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New Inspection Regime Passes the Test

New Inspection Regime Passes the Test

Ever since the announcement of a complete overhaul of New Zealand’s health and safety system there has been no denying that the government agencies have worked hard to heed the clarion call for change.

The feedback of SME’s was very clear during the discovery phase of change; health and safety is confusing, complicated and turning to the official experts (the old DOL) for advice could be career limiting. The solution was to provide a one-stop shop that provided pathways to all the information businesses need to stay safe and compliant.

It may still have a bureaucratic flavour but WorkSafe NZ must be credited with stepping up to the plate with its new (and still developing) website and inspection regime.

The first round ‘pilot’ inspections across Auckland, New Plymouth and Tauranga have been completed and the results published. From 62 inspections, WorkSafe NZ issued 90 improvement notices, 19 prohibition notices and 5 written warnings. Metal manufacturing made up 37% of the visits and 45% of the notices, yet food and beverage and woodworking sectors were cut from a relatively similar cloth. While MESNZ advocates more carrot and less stick, it must be said that these results indicate an endemic level of complacency or lack of knowledge.

Worksafe NZ reported an initial hurdle of “brand”; businesses confused about who Worksafe NZ is. The problem cuts deeper than this though; MESNZ has collated reports from a number of sources of at least one private health and safety company playing on its brand name to further confuse business owners and get a foot in the door. Business owners be warned, WorkSafe NZ is the ONLY brand that officially represents health and safety.

Meanwhile the inspection results are clear; machine guarding in the Metal sector is the most common hazard area found, followed by “Other Hazards” and then noise. Inspectors found a mix of good and bad sites, but generally found larger companies more aware of their responsibilities. However, far too many companies were unaware of their responsibilities and did not understand the hazard identification and management processes. Inspectors reported businesses are “thirsty for knowledge” and don’t have an issue with making improvements.

MESNZ believes the government has made a good fist of its efforts in the best manner that you could expect from bureaucracy. Ok, it is not (yet) the easiest website to navigate for solutions, but Worksafe NZ has delivered on its promise to deliver web based information, the inspectorate has been (and continues to be) abundantly clear on its inspection content and there have been NO reports of draconian inspection results.

Where there IS a problem, is the gap between Worksafe NZ and business, a vacuum filled by health and safety consultants. While the government has put the solutions into the public domain, making sense of it is still daunting and confusing to the uninitiated. Such businesses need confidence and simplicity if they are to embed health and safety management into their other business management. The challenge is for the health and safety consulting group is to step up and change its delivery. One thing for sure, the scaremongering and overcomplicated approach employed in the previous 20 years failed everybody except the consultants.

As an example, MESNZ has researched the gap between the actual inspection results and recent guarding consultant’s recommendations. It found that companies are being fed recommendations that are out of step with the inspectorate and in some cases are putting directors at more risk by imposing guarding solutions that will fail over the working life of the plant. MESNZ has not seen any guarding recommendations that focus on safe systems of work, yet this was identified by inspectors – “guarding removed”. Unlike an automated machining centre, a jobbing machine guard that can cope with the full potential of jobs and still allow safe operator input is often not feasible from the tradesman’s experience. Take the full swing of a centre lathe over the complete length of the bed. Add any toolpost attachments (other than a conventional turning tool) and their span as well as any projections from the rear of the headstock. We have all seen them and they are a reality over the lifespan of many machines. This is what safe systems of work are designed for, coping with the impossible.

Safe systems of work allow the business to guard for the obvious and predictable, but come up with a safe and repeatable process for the extreme situations or the man-machine interface. What they then need to become expert in is their safety processes, no different to manufacturing sites coping with hot work permits, lock out procedures etc.

If the gap between businesses with their heads in the sand and ‘safe’ workplaces is to be closed, then finding solutions that are people-centric rather than drilled down, cover-your-butt exercises would be a great place for the health and safety industry to start.

ENDS

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