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Delegate Training Report
5-7 August at Novotel, Auckland International Airport
Health and Safety – out of the tearoom and into the boardroom?

You will have seen the programme, and no doubt missed your delegates for most of the last week… so what have they been up to? APEX and NZMLWU hold a joint three day delegates training course every two years. We have found this to be the most cost effective and efficient means to train a whole lot of people from all over the country: to bring them together, feed and house them, and immerse them in the learning.

At every training course we have sessions on the law: what has changed in the industrial law landscape since last we met, as well as what collective agreement provisions really mean. And we provide training around how to organise in the workplace, recruit new employees, and manage difficult situations and the like. We also provide ideas on how to maximise support to achieve best outcomes for members, to be proactive and to promote member’s best interests.
On top of all of this however, we have a theme and this year it was Health and Safety. With the new Health and Safety Reform Bill due for enactment in early 2015 (assuming the legislative timetable allows) it was timely for us all to get a refresher on the need for active health and safety participation by us all. We had an impressive array of speakers and to start us off…….
Is the world a safer place than it used to be? There was some dispute about this, but compared to the 1970s-style laboratory pranks described by ex-manager of Labtests, NZBS and LabPlus Don Mikkelsen – we think safer.
However, even before you reach the workplace, we learned from several of the seven presenters that – 2014 notwithstanding – it’s much safer to get in a plane than to cross the road.
As an Auckland non-resident, a visit to the super city is a reminder that our Auckland colleagues are dicing with danger every day on those motorways – and that’s not a comment on their driving ability; APEX psychologist Aaron O’Connell’s excellent presentation on psychological safety gave some insight into how we respond to stressful situations like being stuck in traffic. Road rage or delegate support officer Mary Bull’s John Denver CD between North Shore and Grafton could mean the difference between high blood pressure, a shortened life-span and a calm and happy disposition. John Denver may have an effect on all or none of these.
We learnt from the top that big changes in health and safety are in the pipeline. Professor Gregor Coster, Chairman of Worksafe New Zealand, has been charged with leading a ‘step change’ in workplace health and safety. There’s much to do; New Zealand workers are six times more likely to be injured at work as their UK colleagues and twice as likely as Aussies. It’s not that we’re just clumsy either. But that “she’ll be right” attitude could have something to do with it – agriculture (think quad bikes) is the most dangerous occupational class, where 30% of deaths occur and where the prevailing attitude seems to be that a few injuries make you a real man!
Pike River provided the impetus for Worksafe New Zealand’s “Working Safer” package. Coster’s target is to reach a 25% reduction in deaths by 2020. Yet last year’s forestry death toll makes one wonder if we really have learned from that appalling disaster. 2020 is six years away; how many more forestry workers do we let die, and how many more quad bike accidents do we tolerate until then?
Bronwyn Davies moved from working in health to being HR manager at Forman Group, part of Fletcher Building. Instead of the “big stick” approach all staff are now encouraged and rewarded for reporting incidents and looking after their mates. Health and safety is now first on the agenda at every meeting. Incident reporting postcards, posted free and anonymously, are available to all. As the following graph shows, as the reporting (the blue bars)of incidents has gone up, serious incidents (the red line) have gone down. We can all take a lesson from evidence such as this: the blame culture doesn’t work if we seriously want to tackle health and safety!

Stella Ward, executive director of Allied Health for Canterbury and West Coast, emphasised the role of leaders in improving health and safety culture. She said we need the right people on the bus (personnel selection), the right behaviour (training and coaching) and the right bus – that’s the environment and equipment.
Stella reminded us that Cantabrians have to deal with an inadequate environment much of the time with jack-hammers, demolition and construction in their midst. As for the buses, they’re not what they used to be either. Yet Christchurch also has the opportunity to plan a better, new work environment.
Stella also emphasised the need for a “just” culture – that is, a “no blame” environment where system flaws are identified and improved. An authoritarian manager may be exceptionally talented but may also be a jerk. It takes a courageous organisation to get rid of the jerks.
Hamish Brown is managing director of Concordia NZ Ltd, a management consultancy that works with businesses to “improve underlying culture, reduce risk and strengthen performance”. He gave us some clues on how to build an effective Health and Safety culture in our notoriously hierarchical, top-down health sector. It involves us, as workers, taking a much more proactive role, getting braver and speaking up. The Health and Safety rep has to change from being the unlucky last person out of the tearoom, to being taken seriously, kept up front and fully respected.
One of the highlights of the conference was relevant to many of us – Karen O’Keefe’s presentation on Fatigue and Shiftwork. For those who didn’t think this presentation applied to them: if you’re a parent, you’re a shift worker. Karen is research fellow at the Sleep/Wake Research Centre at Massey University. Her description of what happens when normal sleep patterns get disrupted should form the basis for every departmental roster. For example, staying awake for 18 hours is the functional equivalent to a 0.05 blood alcohol level; for 21 hours, to a blood alcohol level of 0.1 – well over the limit. One sleep day after a week of night shift won’t cut it – even after three days of recovery sleep you still do not get back to baseline performance levels.
Now the work begins. Delegates have been challenged to step up, be brave and speak out about health and safety. There are three “P’s” and three “E’s”:

 

The points of the health and safety triangle of are:

And the three Mechanisms:
• Our Challenge is:
“To make people and their safety at work the most important asset we have”
• And Our Goal:
“That there be no work related injury or harm to a colleague our ourselves in our workplace.”
Delegates also heard from Graeme Benny, new CEO of Health Workforce New Zealand. We, the workers, are the health system’s most valuable and most expensive resource. We’ve been restructured, misrepresented and badly informed in the past, but Benny wants us involved as he leads the development of an “informed, planned approach to a sustainable health workforce, with promising career opportunities, that is delivering the best healthcare possible.”
A conference is never complete without mention of THE DINNER. This year had a regional theme and members did not disappoint with creative costumes and hidden talent that only needed a little encouragement to shine forth at the karaoke mike. Who would have thought?! Novatel staff were impressed with the level of participation, even joined in with the dancing, but really, were quite pleased to see the back of us as the wee small hours set in.
Delegates have networked with colleagues in their own regions to provide support in our workplaces and along with the team at CNS, will now be taking their knowledge back to all our members as we challenge our organisations to make us and our safety their most important asset. What employer is going to be brave enough to say no to that? Although first: a little bit of sleep debt recovery might be top of the list.To download Issue 28 click here. 

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