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We’re not so different, you and I. Our ethnic culture may be but not necessarily our family culture values.

The last Statistics New Zealand Census in 2013 identified a total of 213 ethnic groups – more than the number of recognised countries in the world!  The five largest were New Zealand European, Maori, Chinese, Samoan and Indian, which creates a melting pot of cultures, each with its own set of values and concepts of what is important.  While each is quite unique, the reality is that no matter where we can trace our roots to, we all want to be healthy, safe, and able to do the things that are important to us.  These ideas, social behaviours and customs form our identities.

For Maori, the concept of Whānau Ora is based on the collective wellbeing of whānau (family) as a whole – it recognises the strength of a joint approach, empowers whānau to make decisions that aid in achieving aspirations, recognises that physical, cultural, environmental and economic factors are all contributors to overall wellbeing. It also draws on the individual skills, knowledge and experience of the members of the whānau to contribute to the collective potential. 

Culture values in New Zealand families

This concept isn’t unique to Maori – we see very similar values in Samoa where the values of Fa’a Samoa where aiga (family) is all-important and work together in times of both happiness and crisis to fulfil the duty of a Samoan to be of service to the aiga for life, and in Tonga, where society is based on principles which include Fefaka’apa’apa’aki (mutual respect) and Feveitokai’aki (sharing and cooperation).  Looking beyond the Pacific we find values across Asia and Africa closely aligned to our own , as well as from the Americas and at all points on the globe – values that focus heavily on the importance of family, protecting our taonga (treasured things), and preserving our environment.

Culture is also a fundamental reason why we go to work; to provide for our families, to enable us to pursue the activities we enjoy, to travel or get further education, to contribute to our superannuation. Whatever the reason we work, our jobs enable us to participate in society and practice our culture and values.  We should harness our personal values, and engage them at work too, because the critical element that binds all cultures is that whether we call our family a whānau, aiga, fāmili, clan, mob, परिवार, 屋企人, семья or umndeni, every member has a place, and each member brings unique contributions that add to the collective wellbeing of the group.

What we value

Health and Safety is about protecting the things we value - ourselves, our workmates and our environment, and working together to make work a safer place for everyone, no matter what language we speak, or what our position within the organisation is.  A great Health and Safety system isn’t found in a manual, it is a set of values shared by the whole organisation.  It is how we do things at work so we can all go home.  As a Health and Safety professional, the things I want for you at work are the things you want for yourselves too!

Our wellbeing at work is paramount in making sure that we are fit, healthy and able to continue to do the things we enjoy.  Everyone has a place at work, and every Worker is valuable.  Their position and skills, knowledge, and ability might differ, but everyone has a role, and every Worker is part of the workplace family.  We share issues, develop solutions, and collectively decide on actions that will support our values.  We call this engagement, and it’s an opportunity for all Workers to participate in a process of identifying things that could cause harm, agreeing on how to keep safe at work, and ultimately to get home to our whānau to do the things we love.  Just as we have duties to our families and communities at home, we have duties to our work family too. 

These are not complicated – we need to:

  • Make sure we don’t do things that will hurt us, others, or the environment;
  • Only do jobs we are trained for, and that we use the right equipment in the right way; and
  • Speak up when we know something isn’t right. It can be hard to find our voices if we feel like we are just an individual, and that is why safety needs to be about culture – so no one at work feels like they’re on their own, and no one feels like they don’t have a voice.

People are our greatest asset, and when our workplace culture is based on the strength of our people we are far more resilient that when we stand alone.  Increasingly we are seeing culture as a positive and important aspect in how health and social services, justice and corrections, and education are delivered or administered in our communities.  It is obvious that acknowledging the cultural values and expectations of those involved in these programs contribute to much greater outcomes, and the same approach should be applied to Health and Safety too. 

The concept of kaitiaki (guardianship) is an ideal concept for safety culture. Fundamentally it’s about caring for each other and our environment, and working collectively to protect what we value.

Stay safe. Be happy. Go well.

For more information contact us on 0800 023 789 or email info@allaboutpeople.co.nz

Darren Hodgetts, All About People Senior Fire Safety Specialist

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