From the Hood: The Inspector Protector

Inspection is my life

By Lyndon Hood

DAY ONE The minister has tasked me with investigating the state of workplace safety in New Zealand. After that she went back to the departmental budget – as I left I heard her telling someone there was a recession on and there was no money for new carpets or filing cabinets or air conditioning and there were people in Christchurch who would be grateful to have carpets at all.

First priority: background. Examined the departmental statistics.

We have, actually, been known to prosecute employers. Not sure how to feel about this, officially. One might consider it to be Doing Our Jobs, but there is also the need to balance this with letting employers, who are the lifeblood of our economy, do whatever they like. This is called Ease Of Doing Business.

I stopped in to see how the inspectorate was going. He said he was fine.

On the way out I sprained my ankle on a hole in the carpet. I filled out a form about it.

The form gave me a papercut.


DAY TWO I asked the minister what measures the Government was taking to improve workplace safety. She said the were allowing employers with better safety records to pay lower ACC premiums, as well as restricting union access so the whiny socialists wouldn’t distract anyone or get jammed in important machinery.

I asked whether the ACC matter might encourage under-reporting of accident and risks. As might the 90 day trial period.

She told me if I were any sharper I might cut myself. I told her I had cut myself, yesterday, on a piece of paper. We agreed that was not best risk management practice, but I assured her I had filled out a form about it.

She told me not to do so in future.

Had lunch on the Wellington waterfront. Wharf very pretty in the sunshine. Safety rails often minimal or even absent. There was not even a sign saying Warning Do Not Fall Into The Harbour.

“Don’t people fall into the harbour?” I asked the gentleman sitting beside me.

“Mostly not,” he replied.

I said that was interesting because of my job.

“Are you from OSH or something?”

I explained that the functions formerly served by Occupational Safety and Health had been subsumed by the Department of Labour.


DAY THREE My report must be accessible. I tried to explain the principles of risk management to a man at the pub.

Consider, I told him, the statistical chance of a bad outcome, multiplied by the cost of it happening.

He wanted to see how it worked in practice, so I got out my departmental calculator. The cheap plastic cover cracked and I received a small shock, the jolt from which cause me to knock over and break my wine glass, cutting myself quite badly.

I explained the irony of the situation to the paramedic and added that, since I was not at work, I could safely fill out a form.

He asked about my job and I told him, no, it’s the Department of Labour now and, since he looked like he had ideas, asked him if he had any ideas.

He told me we should reform ACC so that after an industrial disaster the jobless victims can mount a court case to extract compensation from the bankrupt company. Or something like that – the painkillers were kicking in by then.

He also added that I “should all be fired”.

I felt in the circumstances it would be reckless to disagree.

And that does sound like the kind of approach the minister might like. It would certainly make her job easier.


DAY FOUR Spent the day reading the proceedings of the Pike River inquiry. Executive summary: they got confused between the kind of mine that produces coal and the kind of mine that explodes when you poke it.

Googled “coolstore”. Am now nervous of the fridge.

Note: in future, keep a close eye on people who work with things that might explode or catch fire. Except, of course, if they are connected to the film industry.

Had been sitting awkwardly due to hand. Sore back.

What happens to all these forms? Under this National government we now only have have Front Line Officers and no Back Room Bureaucrats, but I assumed someone was dealing with them. Probably the same people who deal with the employer inspection reports.

Is it supposed to be me?


DAY FIVE To be credible, my report must investigate heart of economy. I told the minister I was going to go on a fact-finding trip to Auckland.

“Well, be careful,” she said, “They can be dangerous.”

“What, Aucklanders?”

“No – facts.”

On the plane up the young lady beside me explained that public transport has a lower relative injury rate than private. Decided to catch a train.

Are they usually that full?

Do they usual come to a complete halt like that?

We were rescued not a moment too soon; we had just discovered later the people in the carriage in front had declared the collapse of civilisation and were making serious preparations to capture and eat us.

I too, arguably, had some thoughts of cannibalism – at least, I was seeing the appeal of the Rugby World Cup or Transport minister’s head on a platter. But it is as well things went no further. It’s not that I was personally afraid – I believe I am too stringy to be a high priority – but it would have been professionally embarrassing.

At the station I tracked down the manager and suggested an emergency buffet car might mitigate such risks in future.

“What, are you from OSH or something?” he said.

I showed him my stationery and made him point to the bit on the letterhead that says “Department of Labour”. Then I shut my suitcase on his fingers. He won’t make that mistake again in a hurry.


DAY SIX Returning to the office I noticed a room was sealed off with red tape.

There were signs and so forth but naturally, the first thing I did was cut through the red tape.

I discovered later some significant piles of unprocessed accident forms had begun to moulder. In the still air, this raised methane levels to unacceptable levels and the area had been sealed off.

At least, I suppose that’s why everything exploded.

It was generally reckoned to be a victory for ease of doing business.