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These days, everyone who has anything to do with health & safety – and that’s almost anyone in almost any industry – will be tasked by Government to be more inclusive, cohesive and consistent in their performance.
As you may know, that’s a big deal and is provoking much discussion and strategising among health & safety professionals of all stripes.
Indeed, as fate would have it, in the week prior to the 2019 Safeguard National Health & Safety Conference, I struggled to pin down some of the key stakeholders who were presenting and/or attending this annual conference.
One of these is Construction Health & Safety NZ (CHASNZ), a high-level group of industry leaders who are tasked with raising the standard of health and safety of the construction industry.
Cue CHASNZ GM Skills & Competency, Jon Harper-Slade, who’d been preparing to take part in a debate at the Safeguard conference asking: “Does health and safety documentation save lives?”
“I certainly don’t agree”, he explains emphatically. “I’m not an advocate for paperwork and bureaucracy.
“And I’ve got good evidence to support that claim. It should be fun, as I’m arguing with a lawyer who does this stuff professionally.”
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE?
Returning to CHASNZ, I press Jon Harper-Slade to find out if CHASNZ is making progress with their self-professed strategy of bringing “leadership, consistency, cohesion and world-class health and safety performance” to the sector?
“CHASNZ recently celebrated its first birthday and on reflection, we have made progress in achieving elements of our strategy,” he says.
“We now have an influential Board of Trustees who represent each sector of the industry and we hired our CEO (Chris Alderson) which has been really important for us.
“We’ve started to develop our strategy to meet the needs of the industry, so you know, I think we’ve come a long way, in a short time.
“We’re involved with a multitude of projects and have to prioritise.
“We’ve been involved with the Construction Sector Accord and getting that signed (14 April 2019) is outstanding for the industry.
“Our Independent Chair, Roger McRae, was part of the Accord and signed it along with others including the Prime Minister and the six Ministers involved in construction.
“Some of the projects that we’re leading have been specifically called out in the Accord, which is great from our point of view because it means that we’ve got the support of Government and industry.”
WHO DARES TO DISRUPT?
Speaking of Government involvement, WorkSafe is the major sponsor of the Safeguard conference which this year carries the theme “Dare to Disrupt”.
I begin by asking Melanie Dale, WorkSafe’s Engagement Lead – Construction Sector, to tell me, as succinctly as possible, how is WorkSafe improving health and safety in the construction sector?
“It is very easy to think of WorkSafe merely as a workplace health and safety regulator,” she says, “and we certainly have a leadership role and are a vital element in the supply chain in construction.
“But when it comes to improving performance, this question should also be asked of the construction sector as a whole.
“There are significant changes happening in this sector with the establishment of CHASNZ and the Construction Sector Accord which WorkSafe wholeheartedly supports.
“Experience in other jurisdictions has proven that when businesses and sectors take ownership of the need to improve health and safety performance, positive change occurs.
“WorkSafe’s role within New Zealand health and safety law is to lead the health and safety system towards world-class performance.
“Within that mandate, we educate, engage and, where required, enforce the law.”
CARING FOR THEIR WORKFORCE
Employing more colourful language is Greg Dearsly, President of NZISM (NZ Institute of Safety Management), another Safeguard Conference sponsor, who I catch driving hands-free in his car.
With 1,700+ health & safety professional members who either consult to or are employed by organisations to advise on H&S, Greg explains: “Our members provide guidance and advice on everything from policies and procedures through to safe working systems, what safety gear to what risk controls have to be put in place based on the risks that people are faced with in the workplace.”
He is keen to share that NZISM is trying to get away from taking health and safety from a compliance-based approach – i.e. “We’ve got to do this stuff because the law says so”.
“The better approach is ‘we’ve got to keep the people safe because it’s the right thing to do’.
“A compliance-based approach is just a tick box exercise as opposed to employers that actually care about their workforce.”
THE STATS ARE SOBERING
I’ve spoken to WorkSafe Inspectors before. They are knowledgeable and passionate about safety in the workplace.
Investigating serious accidents or fatalities are what they dread the most and for good reasons: checking the “incidents” chart on WorkSafe’s website (https://worksafe.govt.nz/data-and-research/ws-data/incidents/) makes for sober reading.
“It’s no longer good enough to say that
health and safety is not our problem because we’ve contracted that out”
However, as Melanie Dale tells me: “Every year WorkSafe’s Health & Safety Inspectors carry out 12,500 workplace assessments. These are mostly proactive, planned visits and are not usually triggered by a report of serious harm or a health and safety complaint.”
It is little wonder that 80% of WorkSafe workplace assessments target high-risk sectors identified as agriculture, forestry, construction and manufacturing.
With a workforce of 300,000 actively involved in construction, this sector has more than its share of accidents.
As Melanie puts it: “Working from heights remains a critical risk in the construction industry. There have been improvements made with the introduction of control measures like scaffolding, nets and harnesses. It is important that these control measures are used correctly for it to be safe and effective.”
KIWIS ARE KEEPING IT SAFE
One good keen Kiwi company making working at heights safer is Edge Protection.
I speak with their Director, Karl Emslie, who had seen it all, having worked in construction most of his life.
“I wanted a better solution for working safely at height; one that was more cost-effective, more efficient (to rig) and most important a safer method of solving the issue. So, in 2012, we basically designed our own product.”
Edge Protection systems are a series of brackets that clamp to walls and allow safe guardrail installation at height.
Sounding rather chuffed about his Made in NZ products which meet AS/NZ Standards, Karl adds: “We’re getting a big push on solar energy installers at the moment and that’s where a majority of our interest is coming out of Australia.”
“Our new Rail Racer safe lifting device [featured in our June 2018 issue] is also doing well. It means a compliant aluminium guardrail up to 6 metres long can be safely lifted and installed up to 5.5m from the ground.
“It’s proving popular because it’s a lot simpler for installers to be compliant and safe during installation. We’re starting to send them to Australia too.”
When I ask about new innovation, Emslie sounds excited: “We have a new product coming out that’s designed to clamp onto parapet walls as well as concrete floor slabs. It’s so new, we haven’t even got a name for it.”
ONE STEP FURTHER
We turn our attention from Hamilton north to the Kaipara, where Easy Access is domiciled.
Sales Manager, Ben Foster, tells me that all of the company’s products adhere to working at height regulations and that there are good reasons why the building industry has increasingly been keen to adopt some of them.
“Today, many more construction companies (large and small) that have banned step ladders from their sites demanding only platform ladders because they have three points of contact for greater safety.”
But wait there’s more from Easy Access: “We’ve taken our platform ladder and innovated it further by making it height adjustable. Now, it’s a lot more flexible and you don’t have to carry around multiple-sized ladders.”
This is the new MOBI tower system and Ben explains that, like many of their new product developments, the idea of designing MOBI frames to double as a ladder, as an alternative to using a separate clip-on ladder, was directly related to feedback from customers.
“[Customers] wanted something more compact, more portable and simpler to assemble. Everything we do has to be not just compliant, but ultra-safe. We’re uncompromising when it comes to standards.”
EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE
Work Safety in construction can essentially be broken down into three potentially high-risk areas: working at heights; inhaling harmful substances (such as asbestos, concrete dust and chemicals); and misusing power tools and machinery.
As Accent Tools MD, Andrew Way, puts it, “Accent Tools has always taken a leadership position with regards to health & safety issues.
“We would be acknowledged as the company that really established and drove dust extraction and awareness in the construction industry for proper extraction.”
Robert Bosch is another brand that is muscling up its extraction product range.
Indeed, when we talked, Bosch’s National Training Manager, Neil Palmer, had just spent a full half day demonstrating the new M Class Vac range to his sales team.
“The law requires an M Class system for collecting concrete dust and silicon-based products,” he explains.
“Our new professional dust extractors [which are expected to arrive here during July/August] as part of our dust control system will connect directly to our cordless and corded power tools such as grinders and hammer drills to give the user a safer dust-free working environment.
“We’re critically aware that inhaling silica dust from cutting or grinding concrete can cause death from Silicosis.”
Tusk Tools Managing Director, Jinjun Hua, and his team are equally passionate about improving the performance and quality of their products and at the same time improving the safety of the end user.
He tells me: “We’ve designed two new blades for example: one to reduce noise emissions (9db quieter than comparative blades); and one that’s shatter-proof, so it doesn’t fall apart and risk serious injury.”
It’s always been about safety,” he says assuredly.
“We listen to end users and combine our creativity with innovation, technology and the latest quality materials to make our products. We call them the Solution Makers.”
To illustrate the point he tells me about a new wall at Paremoremo prison which had fibre cement on one side and sheet steel on the other and which no blade could cut through.
Except for Tusk’s DCO Diamond Metal Cut-off Wheel... “That’s a Solution Maker!” he exclaims.
PASSING THE BUCK IS NOT ACCEPTABLE
In a kismet moment as I finish this article, the very same key stakeholders are at the Safeguard conference, workshopping holistic solutions to lessen or eliminate risk in the workplace.
One of those big table players is NZISM's Greg Dearsly, who is fervently promoting greater awareness of risk.
“Exposure to asbestos is the biggest killer from work-related health deaths right now and Silica dust is the second biggest concern. Somewhere between 600 and 900 people die every year due to that work-based exposure,” he says darkly.
In this light, Greg reminds me of the key changes in the Health & Safety at Work Act which came into force on April 2016: increased responsibility on directors and officers of organisations; a move from a hazard-based approach to a risk-based approach that takes a more holistic view of the risks; more focus on worker engagement; and last would be requiring businesses to share the responsibility across the supply chain.
In a nutshell: “It’s no longer good enough to say that health and safety is not our problem because we’ve contracted that out.”
In other words, everybody is responsible.
Getting to the top
Now, thanks to the Roof Ladder from Easy Access, you can safely climb any roof with a pitch of up to 45 degrees. It’s the easy and safe solution for roof painting or general maintenance.
You simply slide the ladder on rollers up the roof pitch and flip the large hook over the roof line to secure. The large foam buffer absorbs any movement and helps to protect your roof from any potential damage.
Foam support pads maintain even and secure contact between the ladder and roof. It’s available in 4 sizes up to 5.4m long.