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Does anyone ask workers “is there anything you do at home that, could improve our safety here?”

You’ve heard the catch-phase, work safe, home safe or something alike. We seem fixated to thinking that our relationship between home and safety is limited to getting home safe from work.

Our narrow understanding of home and safety is often seen in negative terms such or preventing unsafe behaviours (e.g. illegal drug use) and is manifested as punitive and rhetorical remarks aimed at getting workers motivated, “you wouldn’t do that at home would you?” or ” think about your family”.

While we continue to focus our efforts on getting workers to turn on their safety switch at work, we lose sight of the fact that workers behave safe at home and some of those behaviours could be used at work.

A 2017 New Zealand survey of worker and employer health and safety attitudes and behaviours concluded employers and employees have different perceptions about many aspects of workplace safety, and the gap is widening in places.

Starting to reconcile this difference may take as little as a question and tweak of current safety practices. Here’s an example:

In a metal fabrication workshop where workers are predominately Māori and Pacific Islanders, a monthly health and safety meeting is taking place. A discussion results in the leader “asking is there anything you do at home that, could improve our safety at here?”

The normally and quiet unassuming senior machinist outlines his families use of manaakitanga to visitors. Another worker talks about their involvement in a local sports club and how new players are mentored using the tuakana–teina relationship. In both cases, the health and safety of people is seen as obligation that needs to be upheld as a matter reputation.

A review of lost time injuries shows that it’s the younger workers that are being harmed. A discussion reveals that they are only receiving minimal supervision. As a result, a new procedure for new and younger workers is introduced based on a tuakana–teina relationship. Training with quality audits is replaced with mentoring over longer periods of time with set times for feedback and skill checks.

So What?

Engaging with workers about their personal lives can be intrusive. However, this can be balanced if it the discussion is explained and focused on finding ways to improve worker safety.

Author: VK Walker

I am wanting describe a model for indigenous safety culture. As a PhD student I am interested in health and safety research including cultures, diversity and the use of traditional indigenous knowledge to inform modern health and safety practices. I am also a New Zealand Government Health and Safety Inspector.

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