Are You a Cowboy when it comes to Health & Safety?

Posted by Craig Thornton

And are you flying by the seat of your pants with health and safety? 

With the new health and safety reform bill being reintroduced into New Zealand’s Parliament, the headlines are screaming that businesses are running around like “headless chooks” trying to meet the legislation.

Which is kind of true – many businesses are trying to get their chooks in a row.  But the rest (and it’s a depressingly large number) are doing what they have always done: flying by the seat of their pants with their fingers firmly crossed.  Yep, business as usual.  

Closeup portrait of a young handsome man crossing fingers wishing and praying for miracle, hoping for the best, isolated on white background. Positive human emotion facial expression feelings attitude

Kiwis are great at developing products, selling them on the national and international stages and doing good customer support. But when it comes to delivering on compliance, particularly health and safety, many Kiwis are out-and-out cowboys. 

The acceptance by Senior Management and Boards of Directors in not meeting compliance requirements is wide-spread, and unfortunately I see it on a daily basis when I talk to companies about my compliance software, Mango.  A cowboy approach to Health and Safety may be great material for the Top Gear team, but the reality is no joke.  Lives are at stake. 

This hit home recently when I saw the premier of the documentary “The Women of Pike River” at the New Zealand International Film Festival.  The documentary showed the impact of the loss of 29 lives in the mining tragedy in 2011 on the West Coast of New Zealand.  The bodies of the miners are still trapped in the mine.  Unfortunately because the mine is so hazardous, re-entry is forbidden.  The source of the explosion that killed the 29 miners is unknown, and therefore no one has been held to account.  The women and families left behind have no closure, just ongoing suffering.

The Royal Commission into the tragedy found fault in many areas of compliance.  One in particular stood out to me - the mine workers had highlighted their exposure to methane in over 200 instances.  Two hundred.  This staggering number obviously pointed to a fundamental and dangerous problem, and was seemingly disregarded by Management and the Board.  The lack of compliance in addressing these instances was just accepted by the company.  The result was that 29 men died, families were torn apart, and a community ravaged.  Dads, husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins and nephews, gone forever.

Let’s grow up and not be cowboys anymore.

Here’s my advice to businesses in New Zealand to meet the new legislation:

  1. Select a consultant to conduct a gap analysis against the requirements of the legislation.  HASANZ has great guidance to for choosing a workplace health and safety advisor.
  2. From the gap analysis create an action plan to address the findings.
  3. Undertake action plan. The Board is to hold Management accountable to the actions.
  4. Provide training for the Senior Management Team and the Board around the changes.
  5. Produce a monthly report to Senior Management Team and the Board using lead and lag indicators to monitor progress.

What advice do you have?  Comments are most welcome.



Tags: Health & Safety, Workplace Health and Safety