There has been a raft of commentary lately about how we as a country assess the worldwide risk, for us, of Covid-19 as we come through the pandemic. Various countries are opening up from the restrictions with an increasing percentage of vaccinated people, but with the pandemic still raging.
Governments assess risk and make decisions on a grand scale while we seem pretty comfortable about elimination, vaccination and a cautious opening of borders to quarantine-less travel bubbles.
Coincidentally with our relatively cautious and conservative approach to the virus, we have seen a significantly enhanced level of traffic management safety around roadside worksites. There often seems to be more traffic control vehicles and stop/go controllers than there are actual contractors doing the road work.
The proliferation of road cones and high-vis gear encompassing traffic management plans, has raised the question about how much money is going into the job against the need to protect those who are doing it?
The derisory answer to that question is likely to be the same for the roads, as for the rest of industry, that increasing investment in workplace safety is an absolute priority.
The outcome of the Pike River disaster some 10 years ago has changed forever the way workplace safety is viewed, and who will be accountable for it. It is a whole organisation obligation and that people are entitled to believe their working day will deliver them safely home afterwards.
The whole issue of roadside safety was brought into sharp focus by a tragic accident in the Bay of Plenty some two years ago, where three roadside workers were killed as they worked to clear a culvert.
A professional truck driver, in a moment of distraction, clipped the side of the parked Higgins truck, which flipped and crushed the men.
In this case, the middle-aged driver pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death and was sentenced to 250 hours' community work, disqualified for 21 months and paid $21,000 to the families of the men.
Higgins, the contractor on the road, was prosecuted by WorkSafe, and was found to have failed to install any temporary traffic management, apart from warning signs around the truck, and consequently failed to protect their workers from oncoming traffic.
They were fined $270,000 and ordered to pay more than $220,000 to the workers' families. An interesting calculation of the value of three lives!
In this context, you can't argue against the notion that keeping workers safe in any workplace has got to be an absolute priority, transcending any nuisance, cost and productivity compromises.
If we, as drivers, put ourselves in the shoes of those roadside workers, we can imagine the boost in the sense of wellbeing that both the legislation and the employer have a commitment to create a safe workplace.
The international literature on workplace safety is overwhelmingly of the view that safety is an asset and the health and safety spending is an investment.
Safer workplaces, where everyone takes responsibility to look out for each other and the potential hazards, are productive workplaces. A safety culture has everyone taking ownership, has fewer accidents, with happy staff, who are proud to own their organisation and its productive outcomes.
So, while we might raise our eyebrows at the proliferation of road cones and safety management vehicles, we could also reflect on our own behaviour in these worksites.
For me, they are a bit of a niggle, but I need to be more aware as the road narrows, the traffic in front slows, there are more people around and you don't want to hold things up any further but, really, you want to get out of there.
There is certainly an added cost involved with traffic management plans and they probably add about $1 million to the $30m cost of state highway maintenance in Northland.
That could be translated into some potholes not being fixed or, it could also be seen as more potholes being fixed as a result of workers getting on with the job, and not worrying about whether some driver might hit them.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.