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Workplace Health and Safety Strategy for New Zealand to 2015

Rautaki mō te Haumaru me te Hauora o te Wāhi Mahi mō Aotearoa ki te 2015

Snapshot of Progress 2008/09

Outcome Area: Preventive Workplace Cultures

The Strategy exists to build a positive culture of workplace health and safety in New Zealand. New Zealand needs workplaces with strong management commitment to health and safety, robust health and safety systems, enthusiastic employee participation, open and honest lines of communication and a willingness to learn from past mistakes.

A preventive workplace culture is created when management and staff are all committed to proactively manage risks and hazards. They have values, attitudes, systems and practices in place that prevent harm to people at work. The role of government agencies in supporting these cultures is to advise and incentivise.

Health and safety in small businesses: leadership comes first

PJ and MJ Olsen Limited Managing Director Paul Olsen and Health and Safety Coordinator Rona Wheeldon stepped up at the 2009 Safeguard Health and Safety Awards to accept the award for the best health and safety initiative by a small business.

The business is a diversified forestry company, and the award was for developing a process to upskill leaders around managing work pressures, with an emphasis on safe work.

The company grasped the importance of leadership and communications in setting the tone for safety, as they have the maximum effect on the culture of a business. The company therefore learned a new specific safety culture method and applied it diligently to their business operations. They aimed to develop a team of safety leaders within the business, assisting them with communication, planning and workflow organisational skills to make the work day better/easier for them.

The project was one of 10 pilot projects under the auspices of the forestry safety initiative - Workplace Culture, Leadership and Forestry - which was co-led by the Department of Labour, ACC and the New Zealand Forest Owners Association.

At PJ and MJ Olsen's, the result has been better safety communication, more incident reporting and higher productivity, and the formal process they have gone through has been adopted as a mechanism for making future improvements in all parts of the business.

Workplace Culture, Leadership and Forestry Project

The Workplace Culture, Leadership and Forestry Project, a year-long pilot run by the Department of Labour, ACC and PF Olsen, on behalf of the New Zealand Forest Owners Association, is a prime example of government agencies supporting programmes in the Preventive Workplace Cultures area of the Strategy. The project aimed to test whether safety culture was a practical approach to use to improve the health and safety performance in business.

Two groups of leading forestry companies held four meetings during 2008/09 to find ways to apply the safety culture elements used overseas to New Zealand's forestry industry. It's the first time such a project has been done with a single sector in this country. In keeping with the key ingredients of a positive safety culture, managers, contractors and frontline staff were all involved.

During the quarterly workshops facilitated by safety culture expert Dr Hillary Bennett, the participants - from the highest manager to the newest forestry worker - discussed how to make health and safety part of every job.

Growing a Safety Culture.
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A range of actions were taken, from improving communication on worksites to increasing worker involvement in health and safety on site. The pilot worked to build the leadership capability of frontline supervisors, improving the foundational communication skills of language and literacy.

The workshops focused on 12 mostly non-technical elements that people might associate with having a good workplace culture, but may not associate with safety. For example, crew relationships, rewards, resources, how much workers are involved in decisions all feed into worker commitment and involvement, and doing well in these areas results in fewer accidents and lost time injuries.

Now that the workshops are over, the lessons learnt from the pilot need to feed through the sector, and a simple safety culture survey tool for use in New Zealand conditions is being developed to support employers and workers to strengthen safety culture values and practices in their workplaces.

The level of business engagement in the project was high. Sharing information and experiences was an important part of the workshop process, and participants learnt of innovations various companies already had under way. Achievements across the 20 participating businesses varied, but there were some notable successes, including MJ & PJ Olsen from Tokoroa receiving the Safeguard Health and Safety Award for the best health and safety initiative by a small business.

The project validated safety culture as a practical and workable concept for New Zealand businesses. Feedback strongly signalled that safety culture broadened how participants viewed safety (beyond personal protective equipment, training and paperwork) and consequently broadened their understanding of how safety links to the success of their businesses.

Foodstuffs: developing 'mindful staff'

Foodstuffs (Auckland) Ltd has about 900 staff working in support roles servicing its cooperative member stores (PAK'nSAVE, New World, Four Square and Gilmours). It includes a support centre, several large distribution warehouses and a fleet of more than 100 delivery vehicles.

Foodstuffs was a finalist in the 2009 Safeguard Health and Safety Awards for its new approach to health and safety. It had what it considered good health and safety systems - hazard registers, training, incident investigations, contractor management programmes and so forth - but in spite of good systems, the company did not feel its safety performance was acceptable, especially when comparing themselves with peer industries in Western Australia and Tasmania.

Foodstuffs focused on changing the behaviour patterns of all involved - managers, supervisors and general staff. These behaviour patterns are mostly unconscious and changing them requires giving people the opportunity to be mindful of what they do and then allowing them to choose to change their ways.

This was not achieved by rewarding good and punishing bad behaviour, nor by giving more training. Mindfulness is an active/conscious state of knowing in the present tense, the here and now - you cannot demand mindfulness. It is the result of creating an emotionally safe place for people to make their own choices. Safety is universally desirable; everybody wants to go home safely after an honest day's work. Foodstuffs staff took the opportunity with both hands.

Safety today does not just belong to management. People from all corners of the business, irrespective of their positions, now naturally work together to ensure everybody is able, as they say in Foodstuffs, "to take their fingers and toes home at the end of the day". They are mindful of safety: thinking about safety at the precise moment they need to think about safety.

The result? Foodstuffs reduced its lost time injury frequency (LTIF) rate by 90 per cent over the initial period of 18 months, and importantly, the improvements have been sustained. The LTIF rate for the first six months of 2009 was again significantly down on the corresponding rate in 2008. Foodstuffs today consistently meet - and better - the Australian performance.

Leaders in Health and Safety Summit

In August 2008, the Department of Labour, in conjunction with Safeguard magazine, organised the Leaders in Health and Safety Summit. This industry-focused event provided an opportunity for more than 120 of New Zealand's industry leaders from large and small enterprises, industry associations and unions to identify and communicate the gaps and opportunities to build a national safety culture in New Zealand. There was repeated emphasis given to the importance for business leaders, especially of larger firms, to provide more proactive and effective leadership on health and safety.

International safety culture expert Professor Andrew Hopkins emphasised the need to create a proactive culture of safety in organisations. He noted that creating such a culture requires 'mindful leaders' who know that the essence of a culture of safety is that safety information is flowing up to management. Mindful leaders ensure that the reports reach the right people and are actioned.

The event led to the establishment of the Industry Chief Executives' Health and Safety Forum, which encourages and enable senior business leaders to lead health and safety out of the purely functional element of business.

Keeping well, working well in tough times

Last year, Vero New Zealand Insurance Limited won the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation's gold award for excellence and continuous improvement. That same attention to detail is evident in the way the company supports its employees' mental wellbeing.

Vero's Health and Safety Manager Glenys Barker started a campaign in mid-2004 to normalise discussion of mental wellbeing in the workplace. She started her awareness-raising by running workshops with experts from Working Well, the Mental Health Foundation unit that advises businesses on creating and maintaining mentally healthy workplaces.

Staff were initially reticent, but now no one raises an eyebrow when she writes articles in the company's newsletter about psychological issues for mums returning to work from maternity leave or male depression. This year, aware that the snowball effects of the recession could be hitting employees, Vero has stepped up the awareness-raising.

It makes good business sense: employers have a legal obligation to minimise workplace stress that can lead to impaired mental health, and they also have a vested interest. If employees start to experience financial and family pressures that are not noticed or supported by their employers, the detrimental effect on their health can contribute to lost productivity and increased absenteeism.

Vero's 920 mostly office-based staff can use the Vero People Framework Tool to identify where they might need help with managing stress and psychological issues. The intranet links to online programmes, books and courses, encouraging employees to take charge of their individual learning and wellbeing. Vero's People and Development Team also refer staff to an array of services including Vero's employee assistance programme run by EAP Services, community alcohol and drug services, maternal mental health services and occupational therapists.

Working Well senior consultant Anna McNaughton backs the Vero approach: "We need to promote mental health, not just prevent harm." Good sleep, food and exercise are the physical foundations of good mental wellness, and good communication skills and resilience - the ability to bounce back from difficulties or disappointments - are the emotional base. These can be taught, and benefit the workplace as well as the individual.

Agriculture health and safety research

The agricultural sector has particular health and safety challenges. The Department of Labour, ACC and the Health Research Council of New Zealand commissioned research on effective occupational health interventions in agriculture. The study has been released, and it has updated information on agricultural attitudes, behaviours and practices in order to develop new policies and design more effective intervention strategies for those working in agriculture. The study had a high level of buy-in from key industry stakeholders.

The research revealed that the rate of serious injury and fatalities on New Zealand farms has remained high despite declines in other industrial sectors over the past two decades. But it is not just the Kiwi 'she'll be right' culture that is to blame. Long work hours, working alone, uncomfortable safety gear, time and economic constraints, and working with equipment unsuited to New Zealand terrain all contribute to the sobering statistics.

The research findings are not only a valuable input into making policy and operational decisions to reduce the work toll, but also a guide to attitudes and culture in the agriculture sector. These themes will be used in communications, marketing and awareness-raising initiatives in this sector, undertaken by the Department of Labour and industry organisations.

Promoting preventive cultures

A television campaign during the 2008/09 summer months focused on agricultural fatalities and resulting hardship for families left to cope on farms while recovering from the loss of a loved one. The 'take care, so you can take care' tag line conveyed the importance of keeping safe for the family's sake. Feedback from stakeholders has been positive, and new connections with the agricultural sector to promote health and safety are being fostered.

KiwiRail Corporate: safety culture programme a winner

KiwiRail Corporate took the top prize at the 2009 Safeguard Workplace Health and Safety Awards for their safety culture maturity programme. The programme was designed to encourage staff engagement in health and safety and has already led to a big decrease in injuries.

The programme was first trialled in areas of the operation with health and safety performance issues as measured by lost time, frequency of medical treatments and numbers of severe injuries. To establish initial data, employees worked in pairs to answer questions about safety culture at their worksites. Confidential focus groups at two trial sites identified roadblocks to improvements and established ways to overcome them. The groups used an outside facilitator, which enabled ideas to be put forward in confidence.

Good ideas were turned into action plans and changes that management and staff could implement. Paul Anderson, the company's national health, safety and environment manager, said it was important that direct change resulted quickly. Staff needed to see they were being listened to.

Paul also said, "It's a bit of a leap of faith by management to take on board a safety culture programme because it is hard to identify a direct return." The Safeguard Awards judges were impressed with management's commitment - they felt it required courage because the outcome might be of uncertain value.

As it turned out, the culture project was a success, and the judges felt it underpinned a number of other high-quality initiatives to tackle specific issues and to build engagement among staff and management.

Some positive measurable indicators cannot be solely attributed to the programme, but they are huge changes. At Hillside Engineering, a large metal foundry in Dunedin, the staff of about 300 had reported the equivalent of 980 lost time injuries per million man hours of work. That figure has now shrunk to just nine.

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