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
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.