All on the line: Keeping workers safe

Ensuring that policies and protocols are in place and communicated with all team members is key to safety on site, says industry experts.

“A good, strong, robust drug and alcohol testing regime starts with a strongly worded and robust policy,” says Glenn Dobson, chief operating officer at The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA).

This policy being the founding document the sets out for both the employer and the employee, the type of testing there will be, and the processes that will be followed.

“And that needs to have a purpose – it needs to be reviewed, and you’ve got to make sure it is fit for purpose.”

Dobson says that this information also needs to be communicated as “staff need to be aware of the content of it and how it works, because the more the staff understand it the better it is for safety”.

TDDA has been around for almost 17 years, with national coverage in both Australia and New Zealand.

On-site drug use

The increase of prescription ‘use and abuse’ is a global trend that companies need to be aware of, says Dobson.

“Also, the increasing strength of cannabis. There was a cannabis referendum recently and one thing that didn’t come up particularly well was the increase around the strength and potency of cannabis over the years.

“We are not talking about the drug that our parents and our grandparents smoked a long time ago – it is a very potent drug now.”

In fact, research suggests that the drug today is over 300% stronger than 25 years ago.

Dobson says that an interesting study on the impacts of cannabis in the workplace is the Yesavage study.

In the study, pilots flew in an aircraft simulator just before smoking.

“Those same pilots came back 24 hours later, they hadn’t taken any more substances, they admitted they no longer felt any effects of the high,” says Dobson.

Seven out of nine pilots showed some degree of impairment 24 hours after smoking a social dose of cannabis, but only one reported any awareness of the drug’s effects.

“They still made what could have been fatal errors in the flight simulation when they tried to repeat it,” says Dobson, showing that the drug has carry-over effects, even one day after smoking.

This is one reason why TDDA says it is so important to perform drug and alcohol testing in the workplace, and to have a clear policy around it.

“We take a lot of pride and put a lot of effort into research and development and ensuring that we’ve got expertise in the area of workplace drug testing.”

Following protocol

Mark Jackson, general manager at Jackson Industries, agrees with Dobson that policies around safety should be set out clearly.

Established just over 44 years ago, Jackson says that Jackson Industries has seen safety in construction come a long way since the company started operating.

“There weren’t rules in place as stringent as they are now 40 years ago, and I think with the development of safety standards for construction sites, they have developed a really good basis for the rules to come from,” he says.

Jackson sits on the Australian/New Zealand Standard for ‘Electrical installations – Construction and demolition sites’ (AS/NZS 3012:20190) adding input where he can, along with “representatives from every walk of the industry with their best interests at heart”.

He says that one of the challenges currently facing the industry is getting the latest standards adapted, or sighted, as quickly as they could be.

“It’s making sure that everyone is reading from the same set of rules. Obviously you can go and buy anything from online or wherever, but you’ve got to make sure it is actually fit for purpose under the rules for construction and demolition.”

At Jackson Industries, products are of course manufactured “in accordance with and often exceeding” the safety standards.

“We use a lot of feedback from the industry on how they’re using them and the best way that they need to be able to use them within the rules and helping them achieve this,” says Jackson.

Technology a helping hand

With today’s reliance on technology, it is no surprise that it is also being used to keep workers safe.

Take SiteSoft for example, creating an ecosystem around the communication of risks and hazards, making it a lot easier for large companies or projects to communicate with their workforce.

Since purchasing the company from an Australian enterprise, the SiteSoft team has been working over the last four years to rewrite the code of its app, SiteConnect, to make it possible to scale and adapt to the New Zealand environment.

“The key difference in SiteConnect is we make our product available to all users,” says Nicholas Yates, director at SiteSoft.

“We don’t charge by users; we charge by sites. We think it’s essential that it doesn’t matter if you’re offering professional services or contracting services, or you’re an employee, everyone who is around the workplace needs to be on the same ecosystem. And that’s what we’re enabling.”

The Auckland-based company now has some 25,000 contracted users of SiteConnect across the country.

Yates says that this is important – for each user to have access, rather than just each site. This is because there is no differentiation between high risk and low risk.

“Any risk needs to be communicated in the workplace.”

TDDA, in partnership with Health Tick, has also recently launched software to help companies keep on top of data – ultimately keeping team members safe with less room for error.

Built to streamline and increase the efficiency of TDDA’s business, the Imperans software allows the move from time-consuming manual data entry, collection and reporting to a more productive, digital way of working.

It also allows users to access data log reporting, meaning they can start doing trend analysis.

“They can be proactive around being able to potentially predict their risk matrix around the workplace, again making it safer for them,” says Dobson.

“It is an exciting new leaf for us in relation to taking it into an electronic field, to have the workplace drug testing being more efficient.”

Everyday safety

Simplifying things is also important when it comes to the selection of the required safety wear, says NZ Safety Blackwoods’ national merchandise manager Kelly Geddes.

“We do a lot internally to ensure that our staff people and customer care team know the right product to offer depending on the hazard,” says Geddes.

The company also uses systems such as colour coding of different types of safety gear, such as PPE, to help customers “pick the right one depending on their hazard”.

“As a business, we take being a safety expert really seriously, and our key focus for the last 18 months has been simplifying it for the customer and taking the technical part out of it because they can’t be experts,” says Geddes.

“They don’t know specifically what they need, so that’s what we try to do every day.

“I challenge my category team and marketing team to simplify it and think of it from the customer side. How do we easily help them pick the right product so they can get back to doing what they are experts at themselves?”