• Craig Marriott
    189
    One of the concerns I have about the safety industry is that it is too insular. We don't spend enough time listening to, and working with, people from other disciplines. As a journalist looking in from the outside, have you seen anything that you think we would particularly benefit from?
  • Rebecca Macfie
    28
    Hi Angie, my perception of the agency is that it has done a really outstanding job. Incredibly thorough and careful, they have proved that safety came first a number of times, and the dedication of the staff there is palpable to me whenever i have met with them. I think there is a strong chance of important forensic evidence being recovered from pit bottom in stone, and this is a fundamental goal. The police team involved are very focused and - again in my perception from talking to them from time to time - highly motivated. Regarding pushing on through the rockfall, it won't happen under this arrangement, and I honestly doubt it will ever happen, but this is a story without end it seems, and nothing would surprise me.
  • Rebecca Macfie
    28
    Hi Robert - ok, key lessons i think would be:
    • Beware self-interested talk of industry self-regulation.
    • Resist the temptation to call sound health and safety law "red tape".
    • Never forget the human toll when health and safety is disregarded as a mere cost.
    • Prioritise ways that workers' voices can be heard safety - they know what they do every minute and every hour and they are the experts in their tasks.
    • Never let the inspectorate be degraded as it was through the 1990s and 2000s
  • Chris Hewitt
    5
    Where do you stand on the usefulness of Industrial Manslaughter legislation as a deterrent or mechanism to hold directors & officers to account?
  • Steve H
    89
    If the Pike29 had their time over again and they could turn back the clock what is the one thing you think they would do differently from a workers perspective?Matt Ward

    Leave. My son in law worked as a miner at Pike, after previously working in Australian mines.

    He left exactly one week before the mine exploded. Pike River was a $500 problem for which there was only ever about $50 to solve.

    Going back to the H&S regulator, would having a charge of corporate manslaughter available to them make any real difference?
  • Rebecca Macfie
    28
    Hi Craig, really interesting question. It's probably hard for me to comment as an outsider, but I guess my hunch is that health and safety practitioners still struggle for mana and respect within their organisations often, particularly if the culture from the top (the boardroom) is still to regard H&S as a red tape cost. I don't do the work you do, but it strikes me as a really tough mix of procedures and internal mechanisms, messaging, honest communication, really really good listening skills, a fair bit of psychology and probably a bit of behavioural economics. So yes, I guess my impression is that you really need a rich mix of disciplines. Not sure if that really answers your question!
  • Kim Payton
    1
    Hi Rebecca - I agree and am witnessing this occurring. The uncertainty created by COVID-19 is leading to behaviours at both the top level and front line that are a challenge for many safety practitioners. We need to find the courage to speak up, support, challenge and influence the workplace, and find innovative ways for the workers' voice to be heard. I also believe there is a disconnect between Government's view of work and how many people are only just surviving pay check to pay check - especially our 'essential' workers.
  • Rebecca Macfie
    28
    HI Steve, I imagine that has been incredibly difficult for your son in law. It's easy to forget that the ripple effect of this thing extends far, far beyond the immediate families.
    Re corporate manslaughter, I am sympathetic to it but (perhaps surprisingly) I haven't really studied the pros and cons in real depth. I know there are some reservations from a legal perspective. I wonder if the HSW Act was being enforced as it should, with the capacity to reach high up the food chain with prosecutions, if it would be necessary to enact corporate manslaughter?
  • Admin
    20
    OK, time to wrap it up. Rebecca - many thanks for making yourself available to the Forum and for your thoughtful responses to some really good questions.
    For those Forum members who haven't yet read Rebecca's book, get the details here.
  • Rebecca Macfie
    28
    Hi Kim, I can understand. Particularly in a climate of rising unemployment, mad housing prices and a sense of economic volatility. Can I ask a question? Is one of the problems for H&S practitioners that the "process" side of your jobs (the rules, trigger points, processes etc) is so big, and the task of getting that stuff over the line, such that there isn't enough time and creative energy left to think about this huge matter of communication, creation of safety for workers to speak up etc?
  • Rebecca Macfie
    28
    Thanks all for a great conversation. It's a privilege.
    Ngā mihi nui
  • Kim Payton
    1
    Great question. My personal experience is, yes. Boards and management are anxious to ensure compliance with documentation. This is partly driven by what it is believed the regulator expects vs understanding the business, asking workers to document the way they do things, and the H&S professional working with and across the business to communicate what is actually needed. Another perspective is the failure of senior management to communicate business direction or decisions in general terms to workers to help them understand context for change. I argue that communication is the foundation of good health and safety practice - and will do all I can to help achieve that throughout the organisations I work for. So good to 'talk' to you. Thank you.
  • Steve H
    89
    I wonder if the HSW Act was being enforced as it should, with the capacity to reach high up the food chain with prosecutions, if it would be necessary to enact corporate manslaughter?Rebecca Macfie

    That is both the problem, and solution in one. WorkSafe amongst it's many roles, is also the Electrical Regulator in New Zealand, it shows little interest in any kind of policing of the regulations it's supposed to be enforcing. In part this is a resources problem, but it also appears to be driven by an ideological view, that a hands off approach is best (think Meerkats) I have news.....it's not working.
  • Peter Bateman
    203
    Craig, as editor of Safeguard I'm always keen to bring new perspectives to readers. Which other disciplines do you think would most help to broaden the discussion?
  • Craig Marriott
    189
    Hi Peter, some examples:
    Psychology and social psychology - understanding why and how people make decisions (we have started to make some good moves in this area)
    Systems engineering / systems thinking - how complex systems interact and the breakdown of direct cause and effect with increasing complexity
    Engineering - lessons to be leant from process safety and safety in design
    Risk management - understanding stochastic models and how that impacts on risk exposure
    Statistics - recognising why most of what we measure and track has almost no predictive value
    Leadership and management theory - for (hopefully) obvious reasons

    That's not exhaustive, though. This is what I wrote when thinking about this in my book:
    A top quality safety professional is conversant with organisational culture; organisational psychology; individual psychology; motivational theories; basic medical requirements; an understanding of chemicals and their effects; probability and risk theory; ergonomics; engineering techniques across all disciplines; operational activities across a range of industries; the process impact of temperature and pressure; legislation and regulation; communication techniques and influencing skills from workface to board and everywhere in between; statistical analysis and a whole host of other complexities
  • Peter Bateman
    203
    Thanks. Whew. Time for a cup of tea and a lie down.
  • PaulReyneke
    29
    I read this discussion with interest and I would like to make two observations.

    Firstly, it is interesting – is this only a New Zealand thing? – how we always compare ourselves negatively with the rest of the world. Are we actually as bad as we make out to be in H&S? The link below is an interesting article that reminds me of what I think is the truth: statistics are often not worth the paper it is printed on

    https://quarryingandminingmag.co.nz/osh-statistics/

    I have over the years personally managed H&S teams in South Africa, the country of my birth, Australia, Thailand, China, Italy, US and Mexico and I cannot say I found any of these countries ‘streets ahead’ of little old New Zealand. On the contrary, in most of the cases, we taught them a fair bit.

    Let me take Australia as an example. I have worked for several large companies with teams in NZ and AU – and they were no better than us. They suffered from the same problems we do, and even though their legislation predated ours by a few years, I cannot in all honesty say they were a shining example to us in NZ.

    The second observation I want to make is my personal crusade: punishment is not an effective change agent. In this regard, two things:

    Firstly, this quote makes the point that the likelihood of being prosecuted is so low it makes no difference (even if WorkSafe increased their prosecution rate by 10 times, it will still make no difference):

    What society wants from its members, in any case, is not an intelligent calculation of the costs and benefits of abiding by its basic norms, but more or less unthinking obedience to them. To the extent people are specifically comparing the costs and benefits of breaking criminal laws, the battle is already lost; many of them must conclude, in particular situations, that the calculus favours law-breaking ... For society to function, most people have to obey the law for reasons of conscience and conviction, and not out of fear of punishment. Lynch, 1997. The Role of Criminal Law in Policing Corporate Misconduct

    Secondly, we must remember that “PCBU’s” are ultimately only people; “Management” or “the Board” of companies are normal people, nothing else. And it makes no scientific sense to base your hope on fear to change our ‘inadequate’ H&S response. To think any agency can ever catch all baddies and punish them is obviously not realistic, so law enforcement agencies like WorkSafe must rely on others (“management” or “Boards”) not wanting the same treatment than the ones who were caught received. And that is called FEAR.

    So is that the society we want to become? A place where fear is the order of the day? How about we set up a system where we make it compulsory for people to spy on others: become informants. Then we can catch all those baddies easily and send a few thousands of them to jail – or even better, execute a few to make the point. And we can create a special department to orchestrate this: how about we call it Ministry for State Security – Stasi for short.

    Let me stop being facetious; the notion that reward and punishment are effective change agents is today well-discredited in social sciences and anthropology. Classical conditioning was first described by Ivan Pavlov in the 1890’s and we today know much, much more about human behaviour. Changing human behaviour is not that simple; actually it is one of the most complex processes known.

    Pike River was a tragedy of unspeakable magnitude. And it will, like Erebus and Cave Creek, and because I personally knew some of the students, the Mangatepopo Canyon Disaster, be edged into our national psyche. But we must also remember that Pike River as a whole was a disastrous company, not only from a safety perspective. We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the worst of the worst companies. There are hundreds and thousands small and large companies in NZ who take safety really seriously. Just the other day I walked onto a housing construction site to talk to the site management about close approach to electrical lines (I work for an electrical lines’ company) and I was pleasantly surprised how everybody on the site reacted. They were helpful, they listened and immediately reacted positively. I don’t work much with this industry, but I was very impressed with their reaction.

    Let us keep on getting better, let us continue to improve and never rest. But let us also remain realistic; we are not doing that badly and we are not the safety bottom feeders of the world.
  • Steve H
    89
    Are we actually as bad as we make out to be in H&S?PaulReyneke

    Hi Paul
    Happy New Year to you, Rebecca was responding to questions and observations about what has changed/improved in New Zealand with regard to H&S in the ten years since Pike River, no comparisons with other jurisdictions H&S efforts were made. But your links are making an interesting read, keeping in mind there are lies, dammed lies and statistics

    Let us keep on getting better, let us continue to improve and never rest.PaulReyneke

    The brief to Worksafe was to reduce the death toll/injury rate in New Zealand, in this, they appear to have failed. The workplace death toll stumbles along at approximately two Pike Rivers per year, while the injury rate appears to be steadily growing serious-injury-outcome-indicators-2000-19
    So I for one am not convinced that we are getting better.
  • Sheri Greenwell
    235
    Yes - how ironic, and how futile, to seek unthinking obedience while at the same time aiming to promote greater engagement and individual accountability. Doh!!
  • Sheri Greenwell
    235
    As for comparison with other countries, YES - a family friend who lives in Germany lost his son in a workplace accident (their daughter was traveling here in NZ at the time of the incident, and my partner and I found ourselves looking after her and providing comfort and support as she organised to fly back to Germany to be at his bedside). It was heartbreaking to hear their story - a "reputable" and relatively high-profile German company that had little to no workplace safety management systems to provide training, safe systems of work, or many of the most basic safety measures we would pretty much take for granted here in NZ. Our friend's son, who was barely 21 at the time, just happened to be standing where an unsecured load of 80x 50kg metal plates slid off a forklift as the driver was rounding a corner, slamming unexpectedly into the young man's shins and slamming him backward onto the ground, his head brutally slammed into the ground with such force that he sustained a brain injury so severe that he never regained consciousness before his distraught parents made the heart-breaking decision to take him off life support. The company avoided making contact with the family or the young man's partner, essentially avoiding any engagement and there was certainly no apology. The unfortunate forklift driver who had only been trying to help was given a token fine and will have to live with this for the rest of his life, although the bereaved parents have assured him they don't hold the driver to blame. The parents have recognised that the employer had neglected its duty to its workers, and unfortunately, the German government and its regulatory agencies seem to have little inclination to hold companies or their executives appropriately accountable. The parents have now become activists, reaching out to other parents similarly bereaved due to workplace safety failings to bring greater awareness and employer accountability. It was only after intensive and sustained pressure from the parents that the regulatory body even went as far as to agree to conduct a proper investigation, although as far as I can see this has still not happened some 3-4 years later. The parents told us the regulatory body in Germany still has no "teeth" to bring any consequences to bear upon an employer; they can only inform or recommend changes. That's pretty pathetic and ineffective - little more than lip service.

    As a side note. the government payout for the workplace death was not even enough to pay for the funeral costs, and the employer shunned the family completely - no communication with parents or partner, and no offers to help.

    Remember - this was in Germany, which is often held up as a leading light in the industrialised world.
  • PaulReyneke
    29
    It is really awful Sheri. The European approach to H&S is very different to ours and I find it very difficult to understand it.
  • PaulReyneke
    29
    My sincere apologies if it seemed that I criticised Rebecca. It was not my intention. Rebecca is a journalist and has written a book on a very significant event in the history of this nation – and in that capacity she obviously has the right – duty – to come to conclusions as to what went wrong.

    I also agree with her that WorkSafe was amiss – or that not all that much has changed under the new structure, both the new Act and agency.

    My comments are about what I perceived has become the normalised truth, firstly that we are doing so poorly in H&S and, secondly, that this is mainly a failure of enforcement.
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