Twelve Reflections on Worksafe

I am one of many thousands just completing twelve months’ duty as an Officer of a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking. While my experience over this year is by no means unique, I want to set down my reflections on the year past and the journey that I and my fellow Officers (directors and senior managers) have made.

  1. We had good preparation made available to us. Over the lead-up months, the publicity and road shows were plentiful and demystifying. Worksafe itself and professional bodies like the IOD were active in informing us and calming our anxieties. This flow of communications continues.
  2. We gradually became familiar with the principles, duties and rights in relation to workplace health and safety – the Primary Duty of Care and where it sits; what an Officer’s Due Diligence encompasses; and what we have to do to proactively identify and manage risks.
  3. We were not starting from cold. Businesses were already complying with the old HSE Act, but the emphasis swung from recording and monitoring to more proactivity. Unsurprisingly the stronger foundation existed with the blue-collar and traditionally riskier industries.
  4. Boards I sit on each designated a champion to lead the system installation / upgrade and subsequent management of the PCBU’s obligations. In their support, a consulting service sprang up where “experts” of untested competency purported to advise on a suitable system of risk management across the business. In retrospect, these systems are working OK.
  5. The treatment of Health and Safety duties at board meetings evolved over the year, and became more engaged after Officer training sessions. Fair to say that with some boards the mindshift from box ticking and avoidance of personal liability to a genuine adoption of the principle of getting our workers home safely is still a work in progress.
  6. Whether in teams or individually, the participation of the workers and sub-contractors in the system has been variable – some enthusiastic and engaged, some reluctant. Training still carries echoes of school.
  7. The risk focus has always begun with the obvious – machinery, slippery surfaces, lifting, danger to eyes and fingers. But as the participation in hazard identification has progressed, some sensible and some barmy risks have been flagged. I guess we all have the “Use the handrail not the mat while you descend the stairs” notice.
  8. Driving as part of the job is a risk often missed. 30% of road crashes are in work vehicles. Numerous training programmes, tools and technologies are available to improve the competence and safety of your drivers. (I am chair and a shareholder of a specialist in this field).
  9. Dealing with psychological health was a challenge for us. A manager diagnosed with clinical stress and incipient depression caused a review of the reasonableness of Position Description, KPIs, Performance Reviews, and how he/she was being managed. We did struggle, as kindly as we could, with the fundamental question – was the illness work-related?
  10. Another test for our leadership was a case of at-work bullying, which caused the worker to feel unsafe. In this, we found the Australian guidance more useful that that available on official New Zealand websites. (See my May 2015 piece).
  11. Officers may despair at the “dumb” behaviours of that uncommon worker who will not / cannot learn to be careful. The only comfort is that the Act requires the worker to take reasonable care for their own H&S, to follow any reasonable H&S instruction, and to cooperate with any reasonable business policy or procedure relating to H&S.
  12. In my various PCBUs, we navigated the year with fewer hospitalization accidents, a reducing incident count and an organization where the people are working together better to stay safe at work. Now to do better next year.