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Does anyone ask workers “is there anything you do at home that, could improve our safety here?”

You’ve heard the catch-phase, work safe, home safe or something alike. We seem fixated to thinking that our relationship between home and safety is limited to getting home safe from work.

Our narrow understanding of home and safety is often seen in negative terms such or preventing unsafe behaviours (e.g. illegal drug use) and is manifested as punitive and rhetorical remarks aimed at getting workers motivated, “you wouldn’t do that at home would you?” or ” think about your family”.

While we continue to focus our efforts on getting workers to turn on their safety switch at work, we lose sight of the fact that workers behave safe at home and some of those behaviours could be used at work.

A 2017 New Zealand survey of worker and employer health and safety attitudes and behaviours concluded employers and employees have different perceptions about many aspects of workplace safety, and the gap is widening in places.

Starting to reconcile this difference may take as little as a question and tweak of current safety practices. Here’s an example:

In a metal fabrication workshop where workers are predominately Māori and Pacific Islanders, a monthly health and safety meeting is taking place. A discussion results in the leader “asking is there anything you do at home that, could improve our safety at here?”

The normally and quiet unassuming senior machinist outlines his families use of manaakitanga to visitors. Another worker talks about their involvement in a local sports club and how new players are mentored using the tuakana–teina relationship. In both cases, the health and safety of people is seen as obligation that needs to be upheld as a matter reputation.

A review of lost time injuries shows that it’s the younger workers that are being harmed. A discussion reveals that they are only receiving minimal supervision. As a result, a new procedure for new and younger workers is introduced based on a tuakana–teina relationship. Training with quality audits is replaced with mentoring over longer periods of time with set times for feedback and skill checks.

So What?

Engaging with workers about their personal lives can be intrusive. However, this can be balanced if it the discussion is explained and focused on finding ways to improve worker safety.


download.jpgI have been asked, “how do I incorporate indigenous knowledge into workplace health and safety?” I offer two steps:

  1. Educate – learn some basic indigenous cultural values and find traits most common in good safety cultures.
  2. Engage – present your findings to workers. Get your ducks in row and agree which value can be used and which practices can reflect the values. I have not yet designed a way to evaluate steps one and two.

By presenting your findings and agreeing with workers which values and practices are relevant, you not only enfranchise them into safer workplace systems but also make the whole process open and practical.


In this example, I am going to briefly describe tikanga Māori (guidelines for Māori culture). Five common tikanga Māori values and their meanings are:

  • Manaakitanga  –  Reciprocity of kindness, respect, humility, responsible hospitality, and caring for others and the environment.
  • Whakawhanaungatanga – Genealogy connects people through generations, kin, and lasting non-kin relationships.
  • Wairuatanga – Spiritual dimension of thinking, being, and doing, with a spiritual and physical being connected by a mauri—a unique life energy in everything
  • Auahatanga – Creativity, entrepreneurship, problem-solving, learning, confronting challenges, and adapting.
  • Kaitiakitanga – Preserving, sheltering, and protecting in relation to the environment.

There is considerable research describing traits for good performing safety cultures. I have highlighted some and included their meanings:

  • A reporting culture – Cultivating an atmosphere where people have confidence to report safety concerns without fear of blame.
  • A fair and just culture –  Where workers are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them which are proportionate to their experience and training, but where gross negligence, willful violations are not tolerated.
  • A collective mindfulness – where leaders and workers share common thinking and behaviors in terms of safety values, attitudes and practices.


The below diagram illustrates how manaakitangi can be incorporated into workplace health and safety. The wording describes how it relates to workers and their safety. Likewise, collective thinking and proactive reporting are traits for good performing safety cultures.

By placing in parallel indigenous cultural values and traits for good safety cultures,  workers especially indigenous, can appreciate where their cultural fits into their workplace health and safety.

CaptureSo what?

The value of this two step process is not limited to improving safer workplace practices.

Its foremost value is recognizing the good things that workers do at home and endorsing their shift to and use, at work.

I see no reason why tikanga Māori could not be supplemented by other values to enfranchise other workers from other cultures.

In New Zealand, I do think a re-think is in order, where safer workplace systems reflect accords between employers, workers and workplace health and safety. With the latter being a third person with all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person or something akin. Granting legal personage to things intrinsic to humans is becoming more common.

Next post? 

In my next post I will be discussing my upcoming research efforts.


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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.