Fear of punishment will not make workplaces safer long term
The emphasis on the punishment aspects of the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 won't make workplaces safer long term and may even only achieve minimum legal compliance.
Here at BWARE – a leading New Zealand health and safety cloud management solution since 2002 – we believe that the big stick approach is distracting managers from building a truly positive bottom up safety culture.
This is demonstrated by the fact that we are getting calls from people who are worried about whether they're in the gun or not, and what their responsibilities and accountabilities are as individual persons conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBUs).
It's a reaction that suggests current activities are all about punishment avoidance, and not enough about the benefits that a culture of safety offers every single person in the workplace.
New safety legislation is more holistic
The old health and safety legislation was very vertical because PCBU's only had to worry about their direct employees and contractors. The new legislation, however, requires all parties in a mutual relationship to consult, cooperate and coordinate in respect to their overlapping duties, which in theory is a positive development.
For example, in the construction sector a housing developer must make sure that the builder complies and has all the necessary paperwork, as well as the plumbing and electrical trades the builder brings on board.
It's all about compliance and responsibilities, which is important and necessary, but a simple safety discussion between the various parties and all of their workers – at every morning meeting – will help to shift culture and thinking beyond ticking the boxes.
This will allow them to plan ahead, think about the work, the risks and who is affected, and together plan who is best placed to control the risks.
After compliance comes cultural change
Cultural change follows compliance. It is more deep seated and enduring and the best way to cut down on workplace incidents and injuries and health issues.
We suggest that companies that want to comply with legislation, as well as ensure that the workplace really is safer for all concerned, should consider taking these steps:
1. Understand the risks associated with the work you are carrying out
Establish a Hazard and Risk Register that will give you a better understanding of the risks – the level of risk and the likelihood of the risk occurring. Rather than having to concern yourself with managing all significant hazards (as was the case under the old legislation), a risk management model allows you to prioritise the high to critical risks.
Putting in the right systems and process is an essential first step – but it should not end there.
2. Verify the competency of your workers
Once your business risks are known, this will give you a better understanding of the training needs of your workers.
Training is the next important step to achieving cultural change. Evaluate what training each individual on the team has had – don't take it for granted.
Over estimating competency is mistake that can lead to under supervision that puts your workers at risk. Make sure you can verify the competency of your workers, and that each person understands the risks associated to the task or equipment that they are using.
Ensure your people know how to manage those risks and that they are carrying out the job appropriately to the correct standards either set by yourself as the employer, or to WorkSafe NZ or industry guidelines and standards.
3. Win worker participation and engagement
Involve your workers in health and safety. It's not just about ticking the boxes. Do it for the right reasons! Get the whole group – for example everybody who is working on a construction or building site – talking together, collaborating and consulting.
Make sure everybody is on the same page and that they have the right plant and process to do the job safely – you will save time and won't have to do things twice.
4. When an accident occurs, talk about it
When an accident occurs, even a small one, talk about it and how it might have been avoided. People are your biggest asset and injuries cost your business money, and your workers pain and discomfort.
No matter what systems and practices you have in place, incidents and injuries will and do happen, so don’t hide it; talk about it, learn for it and ensure that the same mistakes don’t get repeated.
Safety Manager by BWARE (Business and Workplace Activity Reporting Engine) is a health and safety management software solution that helps organisations of all sizes and industries meet their compliance requirements, so they can focus on boosting their health and safety performance through the creation of a health and safety culture.
Kevin Haskins is the CEO of BWARE - www.bware.co.nz