By concentrating on low-impact, high-frequency health and safety risks in an organisation, leaders may miss critical risks that could lead to life-changing harm, or even death, for an employee. 

Francois Barton, the executive director of The Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum, is warning CEOs and directors that by concentrating on a myriad of health and safety data, they may be missing something that points to major life-changing harm for their employees.

Barton told Management that while the forum’s Health & Safety Leadership Survey (which was undertaken with Deloitte and released last year) found CEOs and directors have very good intentions around health and safety and are tracking a lot of data for their individual businesses, the evidence is increasingly pointing to the fact that some of the data is not giving them a useful and predictive picture of the real major risks. 

As a consequence, the board and CEO may be putting their efforts into things that are never going to cause the type of harm to employees that a major accident, chemical spillage or exposure to dangerous airborne materials could. 

CEOs and boards need to identify the acute, chronic and catastrophic health and safety risks, and determine what could lead to death or serious harm. They need to develop a risk profile for health and safety risks, prioritising these critical risks.

Barton says CEOs and boards may be looking in the rear vision mirror when they look at lost time injury frequency rates or are expending energy on high-frequency, low-impact events, such as minor ankle twists or minor cuts.

“The data many CEOs and boards see may not give any sense of major events that might occur such as if their chemical containment is about to fail or the scaffolding controls are not working correctly.”

By looking at a whole lot of information, rather than focusing on the right things, they can often can be blind to the things that really matter. 

“You need to understand your risks and control them,” he says, “and stop major events from happening.”

Boards and senior executives should be really clear on what the critical risks are in the business and concentrate on a finite, manageable number of things that could be responsible for very bad outcomes.  

The forum has produced a new resource called The CEO Risk Toolkit which it is launching in a joint roadshow with the Institute of Directors and WorkSafe. Barton says the turnout around the country has been impressive.

The toolkit highlights the need to concentrate on “what matters”. Barton says the risk is that senior executives get overwhelmed with minor health and safety issues and lose sight of the things that                                                                 really matter and could lead to catastrophic events.

“The skill of a good leader is making sure you are putting your attention on things that matter, on the critical risks, and cutting all the clutter so you have a much clearer and tighter focus.”

He knows of businesses that had been focused on total injury rates and had felt they were doing well with health and safety only to be later blind-sided by fatalities that appear to have come from left field.

Evidence shows that while businesses might concentrate on eliminating low level risks and assume that will help eliminate much larger risk, only 15 to 25 percent of these low-level risks have the potential to go really bad and result in a fatality.

By concentrating on a vast array of potential hazards, they miss exposure to something that could be fatal.

In essence, he says a leader must be really clear on what the critical risks are in their business; what the critical controls of that risk are and on monitoring how effective the controls are.   

The Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum is a coalition of business and government leaders committed to improving the performance of workplace health and safety in New Zealand. It has 330 members who are CEOs, managing directors or country heads of large New Zealand businesses or businesses operating in high risk industries.


A voluntary performance improvement toolkit

A new tool available to businesses to enhance the health and safety of your workplace is SafePlus, a Government developed and endorsed health and safety toolkit which was launched in November last year.

SafePlus programme manager Malcolm MacMillan said at the launch that New Zealand has an unnecessarily high rate of serious workplace accidents.

“The social and economic cost of this in New Zealand workplaces is conservatively estimated at $3.5 billion each year and inflicts an enormous emotional toll on the people affected. We need a change in our workplace health and safety culture and SafePlus provides an important toolkit to achieve that change.” 

The toolkit currently consists of three products: Resources and Guidance, the market delivered Onsite Assessment and Advisory Service and the Online Self-Assessment Tool.

MacMillan said it digs deep into a business to assess workers’ practices, behaviours, attitudes and culture towards health and safety. “This behavioural approach helps them identify opportunities and strive for excellence.”

Jess Maccagno, the senior communications and engagement advisor at Safeplus, told Management that the tool has a unique marketing proposition in that it is a joint agency initiative between WorkSafe, ACC and Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. Businesses can feel assured they are investing in the right places with a Government endorsed initiative.

It also offers a new approach for business to help to improve their health and safety outcomes by showing them how to improve the culture of the business from the top down.

The website explains that it is different from other products on the market in that it is a voluntary performance improvement toolkit. “Its primary value is the qualified, independent advice and guidance to businesses to support their continuous improvement. It uses a behavioural evaluative assessment with a heavy focus on observation and interviews with workers.” 

Maccagno says SafePlus currently has 45 accredited assessors around New Zealand and stresses they interview and observe right across the business, not just within senior management teams, to assess how robust health and safety practices are.

It’s seen as a credible, nationally recognised and authoritative definition of what good health and safety looks like – over and above minimum legal compliance – and provides advice and guidance on how to improve. It can provide a business with tailored recommendations on what it needs to do to improve and tailored advice and best practice guidance on how an organisation can implement these recommendations.

Because the SafePlus Onsite Assessment and Advisory Service uses a behavioural based approach SafePlus says it is different from a number of other products that look at document management systems and primarily focus on written policies and procedures.

“Even in the best of businesses there is always something new they can do to improve workplace health and safety,” says Maccagno. 

If onsite assessment is too extensive for smaller business she says a free online self-assessment tool will be available by mid year. It identifies gaps in health and safety; awareness of issues and takes 360-degree input from managers, workers and contractors. It also offers advice and guidance on how and where to improve.

Maccagno says that as more businesses use the online tool, it gathers more and more intelligence, so businesses can use it to benchmark themselves against other businesses.  



Visited 13 times, 1 visit(s) today

A focus on culture

Rabobank’s 520-plus New Zealand employees work from 27 locations – places like Ashburton, Pukekohe and Feilding and from a purpose-built head office in Hamilton. Its employees are proud of the

Read More »
Close Search Window