed out that the report was finished in February 2019 based on interviews conducted towards the end of 2018, and that the situation will have evolved since then – particularly given the Government Health and Safety Lead’s promotion of SafePlus within government agencies.)

The researchers found SafePlus was viewed positively by almost all businesses which had taken part in it, though getting measurements of its impact in terms of injury reduction will prove challenging.

“I love it, really enjoyed the experience,” said one assessed business. “I believe you’re not going to change until you can change behaviours – this assessment can do that.”


But the key finding of the report is that the market is not yet ready for SafePlus. One assessor described it as “ahead of its time”, while an assessed business said it requires a “mindset that focuses on development” rather than on compliance. Another business that intended to use SafePlus said there is a low level of maturity in the market, which is still looking for some kind of certification audit.

“The culture and improvement focus is good,” said one assessor, “but it needs to have more tangible benefits”.

SafePlus, the report notes, suffers from low visibility and the need to make itself heard above the noise of ISO45001 and various pre-qualification schemes. And unlike WSMP, there is no financial incentive to take part. It is difficult to convince many potential customers that SafePlus represents value for money, given the low level of uptake and the lack of data to show that the investment will result in tangible outcomes.

“If they don’t buy it,” noted one informant, “then the value proposition is wrong. The goal shouldn’t be a financial incentive, it should be improved health and safety … however, very few are in this space.”


The report all but rules out offering a financial incentive to do a SafePlus site assessment, but suggests it could be worth offering a subsidy or grant to cover some of the cost of specific improvements recommended.

It also notes the three agencies behind the development of SafePlus remain committed to it and have agreed to a series of actions arising from the evaluation. These include:

  • • 
    More marketing effort, including SafePlus case studies.
  • • 
    ACC to look how it can embed SafePlus assessments into its requirements for relevant products and services.
  • • 
    Develop a guide for businesses so they know what time and resources need to be committed for an assessment.
  • • 
    Work to improve assessor consistency via moderation and professional development.
  • • 
    Require all existing SafePlus assessors to be on the HASANZ register by the time they are recertified.
  • • 
    Gather better data about SafePlus uptake and impact for use in marketing.



Health, safety and wellbeing manager, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

The Ministry wanted to support SafePlus as a cross-government initiative, promoted by the Government Health and Safety Lead, and to adopt it as a nationally recognised performance tool.

The SafePlus review assessed all of the Ministry’s operations, both onshore and offshore. While the review process was the key focus for health and safety staff during the assessment, the review process was not onerous and took place over a five-week period. It involved hosting assessors at sites and organising hour-long interviews with staff.

The SafePlus Report has formed the basis of the next phase of the Ministry’s health and safety programme of work. This includes a four-year strategy to achieve our health and safety goals. It assisted senior leaders in setting objectives and timeframes for the management of health and safety across the Ministry.

The SafePlus assessment was undertaken following the end of the first health and safety work programme to assist the Ministry in taking stock of where we were positioned in terms of health and safety maturity. Rather than highlighting any surprising elements, the evaluation confirmed the Ministry’s strong commitment to health and safety and provided guidance for developing our next steps.

The assessment could be undertaken at any time or stage of health and safety maturity. We will look to undertake another assessment in the future to evaluate our progress. From a logistical perspective, we found it helpful to ensure the availability of senior leaders and key stakeholders in advance to take part in interviews during the review process.

The SafePlus assessment provided an opportunity for our current health and safety maturity to be externally assessed. It supported senior leaders in establishing the direction for building on our current settings and creating clear goals for our health and safety performance in the future.


General manager, Rheem New Zealand

We chose SafePlus because we wanted to get an independent insight into our safety culture rather than an ISO type of standard assessment, which is more system-based. We wanted to focus more on people and culture than systems and documentation. Our Australian sister company is going through a comprehensive safety culture assessment and improvement programme which we could have tagged onto, but we preferred to go with SafePlus as it is NZ-focused and endorsed by WorkSafe.

The assessment was done on our main Auckland factory along with our warehouse and stores facilities. More than 30 employees out of a total workforce of 104 were interviewed as part of the assessment.

The two assessors spent two-and-a-half days with us, mainly for interviews, pre- and post-briefings, and factory visits. We set aside two small meeting rooms for the duration of their visit, and our HSE manager supplied numerous documents for reviewing one week prior to the site visit. There was some disruption to production when factory staff were interviewed, but with careful planning this was kept to a minimum.

The evaluation report was very useful as it gives us a clear pathway for progression of our H&S programme and culture. It confirmed that we are on the right track with the direction we have been taking recently to improve our safety culture, and it made a significant number of recommendations which we will be following through on. The assessment highlighted some of our known and lesser known resource constraints and elaborated on the way these can link to H&S. The report also provides an excellent summary suitable for communicating to staff and posting on notice boards.

There were no major surprises from the assessment, but we were pleasantly surprised to find there were some employees interviewed who stood out to the assessors as having leadership potential, certainly from a H&S perspective.

To make the most of the assessment process, we would recommend giving all employees – in advance – an idea of what the assessment is about and encourage everyone to be open and honest; don’t hold back.

The lack of wide adoption of SafePlus is puzzling but may simply be an issue of awareness and lack of critical mass. To improve the uptake, it may be worth considering some sort of incentive.

We would definitely recommend the SafePlus assessment to other organisations because it can give you a balanced and unbiased insight into your health and safety culture, with recommendations on how to improve. It also shows to your staff that management are 100% committed to improving health and safety and are genuinely interested in employees’ opinions and involvement in H&S.


Health and safety manager, Department of Conservation.

The Department was involved in the original pilot of SafePlus and liked what we saw (though we are pleased they dropped the original scoring system!). DOC was looking for something different from the standard audit tools that do little to improve performance. SafePlus appealed because of its key focus areas: leadership, risk management and worker engagement. These are the key areas of the HSW Act and where we felt DOC needed to lift performance. Because of the broad nature of DOC’s work and its inherent risks, existing audit standards do not appeal to us; we were looking beyond compliance.

The shift away from documented evidence and checklists to behaviours and outcomes was seen by the Department as critical not only to shift performance, but also to get the buy-in of staff involved in the assessments. They appreciated the conversational style of the process and the opportunity to have their say. This doesn’t occur in standard audit tools.

Planning for the assessment involved a vertical slice of the organisation. While our critical risks are mostly in field operations there were other parts of the organisation we wanted to include, so everyone got a sense of involvement and because risk is relative to people’s own work experiences. We selected five sites across the Department that included most parts of its work; the sites also had differing levels of H&S performance.

The time to prepare for and undertake the assessment cannot be underestimated. Given the nature of DOC work and the availability of staff, the timing of the assessments at locations was fluid and included one or two postponements. There is a need to properly brief staff and managers, as well as the senior leadership team, on the SafePlus process. Also essential is taking the time to properly brief assessors on key organisational processes before commencement.

The assessments were carried out over a two-month period. The final report was comprehensive. As well as organising the findings into the three key elements mentioned earlier, specific reports on each of the locations visited were presented. Although the findings are largely focused on organisational issues, the locations assessed were appreciative of their own report. The report has enabled the Department to move forward in key areas and raised issues that required a re-think in some of our approaches.

For example, while staff were clear on the Department’s vision for health and safety there was a lack of alignment in operationalising the vision down to the workers’ activities. There was also an over-focus on TRIFR, leading to fear of being blamed for an incident. And there was a lack of focus on staff wellbeing.

It’s important to prepare properly for the assessment. This includes:

  • • 
    understand SafePlus;
  • • 
    know what you want to get out of it;
  • • 
    communicate it to the business;
  • • 
    prepare your senior leadership team (they will get interviewed);
  • • 
    welcome the report findings;
  • • 
    plan for improvement.

I’m surprised the uptake of SafePlus is not what was hoped. There are likely many reasons for this, including where organisations are with health and safety (ie still in compliance mode rather than looking for continual improvement); industry certification to other standards; or businesses just not ready to accept SafePlus.

I highly recommend SafePlus to other organisations – if it is done for the right reasons. If you are genuinely looking for improved health and safety performance and keeping your people safe, then this is for you. If not, look elsewhere.


General manager people and culture, Manawatū District Council.

In conjunction with six of our neighbouring councils, we were keen to undertake an assessment that would provide a benchmark, determine our strengths and identify areas for improvement. We liked that SafePlus is endorsed by WorkSafe and has a future-focused, culture-based approach, rather than a compliance approach or paper-based checklist.

Our assessment looked at all parts of our local authority operations, zoning in on three key risks: mental health, contractor management, and working alone. Site visits included multiple live sites managed by our major roading contractor, and sites managed by our parks contractor.

The assessment was undertaken by two assessors within one day. There was some preparation – a self-assessment, and gathering material to show the assessors on the day – but the process was not onerous.

About a year before proceeding with the SafePlus assessment we had undertaken a self-assessment against the SafePlus criteria in a workshop with our chief executive, executive team and all our H&S representatives. This was very useful and meant we were all on the same page about our strengths and areas for development.

The assessment report was valuable in shaping our H&S direction, particularly because it directly led to the creation of our 2019-22 Health and Safety Strategy, which has now been endorsed by the council. It also highlighted the gaps we had in our due diligence programme for officers (in our case, our elected members and executive team), which we’ve progressed in the strategy.

There weren’t any real surprises in the evaluation. Our assessors provided excellent information ahead of the process and we agreed the schedule for the day well in advance. The process and report followed the SafePlus criteria. The feedback we received from those involved in the process – health and safety reps, managers and team leaders, the executive team – was all very positive. Staff felt the assessors were professional, friendly and approachable, and this relaxed but proficient approach to the process put staff at ease and allowed good discussion to flow.

Our preparation by way of the workshop a year out from the process was useful but is certainly not a prerequisite. Ensuring staff involved in the process understand why the assessment is being done, and making sure it has visible senior level support (ideally chief executive) is important. It’s also important staff know they should be completely open and honest in their conversations with assessors – both to be proud of what they think is going well, and transparent about the areas for improvement.

Assessments like these work when there is accepted evidence that participation leads to measurably better outcomes. WorkSafe could engage research to explore the impact SafePlus is having.

We recommend SafePlus. The focus on the H&S culture of the organisation rather than forms and policies pulls the assessment into the modern era, and the clear and largely actionable recommendations have shaped our future direction.


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