lies are like huge, gaudy vessels, the rafters of which are rotten and worm-eaten, and those who embark in them are fated to be shipwrecked.” – Siddhartha Gautama

A recent case brought before a District Court sentencing Judge highlighted the significant role that leadership plays in building a safe workplace culture. In this case, brothers Steven and William Sullivan were both jailed, one for making a false statement, the other for perverting the course of justice.

The workplace safety incident leading to the arrests was deemed avoidable – and sadly left an employee of the Aimex Nelson Marine & Industrial Engineering company with a devastating brain injury. Victim Brooke Palmer was exposed to toxic fumes from the same brake fluid in the same unventilated room as another employee a week earlier.

Steve Sullivan, the Managing Director at AIMEX Service Group and his brother William, the Health and Safety manager at the time of the incident, tried to cover up the fact that the same type of incident had occurred – and had been properly reported – the week before this near-fatal incident.

Leadership Failures

The Judge who sentenced the Sullivan brothers called their behaviour “an outrageous dereliction of duty”. 

From the point of view of our health and safety consulting services team, this was not only an avoidable tragedy, but it also illustrates a failure of leadership – and highlights the concerning lack of a governing body to monitor those tasked with providing safe working conditions for New Zealand workers.

While the courts have done well to take these two out of circulation for the moment, there is no official register to ensure that they are not able to take up positions of responsibility when their sentences are complete. 

No official process or governing body is in place to alert employers or employees to the history of dereliction demonstrated by those who choose to ignore or blatantly contravene the Health and Safety Act (2014), which constitutes a risk that should be addressed.

Weaving Safety Into Workplace Culture

When it comes to building a safe workplace, it’s all about integration. That means health and safety should be incorporated in real and symbolic ways into the daily culture. A good leader will lead by example and incorporate dynamic learning in simple and fun ways to create a shared understanding of how everyone in the company can work together in easy ways to maintain a safer workplace.

Information is power, and in this case, if used correctly, it could have prevented a terrible event that has affected many people’s lives. So, how do leaders become informed in ways that enable them to contribute to a positive work culture that includes easily attainable health and safety goals? The first step is to engage with some professional help.

Using Health and Safety Consultants

If the leaders in this story had followed the advice of health and safety consultants after the first incident, the risk would undoubtedly have decreased. Furthermore, suppose they had had the assistance they needed to thoroughly understand the hazards and risks tied to the tasks, processes, equipment and environment under their care. In that case, the first incident may also have been avoided.

While keeping health and safety processes clean and clear can sometimes feel time-consuming or tricky, this story certainly provides a cautionary tale for business leaders and health and safety managers who ignore their obligations toward building a safe workplace for their employees. 

While the Sullivan brothers went out of their way to deceive, sometimes an incident will occur in the workplace under otherwise excellent leadership. It may be a simple case of being stretched too thin, not seeing a risk because you are too close to it – or because of a gap in your knowledge about a work process that is under your care but outside your understanding.

Having an objective third party who understands how to identify and manage risk is essential, and engaging expert health and safety consultants allows these critical processes to unfold with efficiency and simplicity built in. Using health and safety consultants will also likely have a knock-on effect on your business, where productivity is increased, morale is improved, and cost efficiency is better controlled. 

Get in Touch

At Smart Safety Solutions, we understand the role of leadership in building a safe workplace, and our health and safety consultants are able to help you set realistic, clear expectations and intelligent goals to protect your livelihood and your greatest asset – your people.

When you engage health and safety consultants to assist your business with integrating a thoughtful approach to navigating legislation, meeting safety requirements and incorporating risk and hazard management into your workplace culture, you lead with care and aim for success.Get in touch now and book a session with one of our friendly health and safety consultants – keeping health and safety simple is what we do best.