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September 16, 2014

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New Zealand health and safety association formed

A new health and safety organisation has been formed in New Zealand to respond to the country’s long-standing problem of workplace deaths and injuries.

The Health and Safety Association of New Zealand (HASANZ) will take over the work of the Occupational Health and Safety Industry Group (OHSIG) and represent a wider range of professional bodies than its predecessor.

Announced last week at OHSIG’s biennial conference, which took place in Auckland from 10-12 September, HASANZ will be the “go to place” for information and advice in the health and safety space, and could be described as an “association of associations”, representing workplace health and safety professions in New Zealand.

Other announcement’s included the introduction of key themes for WorkSafe, New Zealand’s workplace health and safety regulator. Gordon MacDonald, CEO of WorkSafe, remarked on the need to target areas of high and chronic risk; the safe rebuild of Christchurch (after the 2010-2011 earthquakes); transition from reactive to proactive working; a greater emphasis on occupational health; encouragement of collaborative work between duty holders; and addressing the new requirement for due diligence of directors and officers.

Parallel streams of accepted papers included safety in design, led by Jack Donaghy, a chartered engineer with Beca NZ, who introduced ideas comparable to those in the UK Construction, Design and Management Regulations. In another, Kirstin Olsen from Massey University described some of her research into the role of safety practitioners in achievement of workplace safety management practices under the Accident Compensation Corporation scheme.

New Zealand is a bi-cultural society (Maori and European) but is home to people of many other ethnicities and cultures and three papers specifically showcased Maori and Pacific programmes for holistic prevention and recovery.

Other papers covered ergonomics and preventative programmes and research, including use of exercise to prevent work-related upper limb disorders, manual handling generally, manual handling in the health sector and work in the fishing industry. There were also discussions of different aspects of occupational health, including pre-employment health screening, fatigue management, and management of laboratory animal allergy in a research setting.

In common with other westernised countries, New Zealand has an ageing workforce. Brent Sutton addressed some of the problems this brings, including preparation for and monitoring an ageing workforce. However, this was the only paper to address this topic, and other areas were also neglected. Papers focussing on risks in the forestry and mining sectors were absent and no papers referred to health and safety at work for refugees.

As part of the much-needed reform, a recommendation has been made to adopt a new health and safety bill, moving the New Zealand legislation from hazard management to risk management. The forthcoming Health and Safety at Work Act will also change how hazardous substances are managed. Suzanne Broadbent, an occupational hygienist, explored the differences between how such substances are currently managed and the logic behind the proposed changes.

A series of papers on the theme of risk management provided useful insights and research updates relevant to the forthcoming legislation. My own paper described my research findings into the effectiveness of risk assessments and application of ISO31000:2009 Risk management – Principles and guidelines. His anonymous online survey so far suggests many people use informal and unstructured processes for risk assessments.

The closing keynote presentation on 10 September was by Rob Long, from the Australian Catholic University, and raised contentious issues arising from perfectionist goals for “zero harm” in the workplace. Essentially, if zero harm is unattainable why do we try to attain it? Stakeholders end up with conflicts and mixed messages. Cristian Sylvestre, managing director of SafeStart, returned to this theme on 11 September, drawing on research showing that inattentiveness while on “autopilot” may be a significant cause of many incidents.

OHSIG was formed in 2005 to enable the many small health and safety related bodies to meet together, share ideas and have a voice with the Government. This was the final OHSIG conference but the first biennial HASANZ conference is planned for 2016.


Chris Peace is a New Zealand risk management consultant


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John Hill
John Hill
9 years ago

I visited New Zealand in the same year as the earthquake, leaving Christchurch the week before it happened. I met lots of nice Kiwis during my visit, which included the History House at Greymouth, where I discovered that NZ Rugby League started there 100 yrs ago, with miners from the Lancashire coalfields transplanting the game from England! Great time I had, Great Country. I am recently retired after 30 years in Health & Safety, and willing to be involved in NZ measures too! My local Occupational Health and Safety Group, (Lancashire), was the first such group to be formed back… Read more »