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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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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Oral biffo over safety in Queensland Parliament

Before Christmas, the Victorian Government will be presenting a Bill for Industrial Manslaughter laws to the Parliament. The core elements of accountability and penalty are expected to be little different to the Bill that failed to pass Parliament earlier this Century by a bee’s whatsit. The debate is likely to be on the same benefits and costs, so one can reread Victoria’s Hansard from 2002 or look at the debate in Queensland Parliament last week where that Government’s “Safety Reset” has generated arguments about which party is more committed to occupational health and safety (OHS).

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Big potatoes, small potatoes, trust and transparency

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has released a research paper that discusses the reporting of workplace fatalities by major companies in their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reports. There are many informational benefits in this report but perhaps the most important is that the report reinforces occupational health and safety (OHS) in ESG reports. The risk is that OHS is seen only in relation to the ESG criteria in Annual Reports.

Australia has experienced a gentle push for inclusion of OHS performance measurements in company and government department Annual Reports. SafetyAtWorkBlog has reported on this and some peer-reviewed research and recommendations over many years. The ACSI report progresses this but also illustrates the sluggish rate of change.

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Queensland’s ‘Safety Reset’

Queensland is undertaking a “safety reset” following several recent deaths in the mining and quarry industry. This government initiative has the backing of the resources sector and has collated a good amount of safety resources in support of what is a mandatory exercise.

What is a little different in this initiative is that it reinforces that the primary responsibility for occupational health and safety (OHS) rests with the employers and company owners. In the past, government initiatives have tended to take on the responsibility for the OHS changes or imply that it is the government’s job to fix the situation and the relative safety cultures, as if it was government (in)activity that caused the problem.

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