Focus on your critical risks and get your workers involved in creating the health and safety rules and practices.

That was the message given to more than 180 CEOs, directors and senior executives at Forum Summits in Auckland and Christchurch that focused on operationalising Safety II.

Keynote speaker at the Auckland Summit on Wednesday 18th October was Tim Fleming from construction giant Laing O’Rourke. Tim shared a thought-provoking story about how his company was trying to create safe workplaces – and how it had moved from trying to control everything workers did, to trusting workers to help come up with safety solutions.

This change in approach started with the company’s Managing Director sending a clear signal about risks expectations - that he could sleep at night with the risk of someone rolling an ankle but not with the risk of someone being killed or seriously harmed.

This decision to focus on critical risks gave the company confidence to undertake a series of ‘micro-experiments’ – where it empowered workers to simplify and modify some health and safety rules and practices to make them more relevant and effective. To date the results have been positive, with injury rates reducing.

Nicole Rosie, CEO of WorkSafe, supported the message inherent in Safety II, that organisations need to genuinely involve workers in health and safety. But she also emphasised the importance of focusing on critical risks. Many New Zealand businesses still don’t have effective critical risks controls in place, and this is one reason why our rates of death and serious injury are still relatively high.

At the Christchurch Summit on Friday 20th October, Connetics CEO Jono Brent talked about the challenge of creating safe workplaces in environments where working conditions can vary enormously from what was expected. With that in mind, his organisation is working to understand the difference between ‘work as imagined’ and ‘work as done’. Ensuring that workers and organisations have the capacity to deal with this variability is essential to improving health and safety performance, he said.  

Continuing this theme, Australian expert Daniel Hummerdal from Art of Work talked about the need to change the way we measure health and safety performance. Traditionally the focus has been on measuring injury rates. But these lag indicators have limited usefulness, and are poor indicators of how well we are managing health risks, and critical and catastrophic risks. A better approach is to also measure an organisation’s capacity to enable things to go right, across varying conditions.

It was encouraging to see so many members and invited guests support the Forum’s Summits and we look forward to running equally thought-provoking events at our next Summit in May 2018.