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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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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Keep talking and making submissions – what to ask about dust

Government attention on the risks of silicosis, especially those related to engineered stone, continues to increase. Australia has established a National Dust Disease Taskforce to investigate the risks and to make recommendations to the government at the end of 2020. A national investigation is warranted but occupational health and safety (OHS) is regulated at State level so it could be many years until safety improves on this matter, if the States wait for the Taskforce’s final report.

Luckily, the debate on silicosis risks continue in various Parliaments and the Taskforce is seeking submissions.

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Time to ban synthetic stone

Professor Malcolm Sim of Monash University spoke at the 2019 National Work Health and Safety Colloquium on an issue that he never imagined he would be speaking of, at his age, silicosis.

As it is in several countries, the emergence of silicosis related to synthetic stone is gradually getting the attention of governments as more, and younger, workers are starting to die from this aggressive occupational disease. Professor Sim outlined the risk of handling this new type of stone by asking:

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Interesting but not representative

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released the results of its latest occupational health and safety (OHS) survey. In past surveys respondents have been trade union members. This survey was opened to non-union members, but to what extent is unclear but this has not stopped the ACTU speaking of the respondents as workers rather than workers who are all union members.

This differentiation is important. In the 1990s when union membership was much larger, the argument that the survey results were representative of Australia’s workforce was stronger although still debatable. Representation is harder to claim now with union membership being well below 20% overall and below 10% in the private sector.

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