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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“no one wants to call out the real issue” says Tooma

In August 2019, lawyer and author Michael Tooma (pictured right) was the keynote speaker at the 2019 National Work Health and Safety Colloquium ostensibly talking about his May 2019 presentation to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). It was an important presentation of the paper he wrote is important. However, it was in the questions afterwards, on Industrial Manslaughter laws and accountability, where Tooma was most passionate and personal.

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The Victorian Government remains secretive on Industrial Manslaughter laws

Victoria’s Department of Justice and Community Safety’s Freedom of Information correspondence is headed:

“Information Integrity & Access”.

For the last few months SafetyAtWorkBlog has been chasing the Workplace Manslaughter Consultation Paper through official channels and been granted “two pages in full”, “four pages in part” and been refused access in full to most of the Consultation Report.  This decision (available here) is because

“These documents include information concerning opinion, advice or recommendation of an officer and the personal affairs of third parties, which cannot be disclosed [for reasons given in the letter]”.

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Industrial Manslaughter submissions

The issue of Industrial Manslaughter laws continues in Victoria. Several organisations were invited to provide submissions to the Victorian Government’s task force formed to look at the implementation of these laws. Three of those submissions have been seen by SafetyAtWorkBlog:

Joint Submission

The joint submission states that

“The laws will also improve health and safety outcomes in workplaces by providing a real deterrent to employers who are tempted to cut corners on health and safety.”

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