Unsafe New Zealand work practices – Quay street, Auckland

I often take photos of worksites in New Zealand, and they tend to carry from poor to appalling. That doesn’t mean to say that there are not better sites out there – those are usually behind purpose built walls and have strict health and safety rules.

This scene, shot on Quay street in Auckland recently, shows just how easy it is to get things very wrong.

It’s a spot the problem photo. See how many hazards you can observe – I’ve listed a few further down, including several fatal risks.

Quay street

While it’s generally easy to spot hazards, the key is to help the people working actually change their behaviour. That means stopping the work, having a conversation with the people involved and asking them what they are doing, what the risks were that they observed and what they were doing to mitigate them. There’s an element of helping them understand that going home to their families and loved ones unharmed is more important than taking shortcuts.
That sort of conversation is very difficult to have when you are a civilian wearing office clothes, or a short term visitor to a site. On the other hand while I have had truncated versions of the chat multiple times in New Zealand, I’ve generally been treated a lot better than I had thought I would be. In Australia on the other hand it’s pretty obvious that crews increasingly expect others to be looking out for them and observing for safe behaviours.

In this particular example I made only two comment, as there were so many at-risk behaviours that the work should really have been stopped and a supervisor called.

The poor PPE (personal protective equipment) compliance from the three workers was the easiest thing to spot.

Their gumboots are likely not appropriate footwear. It’s hard to tell whether they are steel capped or not, but certainly the soles would seems more prone to slipping than proper work boots, and the fit would be less than satisfactory.

The man standing with the shovel has no gloves on, but does have high viz, safety glasses (I think), a hard hat and hearing protection. The short sleeves are a bit problematic in some jobs, and longer ones would give some protection against flying objects. He is observing the work, but is not (and nor was anyone else) observing or controlling the traffic. (I chatted to someone out of picture about this)

The man holding the water bottle does, from memory, have safety glasses on, is wearing gloves and I recall (but am unsure) that he has hearing protection. However given his proximity to the work he should be wearing two layers of eye protection – with a visor being the second layer, and some more protection for the rest of his body. Not only is he the person closest to the work, but he is also the person working closest to the traffic, which passes by inches away from his rear foot. If something happened in the work and he stepped back then he could be fatally wounded by a passing car.

His body position is also poor, his water bottle tool is certainly not out of the playbook and his feet, body and face are dangerously near the blade.

The man operating the cutter is, rather shockingly, not wearing eye protection. (I chatted to someone out of range and asked about it, and they all stopped work briefly to look for PPE). One of his feet is only half supported by the road, and while is is wearing hearing protection, he is not wearing gloves.
Even worse the blade on the grinder/saw is huge – and these large blades, banned at many sites, are liable to break into pieces and spray at high velocity everywhere. That’s a potential serious or fatal risk to both the operator and the water bottle holder. So if the cutter jams on something solid, the blade breaks and fires everywhere then two or three people could not just be hit by blade, but also get run over by passing traffic. All in all it’s an incredibly dangerous work act, and the three men and their colleagues are poorly prepared.

Ultimately we cannot assign blame to the operators, as their employers are the ones that set the standard, and that standard would also reflect the standards imposed by the people for whom they are doing the work. That’s difficult to know, but given that they are working in the street, at least one of the supervising agencies is the Auckland City Council.

At SafePlus we are working to help organisations train their staff to pass compliance tests in a way that goes beyond ticking boxes to genuinely increasing the safety value, and thus reducing harm.

Published by Lance Wiggs


4 replies on “Unsafe New Zealand work practices – Quay street, Auckland”

  1. What gets me is that for over 20 years we have known that focusing on PPE and personal behaviour is the LEAST effective way to reduce accidents/improve safety at work. Since the mid-80’s we have known that s systems based approach which engineers the need for PPE etc out of the work practices themselves is the most effective thing to do. If we want to change this sort of thing, we need to take a systems based approach to the work planning and only use PPE etc where there is not other option. It seems to me that NZ still sees it as the place to start, and that methodology is reflected in our terrible national statistics.


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