Safety Summit: Improving safety for firefighters

  Posted on 27th October 2015 by Loralee Hyde in UFBA News

Safety Summit: Improving safety for firefighters

The UFBA was a co-host of the New Zealand Fire Service Safety Summit held in Wellington in August, along with the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU).

The aim of the Summit was to learn and share knowledge to improve safety for our firefighters.

The UFBA strongly endorsed this initiative and welcomed the opportunity to participate.

The event was attended by around 250 people, including frontline staff and volunteers, and representatives from the National Rural Fire Authority, Police, St John, NZ Defence Force and Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.

UFBA Chief Executive Officer George Verry said the volunteers included people invited by the NZFS as well as by UFBA.

“This group gave up employment time to attend and we commend their commitment to health and safety.

“Among the volunteers were several people who hold senior health and safety roles in their everyday employment. We thank them for their valuable contribution to the event.”

Psychological wellbeing

In his welcome speech to Summit attendees, George said in recent years there has been a shift from traditional fire services to more rescue work at motor vehicle accidents and, with the establishment of memorandums of understanding with ambulance services, many more medical calls as first response.

“The psychological impact of this change is gathering momentum on our frontline people," George emphasised.

“In the case of paid firefighters, the sheer volume of these calls - often emotionally taxing work - is not just tough at the time, but is having an accumulative impact on psychological health.

“And for volunteers, with the closeness to their local communities there is a reasonable chance an incident may involve an acquaintance, a friend, or at worst, a relative or family member.

“The psychological aspect of health and safety is therefore of critical importance and needs to be a continued focus of our safety and wellbeing activities.”

To reinforce the key points of George’s remarks, attendees heard from Dr Ian de Terte who spoke about the psychological wellbeing of people who work in high-risk occupations.

Thought-provoking sessions

Other inspiring presentations included keynote speaker Laurence Waterman who shared his experiences as the head of Health and Safety for the London Olympics in 2012. His efforts contributed to the Olympics opening without a single loss of life during the construction.

Dr Hillary Bennett explored the safety culture within the New Zealand Fire Service. Lawyer Stacey Shortall discussed the implications of the new Health and Safety at Work Act, which was recently passed into legislation.

Delegates at the Summit took part in a series of interactive workshops covering critical themes such as leadership and influence, and psychological safety

Wiremu and Marsella Edmonds provided a very moving presentation to open day two of the conference. Their story gave a very real example of how an unsafe culture can catch up on an unsafe crew, in their case resulting in the loss of their son in a tragic forestry accident.

Next step to improving safety

The Summit closed with the NZFS National Commander Paul Baxter reminding everyone that a good safety culture doesn’t happen by chance.

“Safety is not a box-ticking exercise or a blame game,” he said.

“It doesn’t come out of a near-enough-is-good-enough approach. It’s an environment that aims for no harm, no injuries to workers. It’s a zero harm approach.”

Summit attendees were urged to take what they had learned back to their respective brigades as the next step to improving safety for our firefighters.

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