Managing Risk in the Workplace

Author: fatweb

Health & Safety legislation has undergone a significant change with the passing of the Health & Safety at Work Act (HaSWA) and subsequent regulations made under that Act.

The Health and Safety at Work Act changed the focus from compliance by managing hazards to managing Risk.

Despite our best efforts, fatalities and serious injuries continue to occur, even among organizations with “industry best practice” safety management systems.

We have to improve our record and the development of a risk-based approach to OSH is the way to improve and in so doing gain legislative compliance under HaSWA. There is an old saying that insanity is doing the same doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

A lack of injuries does not automatically translate to a first-class safety culture and doesn’t necessarily mean the workforce is safe (they may just be lucky).

The company’s safety strategy must be aligned with and support the business strategies, and be achieved by continuously doing things better and capturing and delivering real value.

There is an increased emphasis on having good safety management programs, in place when tendering for contracts and this requirement will only continue to grow and develop with the due diligence requirements for directors under the new legislation.

The Health and Safety at Work (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016 came into force in February of 2016 and these regulations cover the following:

Part 1 General duties:

  • Risk management process to be followed by PCBU in specified circumstances;
  • General workplace facilities;
  • First aid;
  • Emergency plans;
  • Personal protective equipment;

Part 2 Management of particular risks:

  • Remote or isolated work;
  • Atmospheres with potential for fire or explosion;
  • Raised and falling objects;
  • Containers of liquids;
  • Loose but enclosed materials;
  • Substances hazardous to health;

Part 3 Duties relating to exposure monitoring and health monitoring:

  • Exposure monitoring;
  • Health monitoring;

Part 4 Young persons at workplace:

These regulations describe the duties and responsibilities for PCBU’s, Officers and Other persons in relation to the above headings.

It is estimated that there are approximately 600 to 900 deaths each year from workplace exposures over and above the Worksafe accident statistics currently reported.

Construction is one of New Zealand’s biggest industries with almost 200,000 workers – but it’s also one of the four sectors with the worst worker injury rates.

Worker fatalities are more than double the average for all other sectors.

The cost of workplace injuries is huge – ACC pays more than $100 million dollars per year in the construction sector. And that doesn’t include the cost to businesses in terms of lost productivity.

Construction workers can risk exposure on a daily basis to potential harmful dusts, fumes and asbestos that may lead to serious ill-health or even an early death.

Figures on the Worksafe New Zealand website show that since 2008, an average of 10 workers died on construction sites per year; there were 14,000 serious injuries with more than a week off work; airborne substances have caused 185 deaths and 731 hospitalisations; and there were 3,055 falls from height requiring an average of 236 days off.

Worksafe released their ten-year strategic plan (‘Healthy Work’) for work-related health in August 2016 which outlines their vision for a New Zealand in which everyone who goes to work comes home not just safe, but healthy too.

The management of work-related health risks remains unacceptable. Ten times more people die each year from work-related diseases than work-related safety incidents, and thousands of workers experience ill-health because of their work. Recent reports have highlighted the need for more focus on work-related health and this strategic plan outlines the approach they will take to support and enable this.

This strategic plan reflects the emphasis of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 on more proactive leadership and management of work-related health risks.

Worksafe New Zealand already has significant activity underway in relation to work related health but despite this, they recognise that there remains a need for significant change in how work-related health risks are addressed, and this strategic plan is an important step in that change. They are confident that this plan, and the activities described within it, will enable them to achieve the aim of a future in which healthy work is the norm.

Extracts from the Strategic Plan:


Too many people in New Zealand die or suffer from work-related ill-health and diseases, indicating that work-related health and health-related safety risks need to be managed better. The latest estimates4 are that 600 to 900 people in New Zealand die each year from diseases caused by health risks associated with their work, a figure which has not changed significantly since 19996. In addition, it’s estimated that a further 30,000 workers develop non-fatal work-related ill-health each year, such as noise-induced hearing loss or non-fatal lung diseases. This figure is likely to be an underestimate as much of the work-related harm that occurs is not reported or is not correctly linked back to a person’s work.


Unlike harm from most acute safety incidents, the harm from work-related health risks generally depends on the level of exposure a person has to a hazard (the dose). Understanding exposure levels to various risks is therefore an important measure of potential future ill-health and disease. Reducing exposures to health hazards is the ultimate aim for improved management of work-related health risk.

The level of exposure to various health risks across all types of work remains unacceptably high. Work-related health hazards with high exposure levels include solvents, dust, noise and fumes.

There is a strong case for improving the way that work-related health risks are managed.

Morally, it is unacceptable that several hundred people die each year from largely preventable risks at work. The same is true for the thousands of workers who develop non-fatal work-related ill-health.

Socially, the impact of work-related ill-health includes not only the societal costs of caring for those with poor health caused by their work, but also the impact on families, whānau and communities.

Economically, international evidence shows that addressing preventable health conditions in workers is good for business. Workers who maintain good levels of health are at work more often, report higher levels of productivity, and are more likely to feel engaged with their employer.

We are confident that improved management of work-related health risks would bring multiple benefits to New Zealand.

Our approach to enabling change must be built on strong guiding principles that can be applied across all of our programmes and activities over the coming ten years.

Worksafe’s guiding principles:

  • We will develop evidence-based interventions through research and intelligence-led analysis.
  • We will take a high-engagement approach with social partners, key stakeholders, workplaces, agencies and communities.
  • We will use our levers of educate, engage and enforce transparently and proportionately.
  • We will proactively consider the perspectives of those we are aiming to support.
  • We will recognise and focus on groups who are vulnerable to work-related health risks, including Māori and other ethnic groups.


We recognise that, to achieve our long-term vision, those who create and interact with work-related health and health-related safety risks are the best placed to identify and manage them effectively. They therefore need to take greater ownership for managing and controlling them. This will require PCBUs and officers to demonstrate sustained, focused and effective leadership on work-related health matters. Workers and HSRs must be empowered to participate in risk management and raise concerns about potential risks.

Similarly, we recognise that social partners and key stakeholders will play an important part in influencing how risks are managed. These include trade unions, business representatives, Government agencies, health professionals and those who design, manufacture, produce or import substances, plant and equipment. The activities within this theme will enable us to influence the Industry leadership necessary for lasting change in how work-related health is addressed.


As the primary regulator for health and safety, we recognise that while we are not directly responsible for how risks are managed, we have an important leadership role to play in the work-related health system. We also recognise the need to continuously improve our approach to work-related health if we are to achieve our long-term vision. Our levers of education, engagement and enforcement are how we develop wider change in the health and safety system; these must be continuously improved to reflect the importance of work-related health. The activities in this strategic theme will enable us to become a continuously improving regulator in the area of work-related health.


If we are to achieve the significant change needed in overall work-related health performance we need to target our efforts on prioritised risks. We will implement a series of multi-year intervention programmes to address these prioritised risks over the course of this strategic plan. Over time, the cumulative effect of these targeted programmes will be a step change in the overall work-related health capability and performance across the wider health and safety system.”

Learning about humans and risk

Human failures can make people lose control over hazards. To prevent or reduce the chance of such failures, you have to know what the failures are and what causes them. These failures form a ‘chain’ that leads from people in the company who made decisions long before an incident or accident to the person who seems to be immediately responsible. You need to understand this chain and be able to move logically forwards along it – to do risk assessments; and backwards – to do accident investigations.

Basic Types of Human Failures

There are four basic types of human failure. It is important to know that there are different types of failures, because there are slightly different ways of preventing each type.


A simple frequently performed physical action goes wrong. You reach for ‘button A’ (which is the ‘raise’ control for a hoist) but push ‘button B’ (the ‘lower’ control) instead. On the control pad, Button B is below Button A. Another type of ‘slip’ is reading the wrong instrument. Again, if gauges are too close to each other, there is a risk of reading the wrong one.


A lapse of attention or memory. At Step 9 in your 25-step start-up procedure the phone rings and you answer. Afterwards you go back to the task, forgetting where you were in the sequence. You miss out steps 10 and 11 and go straight to step 12. However, steps 10 and 11 are important safety precautions.


Not understanding properly how something works or an error of diagnosis or planning. Your plant starts to behave oddly. You try to work out why it’s doing this and how to get the plant back to normal. You don’t have exactly the right information or experience. Therefore, your diagnosis, and recovery plan, can be wrong. You think that you are making the right decision, but your ‘solution’ only makes the problem worse.


A deliberate breach of rules and procedures; you are fitting a new part and have been given the wrong part. It’s almost the same specification as the one you want. It would take too long to get the right one so you fit the one you have and test it. It works OK. After a few weeks of operation, it fails because it is not designed for that operation.

Risk management and incident/accident investigation checklist

The list below outlines how good companies approach risk management and incident/accident investigation.

On our site we:

  • Have a thorough risk management process and use experienced risk assessors either from within the company or brought in from outside the company to do the assessment.
  • Have identified all hazards and risks in every job we do (including normal operational,
  • Maintenance and emergency tasks and supervision/management tasks)

And using these resources we…

  • Know which parts of every job are ‘safety critical’ (where an error could reduce our control over hazards)
  • Know fairly accurately how likely it is that a task could go wrong and cause an accident
  • Are confident that we have put in effective barriers that reduce the risk of a hazard causing harm to a level that is as low as is reasonably practicable

We also:

  • Thoroughly and systematically investigate all accidents and near-misses
  • Can clearly identify the causes of accidents and incidents we investigate
  • Have good system to allow personnel to report incidents and accidents
  • Always act on information put into the system……
  • … feedback information to personnel about reports put into the system
  • ….provide solutions following an incident or accident that everyone accepts and that are effective in addressing immediate and underlying causes of the incident or accident
  • Have highly competent incident/accident investigators with extensive procedures and checklists to help them
  • Use information from the system to update our risk assessments

Non-Compliance or ‘Violations’

Even the best employees can make an error and inadvertently fail to follow a procedure. Sometimes, people deliberately choose to ignore a procedure. This is known as a ‘violation’.

Violations are defined as any deliberate deviations from the rules, procedures, instructions and regulations drawn up for the safe or efficient operation and maintenance of plant or equipment. They are important, as they have been found to be linked with between 70% and 90% of incidents and accidents.

Your Health and Safety management System (H&SMS) should describe how you develop, review/revise and publicise your procedures. This will include any permit to work systems or any other systems you have for protecting health, safety and the environment.

All sites should have a ‘process for managing procedures.’ This should include processes to work out which tasks need procedures, how detailed the procedures need to be, how to keep procedures up-to-date and to make sure personnel comply with procedures.

Process for Developing and Maintaining Procedures

Use ‘task analysis’ to help you fully understand how the job should be done. Task analysis can be used when you devise a new task or to analyse an existing task.

Base the task analysis on how the job is actually done (or could realistically be done if it’s a new task), not on how managers feel it should be done

Identify hazards that could arise in the task: hazards that the person doing the job could cause as well as hazards that they could be exposed to

Decide if a procedure is the best way of controlling the hazard, if it is, write the procedure

Write Procedures

Involve the people who will do the job in the first steps and in writing the procedures because:

  • They will have a realistic view of what is possible in the job
  • They can advise on the amount of detail needed in a procedure and on its wording and style
  • They can advise on how and why people might break with procedure (not use it, make a genuine mistake or do the job a different way)
  • Involving the people who do the work in the early stages of developing procedures will encourage them to use it because it is their product not a management-imposed tool.

Use Procedures

  • Train people in procedures: use the training to make them familiar with the content of the procedure but also to test the procedure itself – it may contain errors or may not be practical
  • Make sure procedures are suitable for contractors who, for example, may not be familiar with local terminology or work practices and may have come from a different working culture

Manage Procedures

  • Keep checking that procedures are being used properly (e.g. if there are steps that need to be ‘ticked off’, make sure this is done when the step is completed not in bulk when a number of steps are complete).
  • Get feedback from operators on any problems – make sure there’s a system for reporting problems
  • Deal with the problems as quickly as possible
  • If people are not using procedures, find out why. They may have discovered a better method of doing the work; on the other hand, their new method may be risky. Make sure there is a system for considering new methods.
  • Plan for any changes in the task (changes in equipment or materials used or changes in methods) – start to change the procedures well before they are needed and issue them for training or familiarisation before they are first used.

Andy Loader
First Rock Consultancy Ltd

Ph/Fax: 09 279 9392
Cell: 021 379 297
PO Box 200173
Papatoetoe Central, Auckland 2156



38 Lowe St, Addington, Christchurch 8011 PO Box 1879, Christchurch 8140 Ph: 03 961 5050


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