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Health, Safety and Accountability

Written By: - Date published: 11:45 am, December 22nd, 2011 - 39 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags: , ,

CTU President Helen Kelly talks about Pike River and the death of security guard Charanpreet Singh Dhaliwal and what these tragedies tell us about employer accountability for health and safety in the workplace.


39 comments on “Health, Safety and Accountability”

  1. randal 1

    what this tells us is that we live in a self regulated civil society.
    what this means is that you must tug your forelock and not answer back to the bosses who have their minds on higher things like how to reduce your wages.
    otherwise you are being uncivil and spoiling their equanimity.
    bwah wah wah.

  2. fender 2

    I love you and the great work you do on behalf of the people that some want to abuse to death in many cases Helen. You are the most admirable type of human around and the type of person we need more of not only in NZ but the world over.
    I know you often get flak from people who are afraid you will somehow eat into the profits that they make by exploiting people. But sensible people know that a safe, happy, equal opportunity workplace where people get fair pay for a fair days work is not only best for productivity but creates an environment where making profits is more likely and sustainable.
    Keep up your great work. Hope you have a great xmas and new year xxooxx

  3. Uturn 3

    There is a connection, or disconnection somewhere, in the minds of those who should act, between their percieved organisational status, their legal obligations and then maybe far down the line, their moral responsibility. I guess what that means is that over the period of my working life, my employers have ranged from psychotic, to negligent through to plain confused. The psychotic ones thought that “no care, no liability” was a good motto. They had taken the risk to form a business and now everyone else should pay. It was up to me to save myself, at my cost, regardless of the law. They were the big man, with percieved extra-legal rights because of social status. To some degree, the legal systems backed them up. Pushing people who simply refuse to engage is a job no one really wants to get involved with unless there is some material payoff – this included the supposed “good guys”.

    When you’re young and ignorant, it’s easy to be taken advantage of by more aware superiors. Morally right? No freekin’ way. What happens is wrong, on every level, but when the choice is look after yourself or get injured, maimed, or worse, a person usually does what they can to protect themselves. That act of looking out for yourself is usually stolen for the whole “personal responsibility” meme and because the victim of this abdication from above wants the dream to be real, they might even start believing it themselves. But all they’re doing is maintaining a dangerous environment. Big boys don’t cry, your own efforts your own rewards, tough guys don’t complain and no one questions the boss’ abdication of responsibility. Senior employees often back this up and don’t help the at risk workmate either – waiting for them to fall for whatever personal thrill.

    Sometimes the boss doesn’t actually want you dead. If they come up through this same distorted culture, sometimes they just don’t know. They have a mixture of ideas about safety, all contradictory and rather than risk cognitive dissonance they disappear at important moments, like during the set up of a job or during orientation of a new employee. These employers hover around, looking through their fingers, until reality pushes through their fuzzy thinking and down they come, barking that “it ain’t safe” and then everything stops until a fresh grasp can be found on how to proceed. If they don’t re-appear, they come back later to console the employees who are discussing the craziness of the now finished job, and how one guy almost had that happen, and how she almost lost her hand, and the scaffold was waving in the breeze. They don’t want you dead, but they won’t act. If anything had gone badly wrong, they’d find out the law takes a dim view of neglect.

    Changing the ideas of the psychotic employer is a job for the law, politics and culture in general. Solitary workers can make small day-to-day changes in their environment, but currently they will always be outgunned at an organisational level and risk some kind of workplace penalty. It takes some courage. If you see the new guy a bit disoriented, come on people, guide them through it! If you know a new shift or environment has a hidden risk, tell them about it, or go with them, or alert your supervisor with your concern. It doesn’t matter if you had it hard and now you want others to feel how hard you had it so you can be sure they can relate to your pain and fear. Don’t use people like that, you only trap yourself. Feeling crappy might seem better than feeling nothing at all, but the path to emotional freedom often begins with a period of what feels like non-identity. It doesn’t last forever.

    Creating supportive and safe workplaces isn’t just a political choice, it’s about finding real connections between people and that holds wider benefits than just at work or the bottom line.

    Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it. Decide to keep your shift safe over the holiday period.

  4. lprent 4

    Hell, I am impressed with this video blog. Clear consise and stayed on topic. I was somewhat worried that it’d look like crap or would waffle. But I was impressed and it got me irritated with those companies to the point I will have to read some more.

    I got Lyn (she does video for a living) to watch it. She suggested a couple of tech things to improve it, but said it wouldn’t matter that much. I will squirt them through when I rouse myself from the immediate post work mode (aka blobbing out).

    Doing this regularly is a great idea.

  5. randal 5

    If anyone deserves a knighthood for their services to this country and devotion above and beyond the call of duty then Lprent does.
    thank you lprent.

  6. tsmithfield 6

    I absolutely agree that businesses need to treat health and safety of their employees as their utmost concern. However, employees also need to play their part. For instance, it has come out in the Pike River enquiry that minors were putting plastic film over their methane sensors. This in no way reduces the culpability of the company, and their may well have been productivity motivations that encouraged this behaviour. However, it clearly was a highly dangerous thing to do.

    Also, if people believe they are intrinsically safe they can tend to take less care than they ought. I looked at this sort of behaviour during my studies a few years ago. I read an article about the introduction of safety belts in Britain. The effect was a reduction in death and injury to drivers. However, there was a corresponding increase in death and injury to pedestrians. It seems that because drivers perceived themselves to be safe they took more risky behaviours on the road.

    This all goes to show that health and safety is quite complex and not solved simply by management establishing a safe working environment as there are complex psychological factors at work that can lead to unforeseen outcomes.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      For instance, it has come out in the Pike River enquiry that minors were putting plastic film over their methane sensors. This in no way reduces the culpability of the company, and their may well have been productivity motivations that encouraged this behaviour. However, it clearly was a highly dangerous thing to do.

      You’re a fucking asshole. What you’re ignoring here is who has the power and the responsibility in the workplace for ensuring that high levels of health and safety standards are followed at all times. The 17 year old kid or the mine’s general manager?

      • Craig Glen Eden 6.1.1

        Health and safety is a real reason to have strong Unions without a good Union most companies will do what ever the hell they like and workers often end up paying with their lives, if it was the 1% who were loosing their lives it would be a totally different story.
        Its a bit like Keys statement that NZ SAS did a grand job sorry that we lost a couple of good soldiers but thats the price we pay ( words to that effect). I bet he wouldn’t be so flippant if the price to pay was his son that had been killed that would a different bloody story.

      • tsmithfield 6.1.2

        CV: “You’re a fucking asshole. What you’re ignoring here is who has the power and the responsibility in the workplace for ensuring that high levels of health and safety standards are followed at all times. The 17 year old kid or the mine’s general manager?”

        You obviously have very little knowledge of the health and safety act.

        It is clear that employees also have responsibilities under the health and safety act.

        From the act:

        As an employee, you have responsibilities for keeping yourself and others safe.

        You can make your workplace safer by:

        being involved in processes to improve health and safety
        sticking to correct procedures and using the right equipment
        wearing protective clothing and equipment
        helping new employees, trainees and visitors to the workplace understand the right safety practices and why the practices exist, and
        communicating any safety concerns to your employer.

        I am fairly confident that covering the sensors with plastic film wasn’t “sticking to correct procedures and using the right equipment”.

        I thought I made it quite clear in my previous comments that I considered that most of the blame lies with the company. However, employee behaviour can’t be ignored in this.

        • Colonial Viper

          I am fairly confident that covering the sensors with plastic film wasn’t “sticking to correct procedures and using the right equipment”.

          Show me one instance of disciplinary action taken against a worker for doing such.

          These practices were tacitly or explicitly supported by mine management IMO. Unless you are claiming that every time the General Manager went down the mine, the workers hurriedly took all the plastic film off the sensors so he didn’t see it.

          Tell me, would you back health and safety whistleblower legislation protecting employees in work places?

          If not, why not.

          • tsmithfield

            Yes I would support whistleblower legislation.

            You have no argument from me that the company was atrociously deficient in it health and safety practices. And I absolutely agree that the company should shoulder most of the blame for the terrible outcome. They created the culture, and were clearly very lax in their enforcement of safety in the mine.

            However, even if management had actively been telling workers to deactivate their sensors with plastic film, employees should still have known it was the wrong thing to do and refused to do it. There are some things that are so blatantly wrong that people should know not to do them under any circumstances. What they appear to have been doing is not far removed from striking a match in a mine.

            So I still hold there appears to be a small degree of responsibility with the employees in this situation. The act is very clear that employees also have responsibilities as I pointed out above, and to some degree they may have failed to meet these responsibilities.

            • Colonial Viper

              Fair enough. It seems to me you clearly recognise that the power, authority and responsibility for designing and running a safe mine rests primarily with senior management.

              • tsmithfield

                CV: “Fair enough. It seems to me you clearly recognise that the power, authority and responsibility for designing and running a safe mine rests primarily with senior management.”

                Thanks for that.

                It is probably impossible to know whether deactivating the sensors actually had any causal role in this situation. My understanding of Pike River is that there was a much higher tolerance of methane levels by management, almost to the point of explosive concentrations. Also, I have grave doubts about the investment the company was making in necessary equipment such as ventilation etc to evacuate methane from the mine. So, the accident may have happened regardless.

                My company had just won an order for a whole lot of second-hand compressor equipment for Pike River. Second-hand because they couldn’t afford new. I thought at the time it seemed a bit odd, and wondered if this was typical for the mine. We were on the verge of supplying when the accident occurred. Our staff could have been installing the gear into the mine at the time of the accident other than for a few days.

                Subsequent to the event, the manager we know from another contracting company told us he had pulled his workers out from working in the mine several months earlier because he was worried about safety. Turns out to have been a very wise move.

                • RedLogix

                  And while I fully agree ts that there is both an element of employee and employer responsibility for this disaster…. there is a dimension you have not touched on.

                  Employees have a responsibility to act safely in the ways the Act outlines. But their degree of committment and compliance with good practise will be set by the example and standards demanded by management.

                  Just three weeks ago I installed and commissioned a SIL2 level CO2 gas detection and shutdown system. In my working environment this kind of issue is taken seriously, disabling such a sensor would be an instant, if not sooner, dismissal offence. Presented with such a blatant stupidity, our entire organisation would demand a dismissal and seek to find a way to prevent a repetition.

                  Pike River management clearly did not set about blowing up their mine. They never had a meeting were they decided to deliberately take short-cuts and insane risks with lives and their huge investment. Instead they fooled themselves into thinking that what they were doing…in the cause of getting the mine into desperately needed production… was going to be ok. A lethal sort of closed circle groupthink as it were.

                  Missing in action was an independent oversight of mine management. That is the crucial element that should have picked up what was going at Pike River. Instead we had a DOL desperately understaffed and resourced… and given the emphasis on ‘industry self-regulation’ brought about by the dismantling of government departments in the 1990’s … not correctly placed to act effectively.

                  That is why Pike River has a political culpability as well, no less inescapable than that of the idiots who may or may not have put plastic film over sensors.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    Instead they fooled themselves into thinking that what they were doing…in the cause of getting the mine into desperately needed production… was going to be ok. A lethal sort of closed circle groupthink as it were.

                    This is very similar to the ‘normalization of deviance’ or ‘normalization of risk’ organisational culture that NASA was accused of.

                    In other words you know that technically, you should not be covering up the sensors because it poses a potential risk to life and limb. But you do cover a couple of the worst offenders for convenience.

                    No one dies on day 1. No one dies on day 2 or 3. So having ‘proven’ that its ‘safe’ you cover the rest up. And no one dies on day 4, 5 or 6.

                    Sweet, the organisation has now ‘proven’ that its ‘safe’ to keep the gas sensors covered and the deviation to proper protocol becomes normalised as routine.

                    Until the fucking thing blows up killing people, whether its the Space Shuttle or a coal mine.

            • Jilly Bee

              I thought whistle blower legislation already exists – it’s going back a long way, but didn’t Phil Goff help that bill through Parliament? Something to do with a problem at a psychiatric institution. Lake Alice, maybe.

        • mik e

          tsm its clear that pike river were taking short cuts just about everywhere they could that was the culture enforced on workers because the management didn’t have enough money to open the mine safely

        • fender

          If the miners were coming home feeling crook all the time, which they were, it’s clear there were ongoing ventilation issues. Management must have and should have known this, and I’d bet they were aware.
          Management may have been aware of sensor covering if there were earlier incidences of “false alarms” holding up production, could have been suggested by them even.
          Anything’s possible and likely with that poorly designed and run death trap.

          Someone needs to be jailed for this.

          • tsmithfield

            “Someone needs to be jailed for this.”

            I don’t disagree with you there.

            • KJT

              Yes they do.
              The Rena second mate and Master are facing criminal charges for what is, most likely, a simple mistake, possibly accentuated by fatigue, working conditions and training issues.
              Scapegoats for systemic rather than their individual fault.

              Pike River is also due to a lax attitude to safety from Government on down.

              I wonder of the party of individual responsibility will take individual responsibility for the de-regulation and lack of interest in workers safety since the 80’s which contributed to these disasters.

              In my view the buck stops at those who had the power to make changes. The top.

              Without proper outside audits and monitoring even the most safety conscious can get complacent.

              Especially people whose main responsibility is the bottom line.

              Still trying to instil in my crews that just because a confined space or hold was OK yesterday, it doesn’t mean it is OK today.

              McFlock is right that safety is complex. Like the common increases in accidents when a safety management system is first implemented. The normal human attitude then, is that “safety is covered. Don’t need to worry about it any more”
              A very dangerous attitude in places like ships, mines and rigs, which cannot be made totally safe.

    • McFlock 6.2

      This all goes to show that health and safety is quite complex and not solved simply by management establishing a safe working environment as there are complex psychological factors at work that can lead to unforeseen outcomes.

      But some psychological factors leading to safety hazards are simple enough to understand. Fatigue, intense and sustained production targets, and poor training and supervision are all pretty obvious.
      For example, low management emphasis on workplace hazards indicate to inexperienced workers how “real” a threat is, leading to the effect you alluded to with safety belts. Is the threshhold for an alarm indicative of a “real” hazard, or is it just some line drawn by a gummint boo-row-krat? And if the alarm shuts down production, and workers have production targets which result in payment penalties if not met, well – what would you expect to happen over the course of time? Management 101 (or it should be).

      • KJT 6.2.1

        Reminds me of an oil rig that had a zero accident rate for two years in Indonesia.

        They paid a very large, by Indonesian standards, bonus to each team for a perfect safety record.

        There were no lost time injuries, but some rig workers were never seen again.

  7. Skeptic to the max 7

    “Work is killing 1000 of us a year. New figures, which also show there are 17,000 new case of work-related disease in New Zealand each year, have been revealed by the Labour Department as it rolls out a new plan to reduce the statistics.
    The Occupational Health Action Plan has 21 initiatives focused on reducing occupational cancer, respiratory hazards, noise, skin irritants and stress and pressure.”
    …….. “She [Helen Kelly] applauded the department’s plan but said it had a history of writing reports about workplace health and safety, then not having the time or resources to implement them properly.”
    The department could not say yesterday whether it had specific funding for the plan. ”  http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business  19.12.2011

    “The plan was drafted in response to the 2009 review of the Workplace Health and Safety Strategy for New Zealand to 2015 which identified the need for a stronger focus on occupational health as a priority issue.”
    The draft was the  “Occupational Health Action Plan 2011-13”.
    The consultation on that draft plan then closed November, 2011.

    The final has now been launched December 2011. It’s now the “Occupational Health Action Plan to 2013”

    Some two years for a response to the 2009 review. By the Labour Dept’s estimate that’s 1400 to 2000 more deaths and yet to begin the lengthy process of Implementation. Think now about Public Sector cuts as a response to workplace safety…inspectors..’She’ll be right’..we got until 2013.

    Then compare responses and response time of 8 months to the following scenario and Bill introduction by National…13/08/2009
    “According to statistics supplied by Mr Joyce, there were 25 fatal crashes and 482 injury crashes between 2003 and 2008 (5 years) where the use of a cellphone or another mobile device was a factor.” He announced at that time his estimate was that this Bill would then save 5 or 6 lives a year. 

    National’s new plans and priorities summed up nicely by panellist on “Backbenchers.” this week. ….whatever crops up at the time in this term..like the earthquake, the Pike mine, the Rena


    • fender 7.1

      1000 every year. Thats 29 people every 10.7 days.
      It’s easy to see where this governments priorities sit. They would rather a token gesture cellphone rule to appear concerned for lives when theres the 1000 every year staring them in the face.
      But we can’t upset shonkey corporate mates with extra “hassles” now can we.

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.1

        1000 every year. Thats 29 people every 10.7 days.

        20 people per week is the more marketable way of framing the statistics 😛

        • fender

          20 per week makes a better poster for sure.

          I used the 29 to say its a pike river every 10.7 days

  8. randal 8

    the real founding document of new zealand is the world bank report 1968. (watch out for hippies).
    the parameters it uses are exactly the same now as then and the problem is still the same.
    autarchy or rampant capitalism forcing its full effects on a very small society with sometimes devasatating results.
    an optimistic viewpoint is looking for new things to do and I personally believe that it is possible.
    the labour party must and will lead.

  9. Hulun Shearer 9

    I just love the efforts of the far-Left to rehabilitate Helen Kelly. Every time the extremists show her face, they remind the electorate exactly who the Labour Party is. Who Trade Unionists are.

    Keep up the good work. Another anti-Union march this Mayday (of all days!) this year would be superb.

    • RedLogix 9.1

      Well coming from you HS that’s unexpectedly welcome support and praise. Maybe there’s something in this Christmas spirit thing after all.

      Best wishes….

    • lprent 9.2

      Far left? Me (since I was the one who organised the login)? You really are a bit of a moron.

    • fender 9.3

      Hulun Shearer is the name of a troll, banned till next year, in my humble opinion.
      Theres certainly no need for rehabilitation, shes more relevant and vital to society than you could ever be. Sticking up for people and their rights, protecting them from exploitation is work for the finest people on earth.
      Theres nothing extremist about trade unions you clown HS. It’s very likely if you have ever worked at all that you have been the recipient of a condition that has protected YOU from danger or exploitation, and that was put in place with the assistance of a union.
      Any political party that cares about the workers in this country would know that unions are a very strong voice for workers who are often taken advantage of. Labour can only be commended for supporting people who care about others HS, because that shows that they care too. Caring may be a foreign concept to you HS, but to humans (the real kind) thats a part of what makes them tick.

  10. Tarmack54 10

    An unsung Kiwi hero who will only be acknowledged very late in her career, but never by Corporates

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  • More than 1,300 schools to face budget cuts
    The latest Ministry of Education figures reveal thousands of schools will face cuts to funding under National’s new operations grant funding model, says Labour's Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Speculation fever spreads around country
    House prices in Wellington, Hamilton and Tauranga are going off as a result of uncontrolled property speculation spilling over from the Auckland market, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  “Speculators who have been priced out of Auckland are now fanning ...
    3 weeks ago
  • New Zealand lags on aid targets
      The National Government needs to live up to its commitments and allocate 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on development assistance, says Labour’s spokesperson on Pacific Climate Change Su’a William Sio.  “The second State of the Environment Report ...
    3 weeks ago
  • War on drugs needs more troops
    The Minister of Police must urgently address the number of officers investigating illegal drugs if she is serious about making a dent in the meth trade, says Labour’s Police spokesperson Stuart Nash.  “Answers from written questions from the Minister show ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Doctors strike symptom of health cuts
    The notice of strike action issued by the junior doctors today is the result of years of National’s cuts to the health system, says Labour’s Associate Health spokesperson Dr David Clark. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government starves RNZ into selling Auckland asset
    Just weeks after TVNZ opened its refurbished Auckland head office costing more than $60 million, RNZ (Radio New Zealand) has been forced to put its Auckland office on the market to keep itself afloat, says Labour’s Broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government must be more than a bystander on the economy
    Despite what he might think John Key is not a political commentator, but actually a leader in a Government who needs to take responsibility for the conditions that mean a rise in interest rates, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.  “John ...
    3 weeks ago