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Health and Safety: Why we must take a constructive approach

Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock says council support is critical to new H&S competency framework.

The lack of a nationally recognised and accepted competency standard is a significant barrier to improving the health and safety of people working in the construction sector. We all know that a construction site is a very dynamic place with a constant flow of people, materials and machinery on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis as the job progresses.

When operated well it is like an expertly conducted orchestra and then there are other days …….*#<@.

We often have people from different trades, with different health and safety systems and training programmes working side by side. There is confusion and frustration about what is required and with the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 we are now seeing a resurgence of scaremongering by the peddlers of training programmes and health and safety management systems.

Industry bodies (including Civil Contractors NZ) are dealing with complaints from members about the need to complete irrelevant training courses, participating in long and involved site inductions which sometimes turn into training courses pitched at the lowest common denominator, and the difficulty of assessing the practical competency of people entering construction sites.

There is a clear need for both contractors and the organisations that engage them (including councils) to have a simple, comprehensive and cost-effective way to set and assess the health and safety competency of people on a construction site.

The Construction Safety Council (CSC) has strong support from industry organisations across a range of trades and is establishing that competency framework and a simple yet robust system to assess people against it.

CSC took a major step forward in October with the appointment of a project manager and part-time communications resource. The new project manager is Wayne Troughton who has been seconded from the NZ Transport Agency and he will provide a resource that can actively implement the CSC’s mission: “To work collaboratively as one industry to make our construction sites safer. To make health and safety an integra part of working on a construction site and to increase productivity by working safely.”

The competency framework is a vital component in achieving the CSC’s mission and the entry level assessment is being trialled on a range of construction sites from residential homes to large-scale civil works.

The framework does not train people. It assesses their practical knowledge – their competency. The framework is very beneficial for trainers because for the first time in New Zealand we will have a clear statement of the competencies required. Trainers will continue to have a critical role developing people’s knowledge and competence to the level established by the industry through the CSC.

We don’t see this as a pass or fail. What it does is tell us who has the required competence and who needs further training. Contractors may, for example, buddy up those that don’t have the required competence with experienced workers that do until people reach the required standard.

Those that reach the standard will receive a CSC card that can be used across the industry. This approach will reduce site induction times by focusing on those risks and hazards that are unique to the site rather than bringing people up to an acceptable competency level. We see this as being universal – something that is supported by all businesses across the whole contracting industry.

We want to make it easier for everyone to ensure that people have the right knowledge and skills to not only look after their own but also their workmates’ health and safety.

This is a great initiative and as we roll out the new framework next year we will need councils to support its use in the construction jobs that you contract.

This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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