Panel on directors

2 October, 2014  |  News

Key questions to challenge boards, the availability of expertise to advise boards, and the need to integrate health and safety in our lives at home and at work - these were some of the topics discussed by a lunch panel organised by the Trans-Tasman Business Circle in Auckland last month.

WorkSafe chief executive Gordon MacDonald said an issue for him was the common notion that health and safety is quite separate from running the business - something he challenges every time he encounters it, because health and safety is a "prize opportunity" to engage with people and lift an organisation's performance.

"They are not in competition. You don't do health and safety once you have done all the rest. It's a key ingredient missing in some organisations I see."

Even if the organisation grasps the importance of health and safety, then there is the question of competence. When he speaks to boards he asks two questions: how do you think you are going with health and safety? And how do you know? The second question requires boards to think about the culture of the organisation and whether there is a regular flow of unfiltered information upwards.

"Boards need a smart set of leading indicators to give them a chance to put things right before there's blood on the floor."

Beca director David Carter said boards seeking external advice on health and safety will find plenty of consultants to tell them about compliance but not so many who can talk about culture change, including the need to integrate health and safety across our lives at work and at home. Unless that can be done, he warned, efforts to improve health and safety in the work sphere will be undermined, because people have difficulty handling the switch in focus when they go home.

Leighton Contractors New Zealand general manager Andrew Stevens underlined the importance of boards knowing what questions to ask about health and safety, and that each board need at least one member with the expertise to do so.

"What we are starting to understand on the cultural side of safety is that leadership is incredibly important. The conversations that the board and leader have on site make a huge difference. The main role of the board is that they need to lead."

Taking up this theme, Carter suggested that two days before a scheduled board meeting, board members could usefully be invited to visit a site and have conversations with workers.

Responding to a question from the floor about the need for prescriptive regulations to support small businesses, he said WorkSafe could create a free standard health and safety reporting tool, and require companies to report using a standard set of data, which would help larger companies when putting work out to tender.

"If you give them a free system and they have never reported a near miss, you know they haven't got a safety culture, and you can sit down with them."

MacDonald told the audience that the previous day he had visited a construction site in Auckland, where the site manager had told him that he was "a construction guy, not a health and safety guy".

"I don't see it that way," said MacDonald. "That separation in mindset is completely wrong in law and in practice."

Source: Alert24, 6 Oct 2014,