The tragic death of an unsupervised technician maintaining a forestry harvester head in Wairoa highlights the issue of training and supervision in industry.

The General Risk and Workplace Regulations are simple and clear when it comes to the PCBU’s responsibility, so you would wonder why it is that we persist in getting it wrong?

In plain English terms, under the heading of ‘Supervision, training, and instruction of workers’, the regulations set out that a PCBU must ensure that every worker has adequate knowledge and experience and is adequately supervised by a person who has that knowledge and experience. They must be adequately trained in the safe use of all plant, objects, substances, or equipment that they may be required to use or handle and all personal protective equipment that may be required.

The PCBU must ensure that the supervision and training provided to a worker are suitable and adequate, having regard to the nature of the work carried out and the nature of the risks associated with the work at the time the supervision and the control measures implemented in relation to the work that the worker is undertaking.

The PCBU must ensure that the training is readily understandable by any person to whom it is provided.

How then do we arrive at this tragic situation? While a $265,000 fine and reparations of $271,000 may gain the undivided attention of the Wairoa PCBU, it will not return a father and husband to his family. Sadly, we see the same core issue weekly basis in our interactions with industry. The most common failings we encounter when auditing health and safety systems or conducting machine safety audits are:

Misunderstanding the core concepts of basic process training and supervision, (relying too much on fashionable training or external qualifications).

Failing to connect the dots from listing site chemicals and safety data sheets to actually training the staff in the chemicals they are exposed to.

Presuming staff know what they are doing and are following correct practices because of experience, indenture, or skill, (failure to actually observe the habits).

Failing to document safe work instructions for reasonably predictable maintenance activities.

The latter is the most prevalent in maintenance departments. Like the Wairoa case, the excuse we most often encounter for maintenance tasks is “We just know how to do it.”

That’s a fail.

Reflecting on your own workplace, ask yourself; are you relying on blind luck to ensure your colleagues are safe? Following the requirements does not need to be complicated or expensive. There is plenty of external guidance and training on tap, complimenting your mandate to develop your own competency training and safe work instructions. Taking a first step today is better than waiting for the loss of a work colleague to expose the issues.

Craig Carlyle is director at Maintenance Transformations. His expertise lies in the practical application of maintenance and health and safety management systems in the workplace. He is also a life member of the Maintenance Engineering Society of NZ.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.