June 8th, 2016

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Health and Safety is arguably the most important aspect of an employer’s responsibility. 2015 will see some big changes to the Health and Safety Act in New Zealand, and some serious consequences for managers who don’t live and breathe the safety of their staff; including fines of up to $600,000 or jail time. And for good reason – currently the social and economic cost of accidents in NZ workplaces sits at $3.5 billion annually, 2% of our yearly GDP.

The cost of Health and Safety swings both ways for employers; with some businesses baulking at implementation costs, and others seeing the long term benefits (and savings) of engraining proactive health and safety attitudes towards health and safety. I sat down with Jackson from Ora Safety and Health (who are in a competition to win 20,000 towards their startup on Friday) to talk about how and why businesses need to be proactive about health and safety in the workplace.

Ora in Te Reo Maori means health and wellbeing. The startup is building a scalable tech solution that will allow employees figure out if they have their head in the game and are safe to work.

“New Zealand has a really bad health and safety record – accidents in situations like this and this happen way too often and have a huge social cost and impact on productivity and wellbeing. We wanted to tackle the root cause of a lot of these accidents, impairment.”

Impairment can be caused by lots of things: tiredness, stress, illness, dehydration, drugs and alcohol are just some of them. There are plenty of companies testing for drugs and alcohol, or that have fatigue management plans and policies but they aren’t testing for this range of factors in real time or in a scalable way. Ora is not a replacement for drug testing but can sit alongside these tests to provide a bigger picture on the wellbeing of staff.

Ora borrows validated cognitive tests from psychology and psychiatry to see if someone is ‘all there’ – testing things like reaction times, memory, multitasking, switching tasks, concentration to build up an indication of how ‘risky’ someone is. They are combining scanning for multiple factors, so it will take around 3 minutes for an employee to check their level of impairment, which will notify the employer if the test indicates that they are impaired.

Technology like this has to strike a difficult balance between health/safety and privacy – aiming to aid employers who don’t want to pry into their staff’s personal lives but want to make sure that they are safe and well on a regular basis. Another important part of Ora’s technology is its bottom up approach, collecting information from the frontline first, which allows good decisions to be made where the accidents are happening.

High risk workplaces like construction or forestry are not the only industries to benefit from this kind of technology. If you look at law firms, advertising agencies, any workplaces that often involve high pressure scenarios, there is a real risk of stress, fatigue, depression and wellbeing. Often we see employees putting on a brave face rather than wanting to admit they might not be feeling 100% for a whole range of reasons, or they may not even realise that they are run down. As Jackson puts it: “when you are impaired, the part of your brain trying to tell you that you that you are impaired is impaired, which means the message doesn’t always get through.”

What should businesses take away from the rise of tools like Ora?

  • Whichever way you dice it, Health and Safety is a good investment – With the range of social and monetary costs that accumulate with sick days, stress leave, workplace accidents or deaths, coupled with the incentives the government provides to actively promote health and safety like WSMP, health and safety is worth buying into.
  • Its not enough to talk about it – With the new amendments to the Health and Safety Act coming into effect this year it won’t be enough for businesses to have a health and safety policy and some hazards identified two years ago. Again, the only businesses who will be able to take advantage of programmes like WSMP will be those that make the health and safety of their staff their absolute priority. Finding ways to actually carry out H&S practises in real time is easier said than done and tools like Ora will help business owners to actively build health and safety into their culture.
  • It has to involve the front line – When the point of health and safety is to ensure the wellbeing of your staff members, it makes sense that any measures taken should actively seek their input. The most effective health and safety processes we see are ones that begin and end with the staff, with upper level input in between.
  • It won’t work in isolation – Tools like Ora’s are great for enabling new ways to be proactive about health and safety, however they won’t work on their own. In order to be effective these tools must be integrated in a way that makes sense for the workplace context, carried out on a regular basis and supported by a well aligned health and safety culture. Ora serves as one piece of the puzzle by measuring and identifying impairment – starting the conversation around a potential risk. It is up to the employer to act on these conversations to ensure the long term health and wellbeing of their staff.

HR Shop are big supporters of Ora, who are part of Akina’s Launchpad programme and is one of eleven startups in the running for Contact Energy’s People’s Choice award of $20,000. You can vote for them here.

Ora are also currently on the hunt for investors, board members, and people with expertise in health and safety and running businesses to add to their strong network of support. For more information visit their website or reach out to Jackson here.


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