The Piper Alpha North Sea oil disaster led to a major overhaul of the legislation for health and safety in the UK
Training is key to ‘seismic shift’ in construction safety
NEBOSH believes training can play a significant part in improving performance as New Zealand’s new laws on health and safety aim to inspire change in health and safety in construction.
Four years ago, the report of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety called for a ‘seismic shift in attitude’ towards health and safety in the country. It was the catalyst for New Zealand’s most significant workplace health and safety reform in over 20 years – the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) and the formation of the new regulator WorkSafe.
It also set out an urgent need to significantly reduce the 200,000 claims being made every year to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), particularly from within five industry sectors: manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fishing and construction.
Between 2008 and 2014, 68 people were killed while working in construction in New Zealand, with more than 625 serious-harm injuries notified each year. Overall, the annual cost of ACC claims arising from work in the construction industry was estimated at over $100 million.
Legislative and regulatory changes will undoubtedly drive companies to review their current practices to ensure they are compliant and to avoid any risk of prosecution under the new laws. However, achieving change often takes more than just new legislation and an active regulator; a persistent theme throughout the report was that of ‘training’.
A catalyst for change
Ian Frame is health, safety, quality and environmental (HSQE) manager for infrastructure developers Fulton Hogan. Ian moved to New Zealand from the UK around 18 months ago, following a long career in the oil and gas industry where he experienced significant changes to health and safety. As with the Pike River Mine disaster here, it took a large-scale incident in another industry to begin a change in the way things were done.
Ian remembers the impact that the Piper Alpha disaster had in the UK. The offshore oil and gas platform suffered an explosion in July 1988 which killed 165 of the 220 crew members plus two crew from a standby vessel. Regarded as the worst offshore oil disaster in the history of the UK, the accident was attributed mainly to human error and was a major eye-opener to the offshore industry regarding safety issues.
As a result, new legislation was introduced, and the UK regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) became responsible for ensuring compliance. “That was the turning point,” says Ian. “Health and safety training courses for all parts of the job became the norm, and attitudes to health and safety changed dramatically. For me, I started off by achieving the NEBOSH International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety.”
Maurice Davis, a director of Site Safe, the non-profit industry group, has identified aspirations that have a similar approach to those of the UK. “I would like to see the government get more involved in training. The UK, which used to have similar statistics to New Zealand, would be a good place to start,” he says.
Health and safety qualifications
Since his move to New Zealand, Ian has added to his NEBOSH qualifications, reflecting the recognition the qualifications have in the country’s job market. He has now passed the NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, Construction Certificate and Environmental Management Certificate.
With his qualifications, Ian now finds himself at the forefront of health and safety thinking in the country. “NEBOSH qualifications are really starting to catch on here,” he says. “Employers like Fulton Hogan, who understand the significance of the new legislation and who are a lot more safety conscious, are now starting to ask for NEBOSH.”
The desire for qualifications has spread beyond business to the regulator themselves; WorkSafe health and safety inspector Jane Birdsall has achieved the NEBOSH International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety. She was also the top performing candidate for the qualification in 2016/17.
So as New Zealand finds itself amid new legislation, compliance and monitoring, there is a clear need for effective, consistent training and qualifications to support this cultural change and drive performance improvement.
Formal qualifications and training are only part of the story. From organisations and industry leaders to contractors and individual employees, everyone needs to take responsibility and push forwards for long-term improvements.
In an industry with high numbers of second and third-tier contractors as well as migrant workers, communication will be key. Employees need to be empowered to put their new skills (whether acquired in formal training or in the workplace) into practice – and feel equally empowered to raise concerns and questions with their superiors.
Health and safety need not be seen as a hindrance to productivity, but as something that can drive efficiency and profitability, as well as boosting employee engagement.
And there is much work to be done. WorkSafe’s 2014 report, ‘Health and Safety Attitudes and Behaviours in the New Zealand Workforce: A Study of Workers and Employers’ concluded that the sector ‘seems complacent about health and safety and lacking in urgency and about current accident/injury rates’.
The industry is already making significant steps. Earlier this year, in a move facilitated by Site Safe, some of the country’s leading construction companies joined forces in an agreement to standardise health and safety. As it comes into effect, workers can expect consistent, higher levels of health and safety, whatever construction site they walk onto.
Whatever the catalyst for change, effective leadership is crucial to creating safer and healthier places of work. It is also one of the key principles underpinning the taskforce report’s recommendations.
At an organisational level there is a strong case for introducing health and safety training at executive and senior management level. Nigel Clamp, a NEBOSH diploma holder and a health and safety director for international building materials business Heidelberg Cement, is one such proponent of training at this level.
“During my career I’ve trained around 150 senior managing directors and their executive committees, and when the training is taken on board it can be highly successful. I believe any organisation can be taken on a journey of change which begins by getting the chief executive onside and then implementing a programme of training that involves other board members and senior managers,” Nigel says.
“Wherever I have done this, it has led to a major impact on LTIFR [lost-time injury frequency rate] and total injury rates. For example, at one major cement player we ended up investing almost half of our entire training budget in health and safety, and subsequently we witnessed a 95% reduction in LTIFR and ultimately a 12-month period where we experienced zero lost-time injuries. In particular, what this management level training did was lead to a big increase in the number of safety conversations taking place, which clearly had a knock-on effect across the entire operation.”
Health and safety training at executive and management level not only impacts on the number of injuries and fatalities within construction, but also provides a way of improving management standards, achieving efficiency savings and even boosting profitability.
When this training is extended throughout the workforce, these impacts are optimised and can lead to a culture of safety and caring for fellow colleagues, leading to further benefits such as the retention of skilled and valuable workers.
Health and safety training not only saves lives and reduces injuries, but can also bring a host of business benefits.
NEBOSH (the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) offers a comprehensive range of globally-recognised qualifications designed to meet the health, safety and environmental management needs of all places of work.