A collaborative, committed and holistic approach to health and safety

By Lou Cooper 

Attitudes towards health and safety have changed. 

The Pike River Mine disaster was a huge turning point for the country and provided the biggest shakeup the industry has seen with the release of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. 

The kiwi ‘she’ll be right’ attitude has served us well for many years, but changes to the way we design, build and service the construction industry has us taking a more inclusive approach to responsible practices. 

In this piece we explore a modern view of health and safety, especially in construction. 

Remove barriers with technology 

Make life simple by investing in technology that enables you to keep track of certification and other compliance instead of relying on a manual process or your memory! Life is busy and full of interruptions and excitement – automation enables you to input training dates, certification and other crucial information that keeps you compliant. 

Policy and documentation can be made easier with the use of management systems. It could be as simple as a worker downloading an app with photos or documents being scanned or uploaded per job – the process is simple for them, it will satisfy client needs and your organisation can keep on top of important information that might be needed in the future. 

Well-being is important too 

Mental and physical well-being plays a bigger role in health and safety than ever before and most firms are trying to take a holistic approach to meet their employee’s needs. There is still a reputation of tradie’s having a thick skin, and while this may be true for some, attitudes to a healthy work / life balance have changed. 

The additional pressures employees now face are acknowledged, and employers have a role to play in ensuring their team’s needs are met. It goes beyond having a policy to tick a box, it’s about appreciating that not everyone is the same and that you have initiatives in place that can provide help and support to those who need it. 

Collaboration is key 

If someone from your team visits a client and notices several unsafe practices, hazards and risks what should they do? What should you do? Everyone plays a role in keeping a workplace safe and one tradie should be able to say to another ‘hey mate, you know better than that,’ – training and education should be put into practice every day and involve every partner or client you work with. 

H&S is a costly exercise for any business, but it is a crucial investment that will keep you and your colleagues safe. By working collaboratively, we can ensure that our investments are protected, and even share resources in some instances. 

Commitment to lifelong learning 

One exam is not enough to see you through a lifetime of employment. With experience comes responsibility, the ability to make decisions based on years of execution, and the appreciation that comes from working safely and well. To remain ahead of the curve, organisations and individuals must commit to lifelong learning and appreciate the benefits that come with it. 

Practices and training may differ throughout the industry, with one organisation offering training vastly different to another, but the commitment to providing educational tools and guidance is a key outcome. 

Policy and guidelines will continue to evolve and so too must training, with employers and employees responsible and accountable for a proactive (and compliant) approach to learning. 

To get the best out of employees, providers should also consider the frequency of training – too much of anything can diminish impact and increase learning fatigue. It might be worth considering cycles of annual training and mini-refresher courses throughout the year; but most importantly – is the content enjoyable? Learning doesn’t have to be dull – we already have online webinars, but could VR or AR soon be used to train workers alongside using the traditional classroom-based models? It is a challenge to both employers and education providers to keep it varied, concise and relevant.

We all play a role 

At the end of the day, everyone wants to go home with all their fingers, but accidents happen – we’re only human. A short decade ago, anyone could climb up a rickety old ladder, drive round in a scissor lift or shimmy around on the roof without a spotter around or safe plan of work. Can you imagine doing that today? 

We all share the responsibility of keeping workplaces safe, even more so if you’re in an environment where power tools, height equipment, heavy machinery and the like are being used. It only takes a moment for an accident to happen, and it could cause a lifetime repercussion. 

By holding yourself to high standards and to account, you will encourage others to do the same – that does not mean to say it’s easy. There will always be barriers to overcome – balancing jobs with training and impact to your bottom line; time and cost; clarification on if the training is needed in your field of expertise. 

The key takeaway is to avoid getting complacent. The wellbeing of you and your team comes first and it should be a priority for everyone – it does not matter where you are in the chain of command, shared responsibility creates a safer and inclusive environment for all and ensures everyone is always kept safe. 

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