Case studies from our Annual Report on asbestos management, our Toroawhi forestry programme, working with women farmers, driving change in the high hazards sector and our Puataunofo programme for Pacific workers.

Asbestos management; planning to prevent harm

"We’re building a support network where WorkSafe can provide leadership but not own the future.”

Robert Birse, WorkSafe Principal Advisor

Too many people die from asbestos-related disease. It is responsible for approximately one third of the estimated 750 deaths each year from work-related ill health. This was a key driver for the WorkSafe team involved in our Asbestos Management Plan (AMP) project. They identified a wide range of businesses, organisations and agencies with a duty to manage asbestos in their property portfolios; including Government agencies like the Ministry of Education (MoE).

MoE has approximately 15,000 buildings in its property portfolio and 2,100 schools spread all over New Zealand. Their representative on the project commented, “we consistently hear from schools – especially small and isolated schools – who find it challenging to identify asbestos and draft asbestos management plans. In particular it is difficult for
schools in isolated places to secure or pay a contractor to complete a survey or prepare an asbestos management plan for them.”

When the AMP project began, there was little consistency in asbestos management. It was also clear that workers in workplaces where asbestos was present needed a voice. Workers were represented by the E tū Union. By working in a tripartite way, the project enabled the development of an AMP template. It allows duty holders to set out where any identified asbestos or asbestos-containing material is present on their properties, and how it will be managed. It supports them to engage with others – including workers and expert advisers – in developing their AMP. Most importantly, it enables them to make plans and seek advice themselves.

The AMP template links to a wide range of supporting materials and advice. It provides a ‘one stop-shop’ and the opportunity to increase consistency in plans; making them easier for everyone to use and understand. This will have a huge benefit in preventing asbestos related harm.

For MoE, ‘the new asbestos management template gives schools an excellent starting point for their asbestos management plans and it assists us to develop guidance with practical solutions to help schools identify and document asbestos on school property.’

Since the work began, the WorkSafe team has been invited to present at meetings and conferences, growing duty
holders’ awareness of asbestos management best practice and how to access expert advice. The team are now preparing for a workshop to bring stakeholders together to gain a common understanding of challenges and opportunities for the future. Principal Advisor, Robert Birse notes, “that we’re building a support network where WorkSafe can provide leadership but not own the future”. The project has put the future in the hands of those best able to make a real difference – duty holders – no matter their size.

Female farmers leading health, safety and wellbeing design

In late 2019, WorkSafe interviewed 22 female farmers to build a picture of some of the challenges faced on farms, and what they thought was causing farmers to be seriously or fatally injured at work. The interviews were the starting points for three group workshops that were held with female farmers from Whangarei, KeriKeri, and Hamilton.

The purpose of the workshops was to bring together influencers on farms, and to support them to co-design safety and wellbeing initiatives to address their identified challenges. The approach is called ‘human centred design’ and includes the people you’re designing for in the process from beginning to end. It’s also one way WorkSafe can approach worker engagement, participation and representation. Both are tools that help us ensure that the harm prevention initiatives we work on, work for the people in the workplaces where we need to drive change.

Rural Women New Zealand and Dairy Women’s Network were key stakeholders throughout the workshopping process that generated hundreds of ideas for improving health and safety on farms. Ideas covered issues such personal protective equipment, training, exploring the value of farms within communities, and managing generational change. One participant said, “I enjoyed the process even though I found it to be a challenging experience. Developing the end user tools was outside of my normal comfort zone but as a group it was great to be a part of”

The ideas from the workshops were themed and funnelled into seven potential initiatives. The idea was that the women could work on these to prototype and then present them at Fieldays. Plans were afoot to bring the female farmers down to Wellington to support this next step, but they were impacted by COVID-19; the world changed, internal travel was restricted and Fieldays were cancelled across the country.

“As well as learning about the health and safety issues on farms from our female farmers’ perspectives, WorkSafe also learned about the new realities that they are facing as a result of the pandemic and COVID-19 lockdown”, Ali Whitton, our design lead reflected. Into the new year, WorkSafe will be looking at how to leverage the lessons learned and continue the programme in a changed environment.

One of the ideas is a ‘one stop-shop’ for farming-specific compliance advice; advice presented in a readable and accessible way, closely aligned with a new project being planned by the Ministry of Primary Industries called ‘Ground Rules’. Some of our female farmers are involved in the Ground Rules project. They will be able to bring a health and safety perspective that means we will gain new value from the work. 

Toroawhi – together we create change

"Toroawhi has given me the opportunity to engage with both East Coast forestry workers and the community full time. I’m aware of the huge lack of worker engagement across the industry and my aim is to unite the industry from worker through to forest owner, leading to safer outcomes.”

Toroawhi Wade Brunt 
Based in Gisborne

Partnering with the Forestry Industry Safety Council (FISC) and forestry workers, a year-long pilot programme to develop two roving health and safety champions in the forestry sector began this year. The programme has been named Toroawhi, meaning together we create change.

The Toroawhi are working to build the capacity of forestry workers to contribute to improving health and safety practices on the forest block. This includes empowering them to better participate in wellness, and health and safety management systems in their workplaces.

Wade reflects that, “Generally forestry workers are quiet and ‘do as they’re told’. I empower workers to speak up on safety matters and be more proactive, and have received a lot of positive feedback around workers beginning to voice their concerns to their managers after my visits”.

Even with the impact of COVID-19 disrupting their work, through February and March, Wade was able to make 15 visits, engaging 128 workers. Toroawhi Richard Stringfellow – in Taupo – covered 3,536km on his 26 visits, engaging with 204 workers.

The need to support forestry workers to engage in health and safety was noted in the 2014 Independent Forest Safety Review (the IFSR) and Government response. The IFSR led to the establishment of FISC and a Worker Engagement, Participation and Representation Technical Action Group (TAG) led by First Union. WorkSafe helped transition the work of the TAG into the Toroawhi project, building on engagement models trialled in the United Kingdom and Australia. Finding the right people for the Toroawhi roles was critical and we participated in designing the selection process. 

WorkSafe Forestry Lead, Grant Duffy, points out that “Workers know what makes work successful and safe on a day-to-day basis, and they play an essential role in reducing work-related ill-health and injuries. If forestry workers’
health and safety capability can be enhanced, and they can be given a voice to advocate for better health and safety outcomes, Toroawhi could be a potential game changer for the forestry sector”.

Toroawhi is expected to benefit WorkSafe’s work in other high-risk sectors. The pilot will run for a year and will be continuously evaluated. The learnings will help shape its future and provide WorkSafe – and all others involved – with an evidence base on what works in New Zealand to support better worker engagement, participation and representation.

Ketan Chandu from our System Strategies team, reflected, “The process from our end has been hugely rewarding and has been a true co-design effort with FISC tapping into the feedback of forestry workers in designing the Toroawhi roles and how they can best support forestry businesses and workers in improving worker engagement”. It shows how together we can really create change.


Using all our levers to drive change in the High Hazards sector

Used together in the right way, our levers of engagement, education and enforcement can be powerful drivers for health and safety change. WorkSafe can target our interventions to make a measurable difference, while holding those who do not meet their obligations to account. This year, this was demonstrated through our work with Lawter (NZ) Limited (Lawter); a chemical plant operator in Mount Maunganui.

Lawter was first designated as a lower tier major hazard facility in 2017. As a result of our initial inspection of their process and plant, a gap analysis report was ordered. Our Inspectors began working with Lawter to improve existing health and safety practice and process.

In December 2019, Lawter suffered a plant failure involving a flammable liquid – something we call a ‘loss of containment event’. This was an event that raised concerns and highlighted why identified improvements were needed.

WorkSafe’s engagement prior to the event had already prompted Lawter to identify $40m of capital and operational health and safety improvements. Even though they were already working with us, WorkSafe still had to decide the best approach to take in response. To help, the Major Hazard Facilities (MHF) team relied on our enforcement decision-making model.

Andrew Hanson, a Specialist Health and Safety Inspector in the MHF team reflected, “At the conclusion of our inquiries and investigative work, and with consideration of previous operator commitments, a decision was made to not prosecute and to instead focus on using WorkSafe’s levers of engagement and education to obtain the best outcome”.

“The WorkSafe High Hazards team is always looking for the best outcome for workers, contractors, other persons and society as a whole, especially when considering the potential for uncontrolled events at major hazard facilities and installations that could expose multiple persons to risks to their health and safety, including a risk of death”, Andrew commented.

The participation of workers in the Lawter response was an important part of the change and improvement process; a tripartite process driven by WorkSafe, Lawter and its staff. Lawter commented that, “we believe Lawter staff are ideally placed to recognise areas in which procedures can be improved, and allowing them to have a voice and be part of the decision making process adds value to their jobs and allows them to play an active role in shaping the future of the company”.

Our decision to work with Lawter, rather than prosecute, does not mean that they got off easily. All of our enforcement measures place obligations on duty holders. WorkSafe used prohibition notices (1), improvement notices (9), written directives (21), and non-disturbance notices (2), and made recommendations (3) to address the root cause of the issues identified at Lawter; in total 36 matters were raised. But, in their own words:

"Focusing on solutions and improvements, rather than facing prosecution, offered us a positive way to move forward and ultimately resulted in a safer environment.”


Lawter is sharing their experience of the incident, and work with WorkSafe with other operators through the MHF forum. This will help the MHF community in New Zealand become more aware of the incident and investigation results, and of how MHF operators can work to ensure they are meeting their own health and safety obligations.


Puataunofo – ensuring pacific workers come home healthy and safe

"We have a programme that has been designed by Pacific people for Pacific people. It’s important that WorkSafe continues to build on that with the expertise we have.”

Hans Key, National Advisor Pacific Responsiveness

The Puataunofo programme is a workplace health and safety education initiative with a Pacific lens. It aims to raise awareness and capability, and encourage greater WEPR in health and safety. This is important as Pacific Peoples frequently work in higher risk roles and are over-represented in workplace injury and fatality statistics.

An evaluation of the pilot programme in 2018 was an important step to WorkSafe formalising the Puataunofo Come Home Safely programme in November 2019. We recognised the contribution it could make; not just for Pacific workers but for others who could benefit from its holistic and inclusive approach.

Born in Samoa, and growing up in South Auckland, our National Advisor – Pacific Responsiveness, Hans Key commented, “Before Puataunofo was formalised it was being run in addition to our business as usual work”. Formalising the programme recognises that it, “includes components that are core to WorkSafe’s strategic goals, and will support workers with greater needs – Pasifika, Māori and other ethnic and migrant workers”.

We’ve heard that workers become more aware, and feel more confident about speaking up about health and safety after they attend our Puataunofo workshops. Hans comments, “because it’s facilitated by myself and Alf Paea as Pasifika People, it helps to bring down the barriers. We have a Pacific lens, and recognise that it’s important to build trust and lay the foundation at the beginning of the presentation so that the workers are more open”. “We have a programme that has been designed by Pacific people for Pacific people. It’s important that WorkSafe continues to build on that with the expertise we have”. This year, we’ve taken that message to heart.

Alongside Puataunofo, our tripartite Pacific Peoples Responsiveness Advisory Group will help inform WorkSafe decisions on how best to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities among Pacific Peoples. It is an exciting opportunity. Chief Inspector, John Howard commented that to address harm in our Pacific communities, “WorkSafe needs to try and both understand the reasons that are causing it and what interventions are best suited to engage with, and influence, Pasifika workers and employers”. The Advisory Group can help and, “WorkSafe will hopefully be successful in both understanding and addressing the problem(s)”.

Advisory Group member Natia Tucker echoed Hans, referencing how using a Pacific cultural lens could add value to WorkSafe’s work with, and for, all workers. “Puataunofo is important because it is Pacific People addressing Pacific issues using Pacific ways. It is a great example of ‘by Pacific for Pacific’ ...which just happens to work for everyone. The Advisory Group is important because it establishes the start of a partnership between WorkSafe and Pacific People”.