Communicating about OHS in New Zealand

Safety conferences rarely generate media interest unless the relevant occupational health and safety (OHS) Minister is speaking or there has been a recent workplace death or safety scandal. At the recent SafetyConnect conference held by the NSCA Foundation in Melbourne, SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to chat with the Editor of New Zealand’s SafeGuard magazine, Peter Bateman. Peter has been editing the magazine and writing about workplace health and safety for a long time and, as an outsider to the OHS profession, he has some useful perspectives on how to communicate about safe and healthy workplaces.

Peter Bateman and Kevin Jones in 2015

SAWB: Peter, great to see you at the Safety Connect conference in Melbourne, hosted by the National Safety Council of Australia Foundation.  So, day one, thanks for coming over from New Zealand.  You’ve been coming to safety conferences for a long time.  How important are safety conferences to your magazine given that Safeguard runs its own conferences as well?

PB: We’ve had the opportunity, through growing the credibility of the Safeguard brand through the magazine, that’s given us I think the trust and the credibility with readers so that when we launched the awards actually, the first event we launched way back in 2005 and then the main conference a couple of years later.  And they were small, but they were successful in their own way and we’ve just been fortunate to grow them year on year, so New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards have been going for 15 years and the main Safeguard National Health and Safety Conference for almost as long.  Then from that we’ve managed to create some more specialist one-day conferences as well.

SAWB: I think I’ve seen a LegalSafe one.

PB: LegalSafe, which is more on the compliance side for those people who want more compliance side even though that’s not my particular area of interest.  But I recognise that a lot of people are very focused on compliance and fair enough.  Then more recently we’ve developed HealthyWork which started off as a way of bringing together traditional occupational health interests with the emerging wellbeing side but has really gone more into the wellbeing and psychosocial stuff as we’ve progressed. And in the last couple of years we’ve launched SafeSkills for H&S reps.

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Accountability, responsibility and possible jail time

Lawyers speaking at occupational health and safety conferences can be a bit hit-and-miss. Some are interested in minute complexities of law. Others are not comfortable talking about legal technicalities with non-lawyers. The presentation also depends on what the conference delegates want, and this can differ from day to day. But sometimes, a conference hears from a lawyer who not only practices law but reads the newspapers and seems the understand the social context of their work.

Last week, the SafetyConnect conference benefited greatly from a presentation by Jackson Inglis of Sparke Helmore (pictured above).

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Asia, maturity, grief, zero and data-collecting mouthguards – the SafetyConnect conference

Zero Harm is hardly ever mentioned in Australia’s academic occupational health and safety (OHS) conferences, except maybe with a little snigger. But it was prominent at the NSCAV Foundation’s SafetyConnect conference in late August 2019. This was partly because this conference has more of a commercial bent compared to other conferences but also because several international speakers from Asia were able to clarify what was meant by the term.

This conference had an enviable number of prominent Asian OHS professionals and engineers. One of them Ho Siong Hin (pictured above) explained the application of Vision Zero by the Singaporean government and business community.

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International healthy workplace conference

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The wave of workplace wellness cannot be avoided but wellness is only part of achieving safe and healthy workplaces. At the end of October 2019 Melbourne is hosting the 7th Global Healthy Workplace Awards and Summit at Monash University.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) often accuses workplace wellness advocates of providing symptomatic relief instead of addressing issues that cause the un-wellness in the workplace. However the October summit seems to offer deeper analysis on both these perspectives and in the broader context of healthy workplaces.

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Fence or Ambulance?

The other week Lucinda Brogden, one of Australia’s Mental Health Commissioners participated in a three day suicide prevention conference, concluding the week as a keynote speaker at an occupational health and safety (OHS) seminar. Her commitment to keep focusing on the prevention of harm made her a comfortable fit for the largely OHS audience. Hopefully her influence is big on the Australian mental health policy makers.

Brogden reminded the audience of an 1895 poem by Joseph Malins which discusses the prevention of harm through the analogy of putting a fence at the cliff edge to stop people falling rather than having an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to collect the dead and injured. It is unlikely that Malins was thinking of workplace safety with this poem but, as a temperance activist, it is certain he was thinking about health. Regardless, the imagery is a useful and simple illustration of the advantages in the prevention of harm, and not just in relation to mental health.

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