The Malacca straight (above) is a busy place, and so is the World Congress for Safety and Health at Work. I was honoured yesterday to Chair the session on Compliance Strategies, with speakers from five countries in a room with more than 1000 delegates in attendance.
The standout element of the World Congress for me is the diversity of where different countries stand on their health and safety journey. Sometimes, people from countries such as Australia challenge the value and status of these events as having too much content from countries still working through the basics, but I hold a different view. At this Congress I have found a wonderful diversity of thought and ideas - and not all of the exciting ones come from countries with long standing and highly developed OSH systems and frameworks.
As these ideas have flowed, the cultural context is the next standout concept for me.
The session I chaired started with Dr David Michaels, the recently retired longest standing director of the USA workplace health and safety regulatory agency. Just to set the cat amongst the pigeons in a session about compliance strategies, he started by telling the audience what Australians know but many countries are only beginning to embrace - that compliance does not deliver safe workplaces. He went on to deliver a well rounded presentation exploring issues beyond compliance.
A later presentation by the curent CEO of the UK regulator Dr Richard Judge drew on 200 years of statistics but also talked about key principles for the future of health and safety in the UK, covering things like technology, future of work, and culture change - all part of a whole of which compliance is only one part.
The other presentations from Nguyen Tien Tung from Vietnam, Shojiro Yasui from Japan, and Li Zheng from China, took the more traditional route of sharing their current experiences of enforcing compliance - or in Mr Yasui's case, promoting stronger voluntary compliance. However, what struck me most about these presentations was that in their language, they were sharing their cultural relationship with the concept of compliance and keeping up with the rule of law and regulation. This cultural veil has an exceptional impact on how the multifaceted relationship between government, employers, workers, the law, and traditional work practices plays out in each country as it seeks to reduce workplace injury and fatality. I know that this is not news to many of you, but I was reminded of its importance.
In a later discussion this morning with WorkSafe NZ head Nicole Rosie, I also reflected on the challenge of the cultural adjustments that will be required of the world's most egalitarian (and I say that affectionately) people - the Kiwis - with the adoption of Australia's harmonised WHS legislation - a stricter regime. Both countries and their health and safety professions will have insights and things to learn from each other in that process.