Can the Pike River Tragedy Occur Again in New Zealand?

Can the Pike River Tragedy Occur Again in New Zealand?

The New Health and Safety Act: A Year in Review.

The new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) provides a framework for the prevention of such a tragedy, but the implementation is seriously flawed.

The many reports from the Government about the HSWA being risk-focused, engaging all participants and a reduction of paperwork has fallen on deaf professional ears.

Why is this? The HSWA implementation relies on in most parts, people who were trained and indoctrinated into the processes of the old Act.

This old Act was a paper-driven, tick-box pseudo-system that lead to New Zealand having one of the highest workplace injury/fatality rates in the world.

One year on, the statistics do not show any real reduction in the workplace injury rate.

A prime example of this is the way the old Act focused on Hazards. A mechanics workshop was classed as a hazard and therefore people (the public) shouldn’t enter. Makes sense, I guess.

The solution promoted, and still very much promotes, is to put a chain or rope across the open entrance way. Easy, but little or no thought has gone into the real reason – Why?

Research cannot find any evidence that someone has been killed or seriously injured (public) walking into a workshop.

Enter now the new HSWA: Review the risk, manage the risk.

In review, I know of three injuries sustained by members of the public who tripped over the barrier, sustaining a fractured wrist, ankle and collarbone in the process. On top of this, I know of at least 2 fatalities that occurred when a person was run over by a vehicle while removing a barrier that was in the way.

Known Risk Score: Workshop entry – nil, Chain or barrier – 3, plus 2 fatalities

The new HSWA provides the mechanism as to the solution. Engage the workers! Change the behaviour! Appropriate signage!

  • Engage – Workers given permission to tell people not to enter, rather report to reception
  • Change behaviour – the public will soon learn that the only place to go is Reception.
  • Appropriate signage – NO ENTRY, REPORT TO RECEPTION – Not signs that invite people in such as ‘Beware of Hazards’, ‘Authorised Personnel Only’ (every sales rep, the vehicle owner is authorised), ‘PPE must be worn’. All of these signs are irrelevant if people know they can’t enter!

Experience shows that this takes no more than 8 weeks to educate people not to enter.

Result/Outcome:

  • Staff/workers not distracted by the public or others while working, leading to reduced incidents related to distractions.
  • Increase in productivity due to fewer interruptions.
  • Reduction in risk potential – Isolate area through a cultural shift.
  • Reduction if barrier related injuries/deaths.

The continued proliferation of tick-box, reporting, pre-qualification of a safe working environment is replicating the problems of the past.

Several pre-qualifications by large corporate organisations are ‘contracting out the requirements of HSWA 2015 which appear to be against Part 2 Section 31 ‘duty not transferable’!

Some pre-qualification processes have no measure of zero harm as evidence of an effective system. They, in fact, score the company less if they don’t provide a copy of a lost time injury report and investigation! This evidence of documentation as the scoring system does little to achieve the aims of the HSWA 2015.

For example, it would appear that the reason no prosecution was forthcoming regarding the Pike River Tragedy was due to the fact that the paperwork was correct. (Vol: 1 and 2 – Pike River enquiry report)

The actions did not match the paper trail. (Bypass of gas monitoring – Vol 2: Chapter 10 Pike River enquiry report)

It is this reason a Pike River type tragedy can and will happen again if strong leadership by the Government and WorkSafe NZ continues to be supporting processes of the past under a new name.

Could one of the findings from the commission report be reflective of the Government?

The changes recommended by the commission rest firmly on the principle that health and safety in New Zealand can be improved only by the combined efforts of government, employers and workers.

Below is a snippet from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. You can read more HERE

New Zealand’s health and safety record are inferior to that of other comparable countries.

The rate of workplace fatalities is higher than in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, worse than the OECD average and has remained static in recent years.

The board (Government) did not verify that effective systems were in place and that risk management was effective. Nor did it properly hold management to account, but instead (the Government) assumed that managers (WorkSafe) would draw the board’s attention to any major operational problems.

The board (the Government) did not provide effective health and safety leadership and protect the workforce from harm. It was (the Government is) distracted by the financial and production pressures that confronted the company.

Contact Graham Roper here for more information regarding a safer environment at your workplace.

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