In March 2020, the sinking of a grossly overladen fishing boat, Victory II resulted in fines against the Wellington fishing company ‘Nino’s Limited’; its sole director, and the vessel's master. A total fine of $449,500 and the company being ordered to pay $64,800 in reparation. This is an important case in New Zealand history as it is the first example of a director being fined under their due diligence duty. Antonio Basile was fined $47,000, the vessel's master, Shane McCauley was fined $17,500.
This then is a good time to revisit a director's obligations when it comes to conducting a health and safety walkthrough as part of due diligence.
This article focuses on undertaking a safety walkthrough of a premises or site. One of the aims of the walkthrough is to send the right message to your workers. However, a risk exists of doing it poorly and sending entirely the wrong message. It is unwise to underestimate your workers' ability to sense insincerity or a lack of understanding. This can be particularly an issue for senior managers or directors - Those who hold positions largely based on the professional background – financial or legal, but do not have a good working knowledge of the operation.
Having had years of experience in advising and auditing health and safety walkthroughs, we have devised the following top 10 tips for getting the greatest benefit from a walk-through:
Top ten tips for a successful health and safety walkthrough:
1.Know why you're doing it – Have clearly in your mind what you're there to do and don’t get side-tracked onto other matters. This is a common avoidance trick.
2.Say when you don't understand something and ask them to explain it. Don’t ever try to fake knowledge – you'll get caught out. Your team will love the opportunity to enlighten you with their knowledge too.
3.Be a good listener – pay attention – this is important.
4.If you need to - do some research – If you don't know what to say, before you start, ask whoever is escorting you what the issues are, find out what work is being undertaken and any recent health and safety problems.
5.Don't be the ‘Safety Police’ – The aim is for you to understand and talk to workers, not to be an enforcement agent. You may catch a few workers out, but you will miss so much more if this is your only focus.
6.Don't rush it
- Make enough time – Whirlwind tours just don't work.
- Don’t plan to do too much – If your time is limited do less well, not more poorly.
7.Don't get tied down to a form or checklist – A health and safety walkthrough can get hijacked by a form and end up being a tick box exercise. Get caught up in ticking those boxes and you'll likely miss some important elements that the form hasn't covered.
8.Ask the hard questions - Don't get fobbed off by superficial answers – go digging
- Look for root causes – Find out the background reasons behind issues.
- 5 whys – sometimes you need to say “but why” 5 times before you get the whole story.
9.Explain why health and safety is important to you – Explain to your team before you start why the health and safety walkthrough is so important and it will make the exercise much stronger!
10.Encourage good behaviours – Positive reinforcement will encourage the team to continue with the good behaviours you’re trying to implement. Even just saying ‘well done’ and ‘that's great’ can boost morale and positive behaviours.