ALAN TITCHALL has covered literally hundreds of conferences in his journalism career but says the 2016 Crane Association Conference and Trade Show (CANZ) will be remembered as one of the industry’s most successful events.
IT IS NOT THE LARGEST contractor conference in the country by any means, but it is always one of the best run, and it is the first time since my days covering the travel and tourism industry that I have been greeted at registration with a goodie box (thanks to organiser Robyn Grooby).
I had forgotten how welcoming a box of nibbles and drinks is when you turn up expecting just another two days of ear bashing around health and safety regulations over the winter ‘conference’ season. And I have been covering conferences for so long now that I can even remember when they used to be fun.
The 2016 Crane Conference (the 42nd) was the biggest yet, since the first one which was also hosted in Nelson in 1975 when the legendary Max Whiley, founder of the Titan Group, was president of the association.
These days most conferences have given away the obligatory powhiri and local blow-hard politician lathering compliments on the respective industry but the crane event got stuck in with the president’s (Scott McLeod) message and a very good presentation from the major sponsor. This year that sponsor was Underwriting Agencies of Australia (UAA), which has also committed to sponsoring the event for the next three years.
The company was founded in Newcastle, NSW some 40 years ago solely as an insurer of mobile cranes. Since then it has grown to become the largest crane and plant underwriter in Australia and New Zealand after setting up here just two years ago in May 2014.
Its UAA regional manager south & NZ, Stan Alexandropoulos, was given the stage for 20 minutes and he did a good job of explaining why UAA has seized such a big market share over just two years. It works with all brokers for a start and takes a clear stance on the hidden risks associated with lift insurance coverage.
We didn’t quite escape the politician, who turned out to be articulate Michael Woodhouse, the minister of ‘too many things’ including Workplace Relations and Safety (WorkSafe). In this capacity the bucks stops with him, although the frontline is WorkSafe and the agency in everyone’s faces these days.
Woodhouse is one of the best when it comes to industry engagement and he conceded that there is a “lot” he can learn from the industry on how the H&S changes are going, and he says he is very sensitive about risk management and over-the-top red tape. He believes the agency has “the balance right”, but ultimately that will depend on the industry and WorkSafe. He did however justify the recent WorkSafe advertisements, which have been criticised for ‘over-cooking’ H&S data.
The agency’s chief, Gordon McDonald, who has only been in the role since March 2014, is packing up and going back home to the UK at the end of this year.
Woodhouse also said that the new H&S laws don’t ask to eliminate all risk, only to mitigate and reduce it.
He also conceded that the changes that came in on April 4 this year were just a start. “We are not there by a long shot. There’s still quite a lot to do in the regulatory space.”
Interestingly, serious harm has gone down six percent since then; workplace deaths by 26 percent, but minor harm has gone up a bit – probably reflecting an increase in reporting.
Woodhouse said he has instructed WorkSafe to take an engagement approach to industry policing. “And I want to hear that WorkSafe came to you ‘announced’, with advice and a wish to understand your business.”
He even suggested sending him an email over ‘visits’ if you like. “I am keen that WorkSafe understands its role.”
A point in the new H&S regime that not many people know about is the fact an employee can be fined for breaching the act, although at this stage, says Woodhouse, WorkSafe has been told to take it easy on offenders in the initial year.
A healthy association
The association’s financial results over the past year were described as ‘exceptional’, and built on two years of growth.
The Crane Association enjoyed a 35 percent increase in income over the past financial year and only a 15 percent increase in expenditure. While membership increased by 16 percent over the past year, subscription only contributed to 60 percent of the association’s income, with the rest coming from other avenues. Back in 2014, subs contributed 76 percent of the association’s annual income. The main non-sub revenue streams are the conference, fuel scheme, insurance offering and the Crane Safety Manual published last year.
At the 2015 AGM a separate ‘lobby’ fund was set up and financed through the ‘November’ renewals, and $25,701 is being held in a separate account.
The 2016 AGM was noted as one of the ‘quietest’ on record, and was brought to a close 20 minutes early.
President Scott McLeod credits the 10-member council for its solidarity and success over four decades. “We have a slow turnover of council members which is important to building ‘history’,” he says.
McLeod is very proud of the association’s new NZ Crane Safety Manual with its focus on ‘users’. This year they launched a safety website, www.safecrane.nz to complement the manual, which has sold very well.
“Compliancy is a fast moving beast and the association does a lot of work on keeping members up with the play,” he says.
The industry is facing regulatory changes scheduled for 2018 when the old rules will be rewritten and crane operators will be faced with new practice guidelines, a system similar to the certificates of competency (CoC) on top of the National Certificate required in other industries. The association says it is making sure it is actively involved in the process.
McLeod says the Australian industry licensing system has not proved effective as it is too broad and not machine specific, and would not work here.
A new CoC system here also needs to be a sign-off to crane types not weight of lift.
Over recent years the association has worked with the NZTA to reduce road user charges for some vehicles by as much as 35 percent.