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Safety culture summit aims to save lives

MEDIA RELEASE

18 August 2008

Safety culture summit aims to save lives

Business leaders are being urged to show the way in encouraging a “safety culture” within workplaces.

The Leaders in Health and Safety Summit held by the Department of Labour in Wellington today was attended by more than 120 senior executives and health and safety managers.

Department of Labour Chief Adviser on workplace health and safety David Tregoweth said the department was delighted with the good response to the Summit.

“We want more workplaces to commit to building safer work cultures,” he said. “Safety and productivity are the result of good management and good leadership. Safety is not a trade-off for productivity. The two go hand in hand.”

Speakers at the summit discussed instances where safety culture had been applied successfully, as well as catastrophic occasions when it hadn't.

“Safety culture is what everyone does, when no one is looking,” said Mr Tregoweth. “It is the ‘unwritten’ rules about what is and is not okay in a workplace. It’s about the collective practices which are supported by both managers and workers which reflect people’s values and beliefs.”

A positive safety culture could ultimately help reduce workplace injuries and save lives, he said. International research showed it also helped productivity, job satisfaction and corporate reputation.

“For all that to happen, we need great leadership. Good practices come from the top down. This summit is about supporting businesses and encouraging that leadership to come from within industry. After all, good health and safety is simply good business.”

Key note speaker Professor Andrew Hopkins from the Australian National University, a world-renowned safety culture expert, said good safety culture placed an over-riding priority on safety and ensured that safety issues received the attention they deserved.

“Cultures of denial” prevented organisations from picking up the warning signs that were always present before accidents, he said. “Such cultures must be overcome if organisations were to become truly ‘mindful’.”

Reporting systems were vital for picking up indicators of danger and management must carefully consider the sorts of things that should be reported and find ways to encourage such reports, he said. Management should also be made more effectively accountable for the way they responded.

“A cultural approach to safety is not saying ‘ignore the systems; all we need to do is get the culture right’. On the contrary, the right culture is necessary to make safety systems work.”

Prof. Hopkins was invited to New Zealand by the Electricity Engineers Association (EEA) for a series of workshops that marked the launching of the Electricity Supply Industry Health and Safety Strategy to 2020.

ENDS

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