By Craig Carlyle, Maintenance Transformations

WorkSafe’s recent announcement of new chief executive Steve Haszard is taken as a signal for change in the health and safety inspectorate. The organisation has not fared well in 2023 with accusations of a loss of direction and regular disquiet over its approaches in the workplace.

The crown agency was created in 2013 after the 2010 Pike River tragedy exposed the failings of the then 18-year-old health and safety system. From early beginnings when the health and safety statistics were nightly news, the organisation has grown and morphed in its output and direction.

Given the immense size and resource cost of the public and private health and safety industry in New Zealand, from crown agencies, inspectorates, associations, academics, consultants, and management, one would expect that New Zealand would be a substantially safer place to work. The 2001 ACC’s accident weekly statistics were two people killed, 273 seriously injured and 642 injured, ‘at work’. Australia was twice as safe to work in and the UK was four times safer. To say we have substantially moved those goalposts given the billions of dollars of resource poured into health and safety would be a fallacy.

In short, we had a wakeup call after Pike River. What we did know was the way we managed health and safety was not working. After immense change, it is timely to ask the same questions. Are we having any substantial effect? Is our basic way of addressing health and safety working? Consider the WorkSafe focus on the PCBU compared with the Electrical Authority’s focus on the individual. Who has had the best effect? Prosecuting the PCBU for failing to anticipate dumb stuff is certainly not generating massive change. Maybe personal responsibility will.

There is positive change in industry, green shoots of change. Not earnest health and safety managers glowing about their latest re-invention of safe work instruments. I am talking about companies who have re-invented their approach, reversing the downwardly driven cover-your-ass approach in favour of an upwardly driven “what resources do you need from me to stay alive?” humility where the staff can take charge of their own destiny. A focus on peer driven safety starts with interviewing co-workers when investigating incidents, examining their role in the incident. WorkSafe might be well advised to take a step in this direction.

Who is to say if this approach will have a great effect, but the power of peer pressure will aways surmount rules and policemen. It certainly had a major impact on the road toll when the NZ Anti-Drink Driving campaign launched its ‘Ghost Chips’ campaign on TV. What we do need to acknowledge is the reality of our efforts on our workplace safety, what approached are not working and the courage to change our approach. That ball is firmly in WorkSafe’s court at present, and I look forward to Steve Haszards new direction with anticipation.

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.