NZBusiness, 19 June 2018
Nicole Rosie, the chief executive at WorkSafe New Zealand, is a woman on a mission. She wants to ensure that New Zealand’s leaders embrace the idea that leading in the health and safety sphere is about genuinely caring for your people, both mind and body, and about operational excellence. It’s also about understanding your key risks and the key controls to manage that risk.
The absolute importance of the role that health and safety plays in our workplaces was tragically underlined when Management interviewed the chief executive at WorkSafe, New Zealand, Nicole Rosie. As we wound up the interview, Rosie turned on her phone to see a mandatory notification of a workplace death that had just occurred. She is notified of all workplace deaths immediately and it’s hard to imagine how difficult it would be to get 50 to 60 of those notifications each year.
But, says Rosie, who has an extensive background in health and safety and change management, New Zealand is poised for real changes in its health and safety culture. “I am the change person, there has to be a big vision. New Zealand is poised for change on how to create the country we want and the way we want to be doing things.”
She says Pike River may have been the catalyst for change but at the present point in time we have leaders in New Zealand who really do care.
“Once we had the new legislation in place you start to understand how poor we were at health and safety in relation to other countries.”
And there is a big part of New Zealand that thinks, “that is not us… we are a country that looks after people.”
As she sees it there is a groundswell of opinion among leaders for change. She says leading in health and safety is about caring for people and ensuring operational excellence. The sentiment has moved from being captured by a compliance mentality and a systems checklist and where the board spends perhaps an hour discussing health and safety.
If you are not improving the risks in the business and are not supporting, engaging and caring for your people, then you are not doing health and safety, she says.
The message also needs to get out to the service sector too, such as accountants, management consultants, who may not appreciate that the number one cause of death in the workplace is vehicle accidents and those in the services sector are in workplace vehicles frequently.
While accidental deaths might attract the headlines, WorkSafe is also heavily focused on the 600 to 900 deaths each year from work-related health issues. There is no one cause, she says, it might be asbestos or concrete dust, but hairdressers and cleaners are also exposed to a lot of chemicals. In turn, shift work and long hours of work can lead to a higher incidence of cancer.
There is also a focus on mental health in the workplace. Suicide is one of the key causes of workplace death as evidenced by tragedies in the agriculture sector in recent years.
Rosie says psychosocial harm, in all its forms, is without doubt an emerging area in workplace health and there is growing awareness around it. The pace of change in any workplace is creating more psychosocial illness. Work is more flexible and the separation between home and work is blurred. In the early 1900s workers slept an average of 9.5 hours. Today it is 6.5 hours and if you are fatigued you cope less well with stress that may come from being bullied or harassed or working long hours or being in an environment you find controlling.
She sees this as a very challenging area and WorkSafe’s agenda is to build a strategy around this type of wellness as there needs to be in-depth assessment on how to approach it and how to work with other agencies involved.
Another area WorkSafe is addressing is the long tail of the supply chain. Those at the top of the chain, need to be thinking about those at the end of the chain, who are perhaps paid the least but their health and safety is also the responsibility of the whole supply chain.
It may be that a contractor isn’t earning enough to make the capital investment he or she needs for their own safety.
This means New Zealand needs to ensure those at the bottom of the supply chain are economically viable. It could mean that industry leadership may see the answer as trying to support some of these businesses to invest in their own safety.
Look at your critical risks first – the things that can kill or seriously harm someone. Vehicles and machinery are two examples of critical risks.
If you are obsessed about staff wearing high vis vests but have 50 people on the road in old vehicles, on 14-hour shifts, you need to understand the key risk and the key controls. It’s always going to come back to some sort of engineering controls for critical risks, she says.
A showcase of health and safety
WorkSafe has just released the first in a series of webinars with CEO Nicole Rosie in discussion with prominent CEOs in New Zealand on what health and safety in the workplace means to them.
Rosie told Management the purpose of these webinars is to help leaders realise that health and safety is mainstream and should be as much a part of any business discussion as financial risk or commodity risk might be, because leaders need to have that same currency on health and safety practice.
The second purpose is to get people to understand that health and safety is not an extra and to showcase CEOs who put health and safety at the centre of everything they do.
She says the webinars highlight that health and safety is about people who are highly engaged with their team, because they care, and only high engagement can build trust, but first you must care for people. It’s about understanding the challenges they face and working with them.
The first webinar features NZTE chief executive Peter Chrisp and the second will feature Auckland lawyer and the founder and chair of New Zealand Asian Leaders and of the Superdiversity Centre, Mai Chen.
Mind and body matters
WorkSafe CEO Nicole Rosie seems to have been preparing herself for this role her whole working life.
She’s a former tennis champion, a Fulbright Scholar who passed law with first class honours at Otago, then went on to complete a Masters of Public Health at Harvard and she is a mother of four children under 12.
Add into this mix a woman who is living with chronic pain from a neck injury sustained from sport, who was told that she may end up being disabled for life, and you begin to get a sense of the type of determination that drives her.
Time spent in an Auckland pain clinic helped cement her interest in the connection between law, medicine and health and in an employee as a whole person. It also provided a reality check on how poor the system can be for people who have a disability.
She says while the system does its best, it is hard for those in chronic pain to see the wood for the trees, they are often suffering from little sleep and they need people around them who help them see what they do have and what they can do, rather than what their limitations might be.
She believes chronic pain is a mindset and, while many people have some form of challenge they live with, it is how you choose to treat it that matters. In some ways her condition has been an asset to her. “It meant I slowed down,” and she says it has ended up being beneficial and a gift to her. “I know that now.”
She is also a believer in humans not being a body separated from a mind but that they need to be treated as a whole person. The mind can affect the body as evidenced by back pain in some people where there are no symptoms, but the pain is still very real. The back may have ‘gone out’ as the person was dealing with problems at home and a controlling boss and then they strained their back, but it is all interlinked.
Her background also includes a stint at ACC dealing with people with very complex files and helping to establish the ACC self-insurance programme for Fletcher Challenge Forests. She also had responsibility for leading the health and safety functions on the Waipa Sawmill site, which had the worst health and safety performance in Fletcher Forests at the time, and the best performance a year and a half later.
More recently she led health and safety for Fonterra, with a team of 120 health and safety professionals in 51 countries. She took the role with Fonterra when she was nine months pregnant with her fourth child and has only praise for the progressive leadership there which employed a mother of three about to give birth.