New Zealand is an innovative country when it comes to health and safety – with Daniel Hummerdal

Daniel Hummerdal is WorkSafe New Zealand’s Chief Advisor Health and Safety Innovation. He has vast experience in the development of new approaches to improving health and safety performance in a work environment. We caught up with him to find out more on new approaches helping improve health and safety in the workplace.

Daniel Hummerdal 

Daniel, what's involved in your role at Worksafe? 

I head up the six-person innovation team which works with businesses around New Zealand to trial or validate new practices around the delivery of better health and safety outcomes. Based on those trials, our job is to leverage those learnings for the benefit of the entire system. 

Does your team develop new ideas, or do they come from overseas experience? 

It's a little bit of both. Some of the innovations have come from ideas that we've seen or heard about in Australia, the UK or the US. Some of those ideas have been modified and trialled here to see how they play out in a New Zealand context. However, much of what we do is more ground-up ideations, where we look at what's going on inside an organisation, then identify pinch points where improvement opportunities exist.  

How innovative is Aotearoa in the health and safety space? 

I've found New Zealand to be quite an innovative country with a readiness to embrace innovation in a way that allows us to create a better future.  

In Australia and the UK, there is a much greater belief in standardisation and component control as a way of enabling health and safety outcomes. 

The drive for health and safety innovation in New Zealand is alive, but the emphasis is different here than in Australia and the UK.  

Where's the emphasis in New Zealand? 
 New Zealand businesses want to create their own future and don't want to copy and paste what others are doing. They don't necessarily want to go down the same pathway as Australia and follow in their footsteps. Many businesses feel that we have an opportunity to do something more unique and context-specific to New Zealand. 

Are the new ideas a quantum leap or a gradual progression in workplace safety?  

I would argue that we play across the spectrum by reshaping traditional practices to obtain better value from them. We're also creating new, potentially more disruptive, game-changing ways of going about things, including the development of ideas that haven't been seen anywhere before.   

How's new technology improving workplace safety? 

I think technology is a driver in its own rightIt's advancing so quickly that you have to be continually looking at what's being developed in terms of wearables, computers and smartphones so that you can generate ideas based on that emerging technology.  

There's a risk from using technology as a driver that you can quickly settle on a solution rather than trying to develop something based on what people are telling you or considering the processes that are already available. Technology has become a brilliant tool for measuring things in a way that we couldn't have imagined five or ten years ago. Most people carry a smartphone with them now or wear a smartwatch, and that enables us to gather an enormous amount of data around fatigue and movement patterns. It has resulted in a greater understanding of the stresses and strains that people experience and how that waxes and wanes over a day, week or month of work.  

Are drones or is CCTV being used to monitor workplaces, or is that seen as too intrusive? 

There is definitely a privacy aspect to those types of technology. Some logistics companies have installed equipment that monitors eye movement and facial expressions which helps identify driver fatigue. This technology can also identify when a driver is becoming distracted or having micro naps that they may not even be aware of. The information can trigger a discussion between the driver and employer. 

How important is communication to health and safety in the workplace? 

Communication has always been critical to health and safety in terms of incident reporting and learning, but there's a growing awareness that we aren't enabling learning from the available data. Much of our work involves connecting different groups in the workplace so that they are better calibrated. It consists of identifying the difficulties that people are facing in the workplace and then making more calibrated investments and decisions to support the workers. Significant improvements to workplace practices can often be made by merely opening up communication channels or changing the social infrastructure around who gets to comment about what's going on.  

Do companies see new ideas as a positive step to creating a safer workplace or just another layer of cost? 

Some consider they're already doing enough around safety, but in general, I find that people recognise that just having a compliance approach is not good enough. Doing things purely to ensure the regulator, client, or auditor is happy is a very costly approach to health and safety. Businesses need to invest in practices which will ensure that the company derives the best value from their health and safety initiatives. There's no point in doing something that just ticks the box. The question is not "should we do away with it" but how can we imbue this practice which ensures value for the people who use it, and also for the business and the end-users. 

How well are we doing in terms of health and safety compared with Australia and the UK? 

I was asked this question many times when I first arrived, and while I have a better picture of our workplace safety now, I still find it quite challenging to compare our health and safety with my overseas experience. Rather than comparing health and safety outcomes between different countries, I think it's more meaningful to consider how safe we are in New Zealand. I worked in various high-risk industries in Australia for eight years before moving here about two years ago. In Australia, many industries are heavily involved in the compliance paradigm, which includes a massive amount of bureaucracy and standardisation. I haven't seen the same level of investment in New Zealand. The legislation is a bit younger in New Zealand than it is in Australia, and there is a vast difference in the scale of organisations. There are many giant companies across the Tasman, and that allows them to operate on a very different resourcing model.  

What do you see as the future of health and safety? 

We need to consider what kind of community we want to build inside our businesses, the environment that we want to activate and what sort of New Zealand we want to contribute to. I hope that we will move towards the creation of a community where all people can contribute in the workplace, and it doesn't become a case of turn off your head and do as you're told. We must work towards being able to speak up and have a meaningful dialogue about what needs to be done differently. We need to open communication channels where we can candidly discuss the development of new, healthy and safe ways of doing things that drives success for both businesses and people.

Next steps 

Hear Daniel speak on innovation in health and safety at his event Innovation in Health and Safety, 28 October, 5.30pm - 7.30pm, BNZ Partner Centre Level 10, Ricoh House 1 Victoria Street, Wellington. Find out more and register