The thing I love the most about my national role at WorkSafe is the people I meet and have the honour of working with. The team at the Canterbury Safety Charter is a classic example of that. They have passion, they have determination and they genuinely care about the Canterbury construction community. It’s a real privilege to be on the Board and work with such a great team to support you all.
In my role, both on the Board and at WorkSafe, I am frequently asked what WorkSafe sees when our Inspectors are out and about. People want to know the common problems and they want to be able to look at those issues within their own organisations. I’m not an Inspector, but I touched base with the Canterbury inspectorate team to find out what they’re seeing in Canterbury right now.
There are three areas where we are seeing significant safety risks or harm in Canterbury and these are resulting in multiple prohibition notices and sustained compliance letters:
- Dusts and noise.
Incorrect use of ladders is a serious problem. While ladders are an important work tool, they are also high risk because they cause a significant amount of harm to workers when not used correctly – sadly a recent fatality is evidence of this.
So what types of incorrect use do we see? Recently staff attended six sites in a row and on every site, workers were observed standing above the step which was marked with ‘do not stand above this step’. Other issues are workers straddling the ladder, more than one worker on a ladder and ladders not being secured, particularly when fully extended. If you’re using a ladder for a long period of time, you should consider whether mobile scaffold is a better option for worker safety.
Scaffold is another hot topic and not because the scaffold company haven’t done their job properly (which is what people regularly tell me is the reason). It is far too common to come across scaffolding that has a ‘Scaffold unsafe’ tag because it is still under construction, and find it in use by the building company or their specialist tradies; that is just not ok! It’s also common to find the scaffold has been altered after the scaffold company has tagged it as safe. Common alterations are the removal of kick boards, guard rails and self-closing gates being wedged open.
Dust and noise, while an expected and common feature in construction work, are a high risk area. It’s not high risk because of the risk of an incident, but because of the slow and insidious nature of the harm it causes to workers and the difficulty in establishing where the harm was caused. Because it’s not immediately obvious in the way that, say, a fall from height is, it’s really important that health monitoring is undertaken on workers and in fact there is a requirement for you to do so. You should be monitoring the health of your workers and ensuring that you understand the degree of risk they are exposed to in their work. How can you mitigate a risk unless you understand their exposure to it and how can you support your staff if you don’t understand the impact it may be having on them?
We know there is significant stress in the community at the moment because of the recent lockdowns and the financial impacts of COVID-19 on revenue and future work. We’re seeing this daily at the moment with notably more emotion pouring out of people when we are undertaking worksite assessments. We recognise that and you should too. This is a time to be extra vigilant about managing behaviour on work sites; not cutting corners to meet deadlines; recognising that we all respond to stress in different ways; and managing your client’s expectations. COVID-19 is not an excuse for uncaring, even dangerous, behaviour. This is a time to be looking out for each other and pulling together to get through and ensure you all go home healthy and safe each day. Canterbury’s resilience has been tested over the past 10 years – use the experience to lead the way in looking after each other.
Kia Kaha Canterbury!
Suzanne Watt, Charter Board Member
The WorkSafe Website has a number of useful and practical resources available