Clarkys Comment April - It’s a Good Thing

The new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 came into force this month. Although the genesis of this change was the Pike River mine disaster, well before that the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum had been established through a Department of Labour initiative, and was quickly bought into by a range of CEOs from New Zealand’s leading companies. There was consensus at government and business levels that we could do much better when it came to preventing harm at work, and there was a big prize in both human and economic terms in doing so.

Changing health and safety outcomes is a journey. It will not happen simply because we have a new Act and a much better resourced regulator. But it will happen faster because of them.

It is worth noting that serious harm in sports and road accidents far exceeds workplace harm. But experience at DuPont, one of the leading international firms in reducing workplace harm, is that non-work harm also drops off dramatically once the safety culture really sinks in and non-work harm starts to form part of employee reporting statistics. If all NZ firms could get to that point in the future, there is a big multiplier on the benefits of reducing workplace harm.

The forestry sector is made up of a few large firms and lots of smaller SMEs. In the forestry sector we have witnessed a big step up in attention to safe work practices and culture in the past couple of years – at both large firm and SME levels. There is much more to be done though. Safety is not just about Values, Attitudes and Beliefs. These matter but so does worker skills / training and fitness of mind and body to carry out the work at hand.

Our forestry training model is not fit for purpose. Non-completions of enrolled trainees have historically been way too high. A concerted effort to fix this for PF Olsen contracted crews, in partnership with training facilitator AMS Group and NorthTec polytech is bearing fruit, but if widely adopted would put our ITO, Competenz, baseload funding at risk. That should not be so. In addition to engaging assessors and co-ordinating training and assessments, Competenz fills the critical functions of preparing training materials and moderating the quality of assessments. They have also played a key role in promoting our industry to young school graduates. Competenz should be adequately funded to fill these functions without having to rely on the registration of trainees undertaking qualifications. This is really a matter for the Minister of Tertiary Education and the Tertiary Education Commission to resolve. But the Minister and TEC will only react to a well-articulated description of the problem and some practical solutions that do not cost the taxpayer any more money.

I look forward to forestry contractors “stepping up” to ensure their employees are properly encouraged and supported through training and also the Forest Industry Safety Council (FISC) giving the broken funding model the attention it deserves. In my mind it is “low hanging fruit” towards a safer forest workplace.