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A very brief “in-between” post in response to queries regarding which workplaces can be made safer if they are attuned with a relevant indigenous culture.


In my mind, those workplaces include:

  1. A high proportion of indigenous workers
  2. A mix of indigenous and non-indigenous workers, where the latter can affiliate with an indigenous culture
  3. A mix of the above workers and new migrant workers, where the latter may feel more inclined to participate where an indigenous culture is recognized.

In workplaces two and three, indigenous culture can bring on board and enfranchise non-indigenous workers that are at no less risk. I see indigenous culture as the peg in the ground. I see no reason why other cultures cannot be included in safer workplace systems.


Reading between the lines, the underlying question is why introduce an indigenous culture into the workplace. I offer four reasons:

  1. Why not? If the worker follows cultural values at home to improve their well-being then why wouldn’t you allow them at work.
  2. Indigenous workers are the most at risk in the world, and other workers in the same predicament usually live in the same communities. They may readily affiliate to notions found in indigenous cultures.
  3. In New Zealand, its a legal duty to engage workers in their health and safety and provide them with opportunities to participate. This can be more effective in some workplaces attuned with a relevant indigenous culture.
  4. Conventional and culturally indifferent safer workplace systems in the kinds of workplaces I have listed can represent square pegs and round holes. They can obscure key safety messages, impede worker participation and thwart a sustainable safety culture from developing. They can inadvertently provide a false sense of safety.


Unsurprisingly, leaders need to set the agenda and workers need to participate but the tipping point may come fast.

That quiet unassuming machinist might just come forward with a wealth of indigenous knowledge and his colleagues may just be able to apply it as a safer practice.

It’s a bold move to legitimately introduce an indigenous culture into a workplace. I take my hat off to leaders who try improve worker safety. After years of being the experts, they have to let go of their inhibitions and expose themselves to skepticism – that takes courage.

Author: VK Walker

I am wanting describe a model for indigenous safety culture. As a PhD student I am interested in health and safety research including cultures, diversity and the use of traditional indigenous knowledge to inform modern health and safety practices. I am also a New Zealand Government Health and Safety Inspector.

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