HEALTH & SAFETY FORUM: Top CEOs Do Battle on Safety -- Attacking NZ's Poor Workplace Accident Record

New Zealand Management, July 2013 | Go to article overview

HEALTH & SAFETY FORUM: Top CEOs Do Battle on Safety -- Attacking NZ's Poor Workplace Accident Record


Get a group of high-level CEOs working together on a very big problem, like New Zealand's appalling workplace death and serious injury record, and you will get action.

The Business Leaders' Health & Safety Forum was set up to motivate and support business leaders to get more involved in health and safety in their own organisations, and across New Zealand via their industries and supply chains. Their vision is for all business leaders to be passionately committed to achieving 'zero harm workplaces'. Their focus is to make workplaces safer by growing world-class safety leadership in New Zealand, and by leveraging the combined skill, influence and resources of members.

The forum was launched just three years ago by Prime Minister John Key and now has about 140 members who are all CEOs or senior executives in significant New Zealand enterprises. The list is a 'who's who' of the largest retailers, building, energy, engineering, forestry, manufacturing and logistics companies. Together they comprise a significant chunk of New Zealand's commercial activity and cut across many of the businesses that have the biggest safety issues.

Their vision for 'zero harm workplaces' is a big ask given New Zealand's poor workplace statistics. Forum chair Rob Jager, also chair of the Shell Companies in NZ and GM of Shell Todd Oil Services, was appointed by the government as chair of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health & Safety.

"Our national statistics are sobering, unacceptable, and ultimately unsustainable," said Jager in the taskforce's report. Over 100 people die in New Zealand each year from workplace accidents. Between 700 and 1000 people die as a result of gradual work-related diseases, and 6000 plus people notify the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment of serious harm incidents in their workplace.

New Zealand's workplace injury rates are about twice that of Australia and about six times that of the UK. Jager said the emotional toll on the individuals and their families was huge, but also the economic and social cost of work-related injuries to NZ was about $3.5 billion a year.

The forum is a significant game changer for CEOs: making safety leadership a core competency for business leaders and first priority in their businesses.

Several critical drivers of change have combined to create what the forum believes is "a once in 20 year chance to make substantive impacts".

The government has provided additional health and safety funding -- $37 million over four years -- to strengthen and transform the regulatory approach, increase the capability and number of frontline health and safety inspectors, and support targeted health and safety initiatives.

And the government set a target of a 25 percent minimum reduction in workplace serious harm and fatalities by 2020, with an interim target of 10 percent by 2016.

The taskforce headed by forum chair Rob Jager reported in April, and offered ways to fix New Zealand's "broken" workplace safety system, says Julian Hughes, forum executive director.

"The forum strongly supports the taskforce call for an urgent, sustainable step-change on harm prevention activities and agrees that our current performance is not acceptable."

Both the Pike River Royal Commission and the internal inquiry into the former Department of Labour found that problems with workplace safety ran much deeper than actions or mistakes by individuals.

"They found that New Zealand's health and safety system is suffering from systemic failure. The taskforce report supports these findings and offers ways to start fixing these systemic failures." There is no single failure so a sustained approach is needed across the system. That's the step-change needed.

"Tinkering around the edges is not going to prevent another Pike River," Hughes affirmed. "Business leaders are the key to the success of the proposed changes. …

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