Employers often complain about the onerous rules and regulations they have to comply with under the Health & Safety at Work Act.

It is their duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their businesses, for example contractors.

In my governance roles I have a responsibility too to ensure the businesses meet the required health and safety standards.

I can now be held personally liable for safety breeches. Any flouting or slippage could prove costly.


That does tend to make you sit up and take notice. A health and safety report is included in all my board packs every month.

Directors requested monthly reports not quarterly. There is also the legal responsibility to manage mental wellbeing and mental health just like any other health and safety risk.

So I won't dismiss out of hand Auckland Transport's chief executive Shane Ellison's explanation that he and his team didn't turn up to a recent meeting, partly out of fear for the safety of staff.

It was a public meeting to explain proposed safety improvements for the seaside village of St Heliers. The crowd of 600 locals, many of them elderly, booed when they heard AT would not be turning up.

Well they would wouldn't they? The meeting was overwhelmingly opposed to AT's so called safety improvement plans.

I have seen the response to the "no show". Sadly, the staff safety reason has been trivialised.

It's not unusual for meetings to get heated when someone is trying to explain the whys and wherefores of a certain course of action. But it should always be politicians who take the heat not staff.

They are doing the job politicians have asked of them. When the issues are contentious, in my view politicians do the explaining.


On more than one occasion I have told staff to pack it in.

They were clearly getting stressed. When a room full of people are shouting and talking over one another there is little to be gained in hanging around.

Nowadays I get up and walk out. At some point I'll ask "do you want to hear what I've come to say and explain, I'm pleased to be here and I'll listen too, but if you just want to be abusive I'm leaving".

That doesn't always go down too well. Because many people don't realise that verbal abuse is actually abuse. Angry people shouting and hurling abuse can get stress levels rising.

I credit my time at Women's Refuge with giving me the skills to cope and handle very stressful situations.

Trying to raise awareness about family violence and the harm being done to women and children in New Zealand, at a time when nobody particularly wanted to hear, was not work for the fainthearted.

The environment was hostile. I was called all the names under the sun. It still happens today when people get upset. And while I could stay and sit through it I don't.

Lately though it is the elderly who seem to be the nastiest. They should know better. Many of the concerns they raise are valid.

That's if you're only looking at things from one point of view. But the problem is things are never one-sided.

There are a range of opinions and views that need to be considered. And then there are those who are more articulate who insist that theirs is the only voice that must be heard. I had my phone on speaker recently when I took a call while in my car.

After the brief conversation my friend asked me: "how often does that happen?"

"Probably a couple of times a month," I replied. He was appalled at the language he'd just heard levelled at me.

He couldn't understand when I said I don't get upset any longer. I know that ordinarily the elderly caller wouldn't use the language he used. He was frustrated and angry. But I would far rather take these calls than any staff member.

As politicians you have to be prepared to front, and I don't mind doing that, but I draw the line at verbal abuse and bullying. They can be killers. So I applaud any employer who shields their staff from this type of behaviour. Verbal abuse is a mental health safety risk. It should not be trivialised.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness