The damage done by Cyclone Gabrielle has been significant and demonstrates once again how the power of nature far surpasses that of humanity. Our time scale does not compare with that of the planet, where mountain ranges are born and erode, whole continents move and collide, and civilisations can rise and fall with regularity. It is that time scale difference that gives us the illusion of control, and perhaps it takes events like this to remind us that that this is not necessarily the case. That humanity itself is contributing to the frequency of extreme weather events is an irony not lost on many.
Canterbury has lived through all the scenes we are seeing on television and the internet. Loss of life, houses and roads demolished, and livelihoods destroyed. Once again, the short-term response has been an outpouring of community support and resilience, but the medium and long-term problems remain.
The driving force behind the birth of the Safety Charter was a simple premise. No more lives lost. The industry itself recognised the need for significant change for this to occur, and for collaboration, leadership, and active engagement at all levels. The Safety Charter provided a focus point for all organisations involved in the rebuild, and the results speak for themselves. No lives lost, and a significant reduction in accident and injury rates compared to the National averages.
Once again a crisis presents an opportunity for the industry. Despite the Health and Safety at Work Act in 2015, and significant time, money, and energy spent on improving processes and practices, the construction industry remains one of the most dangerous industries to work in. The rates of serious accidents and injuries have remained relatively static over the last five years, and this points to a need for a different approach.
The challenges involved in the cyclone rebuild are significant and many. Unstable land and buildings, contaminated land, a significant amount of critical risk work, an Influx of non-skilled, semi-skilled, and migrant labour, extensive use of sub-contractors and on hire labour, and the mental wellbeing of workers and locals following a disaster.
Perhaps the time is right for Safety Charters to be established in other regions in response to the scope of work now required. Companies would have to sign up to the Safety Charter and demonstrate a commitment to improving their health and safety culture rather than just their compliance. This would have a legacy effect on a large geographical region, and significantly improve the health and safety outcomes for many organisation’s and individuals.
I strongly urge members of the Cyclone Gabrielle Recovery Taskforce to seriously consider this opportunity, and ensure no more lives are lost.
Paul Duggan, General Manager