Zero Harm Takes The Focus Off Risk Management

Zero Harm Takes The Focus Off Risk Management

The OHS Leaders Summit was held recently on the Gold Coast in QLD Australia. At the Summit, various OHS Leaders were asked to present their leadership insights, experiences, thoughts and challenges that the OHS industry is facing.

The causes and outcomes of  The Pike River Tragedy in New Zealand were discussed at length by Hans Buwalda, the Group Manager, Environment, Health & Safety, of Fletcher Building (a New Zealand based building and civil works company). He also discussed how New Zealand organisations’ OHS operations are changing, in an effort to prevent such a tragedy occurring again. See the full report on Hans Buwalda’s presentation here at

He made some very interesting comments, which are not those one would expect from a large building company, most of whom have a huge sunk cost in Zero Harm:

“Most injuries are caused by slips, trip, falls, etcetera. These are not a good indicator of the risk of more serious incidents in which people could be potentially seriously injured or killed. Safety management needs to focus on developing more effective controls for significant hazards. This requires qualified and experienced staff.”

“Zero harm can lead to organisations not placing enough focus on managing significant hazards. If they focus on trying to stop all injuries, then they are not likely to take a risk-based approach. One consequence is a Pike River type outcome; that is, no minor injuries, then suddenly, a very significant incident that leads to serious or fatal injuries.”

Improvements will be reflected in the legislation which will take heed to the real fact that hazards and risks cannot be completely eliminated. OHS leaders in New Zealand need to focus on managing these so that, as far as reasonably practicable, we are preventing people from being seriously or fatally injured.

“Fletcher Building for instance has shifted our focus from reducing injury rates to improving our controls on our significant hazards. We have also improved reporting to the Board and are engaging with the Board on safety risk management.”

See the full report on Hans Buwalda’s presentation here at

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