Richard Silcock interviews Nicole Rosie, the head of WorkSafe NZ, over industry safety.
We are some years behind other countries when it comes to health and safety best practice, says Nicole Rosie, the chief executive of WorkSafe.
“While we have seen a reduction in fatal and serious injury recently, there were 49 workplace-related deaths in New Zealand last year, and many more injuries and health issues – so we still rate highly for workplace injury and illness by comparison to other OECD countries and need to improve.”
WorkSafe was set up five years ago as a stand-alone, single-purpose organisation with a mandate to do just that and manage compliance with the H&S legislation through harm prevention educative programmes and regulatory functions.
There is some commonality with the Australian H&S legislation model, but it has been adapted to meet local conditions, Nicole says.
WorkSafe’s operational budget this year is $112 million; 79 percent of which comes from payroll levies with the rest from ACC and other sources.
Of the 529 full-time employees, 201 are inspectors, (50 investigators and 21 in the high hazards areas, which, includes quarries, mines, petroleum etc). (1)
This includes a team of 10 specialist quarrying and mining inspectors.
“We also have teams working in harm prevention, engagement and education who are involved in building safety ‘tool-kits’ aimed at contractors, miners, forestry workers and farmers.
“We focus on the greatest risk sectors and the most vulnerable environments. Since 2011 there have been 143 agriculture fatalities, 50 in construction (which includes civil contracting), 42 in forestry and eight in extractives of which five were in quarrying.” (2)
However, Nicole says, about 10 times more people die from workplace initiated illnesses than from injury, with the most common illnesses caused by airborne substances, ie, asbestos, chemicals and dust, excessive sun exposure leading to skin cancers, fatigue and stress caused by long hours/shift work and ‘bullying’.
“We focus on sectors where there is a high proportion of Maori, Pacific Islanders, Asian or other immigrants as analysis shows the number of incidents increases disproportionally in these instances.
“We also work closely with other H&S regulators (CAA, MNZ and NZTA) to ensure we fit together effectively with the same goals and aspirations and are the workplace H&S leaders.”
When discussing H&S with any organisation, Nicole says they look at leadership, risk management and engagement.
“We know, for example, where a contractor or quarry owner is not prioritising good H&S practice and is intent on putting production and profit first in a high risk environment, there is an increased potential for injury.
“Changing this mind-set and having machines that offer protection, getting workers to wear safety belts and ‘hi-viz’ gear, erecting scaffolding and taking precautions when working at height and separating people from moving machinery are all good examples of risk management and certainly reduce an organisation’s risk profile.
“I congratulate those who are taking innovative approaches in putting workers at the very centre of health and safety and getting their buy-in,” she says.
Asked to comment on road-side incidents involving civil contracting workers who have been injured, Nicole says usually road accidents are a matter for the Police and NZTA. (3)
“However, we do regulate vehicles and machinery activity on work-sites, including roadworks and we encourage physical walls – not just cones – to separate workers from machinery and roads.
“Fulton Hogan has been trialling this in the South Island and we, along with NZTA, are encouraging this initiative.
“However, it continues to be a challenging issue where only cones separate a worker from a moving vehicle and we are reliant on human behaviour to heed speed limit signs.”
Nicole is adamant that ‘enforceable undertakings’ (EUs) are working as a means of safety and health breach discipline.
“Last year, of the around 23 applications for an EU, slightly under half were successful. Not every application is granted and, when an organisation applies, it has to demonstrate what H&S improvements are being made and what interventions and procedures have been undertaken and implemented.
“For example, when an incident occurs and we initiate an investigation, the
employer may realise they have failed to adhere to the H&S Act, thereby making them liable for prosecution.
“In admitting this they can apply for an EU rather than go to court. However, in assessing an application we need to be assured their undertakings will be implemented and practical steps taken to ensure actions and procedures are put in place to minimise future accidents.
“We need their public acknowledgement for failing to comply with their H&S obligations, and for them to provide reparation to the victim(s), set up a H&S training programme, develop an industry standard or programme of work and invest in activities that will help H&S in the sector. (4)
“Failure to admit to a breach, or where an EU is not granted, we can prosecute and have the case heard in court. We have a 95 percent success rate when a prosecution is taken to court with fines sometimes in excess of $500,000 dollars.
“Ignorance of the Act is not a defence and a EU is not a get out of jail card,” Nicole adds.
“It is an intervention process for an organisation to remedy its H&S undertaking. It’s not a negotiable undertaking and we monitor it stringently.”
Inherent risk taking
Nicole says Kiwis tend to have little respect for authority and regulations, and indicators show a level of over-confidence.
“We know 94 percent of workers are confident they are safe in their workplace and only five percent of employers think an incident is likely. (5)
“Where it’s someone in a leadership role setting the agenda in a small to medium size business, such as a small quarry, it’s about changing that attitude and explaining what’s in it for them and their staff.
“If, for example, hard-hats are not worn in a quarry or construction site, we ask is it because you don’t think it’s important that someone could get injured or killed?
“It is unfortunate that in some businesses there is still this attitude of cutting corners and taking the attitude that it’ll be okay as ‘I’ve done it this ways for years without incident’.
“In response I say, you can’t run a business if you’re dead!
“Safety is not about compliance. It’s about good operational practice, taking preventative action and looking after your staff and yourself.
“It should be a basic requirement. We need to improve H&S in this country.”
(1) There are three mining inspectors and one quarry inspector in the South Island and one mining and three quarry inspectors in the North Island. There is also a chief and deputy chief inspector for mining and quarrying.
(2) These figures may differ from industry statistics as they cross-over fatalities in other sectors, ie, where a civil construction worker is killed working on a forestry road. The Governments Towards 2020 Report indicates the fatality rate in the construction industry has more than halved since 2011 and recorded the lowest level in 2016, however there were eight in 2017 (the second highest after agriculture). Injury rates have also steadily declined since 2013. The figures do not include the 2010 Pike River Mine fatalities.
(3) A Road Safety Strategy Report, currently out for consultation, recommends that WorkSafe be involved in road truck accidents on the basis that one-third are work related.
(4) Fletcher Construction, following an incident involving temporary works and as the result of an EU being accepted, is in the process of compiling a comprehensive Guideline on Temporary Works Procedural Control (refer Contractor April 2019). Similarly, Downer, following an incident where a worker lost sight in one eye, has implemented a range of initiatives to improve safety and shift mind-set behaviour particularly with subcontractors.
(5) Accidents caused by vehicles are the biggest cause of workplace accidents in NZ.