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ACC: Sector-Wide Health And Safety Culture

10 August 08

Forestry Industry Leading Way On Creating Sector-Wide Health And Safety Culture

New Zealand's forestry industry has its sights set on becoming this country's first to build a sector-wide safety culture that will reduce injuries while creating better businesses.

Called the 'Workplace Culture, Leadership and Forestry Project', the pilot is run by the Department of Labour, ACC and PF Olsen on behalf of the NZ Forest Owners Association.

"A 'safety culture' is the collective practices shared by everyone in the workplace as a reflection of their values. It's the way things are always done in the workplace, whether someone's looking or not," project leader, the Department of Labour's Francois Barton said.

"We all know safety in the workplace is important, that's why we have safety legislation. But building a positive safety culture is about more than just compliance; it's about everyone in that workplace thinking and acting safely, from the bosses all the way down. But it must start at the top with committed leadership."

Overall injury rates in the forestry industry have been falling steadily thanks to good work done across the industry. But ACC's Don Ramsay said these gains have been largely made by picking the "low hanging fruit".

"Now the really hard work has to start to change the attitudes towards safety of everyone in forestry. Injuries are costly, both to the worker and their families, to their employer and to the industry as a whole. That's partly why a safe business is a productive business and why creating an industry-wide safety culture is so important," he said.

The first day-long workshops were held in Rotorua and Nelson during July and August, with 42 managers and contractors attending. The second round will start later this month.

The project involves four main workshops run by safety culture expert Dr Hillary Bennett. She has run similar workshops throughout New Zealand and Australia, but for single corporations only. This is the first time a whole sector has been targeted in this way in New Zealand.

"There are some challenges in that because we're working with people from different aspects of forestry work, different management levels, and even from different regions. But we all share the aim to create an injury-free workplace," Dr Bennett said.

During the pilot, participants learn how to assess their own safety culture, to look at what practices lead to good safety, and then develop an action plan for improvement. Bolstered by follow-up mentoring sessions, they will then learn how to put their ideas into practice and how to review their progress.

Nic Steens, the health and safety manager at forestry management company PF Olsen, said workplace safety is a core part of their business. "A business performs best when the business fundamentals are right, and the same thing applies in health and safety. It needs to start with leadership development, which feeds into training for skill rather than simply ticking the boxes for compliance. These are both areas the pilot project focuses on."

"Individual forest companies have put so much work into improving the safety of our jobs so it's great that, as a sector, we can lead the way to create New Zealand's first industry-wide safety culture," he said.


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