Health and Safety Update

25 August 2015

There have been a number of significant developments in Health & Safety with the Independent Taskforce into Workplace Health and Safety releasing its report to Labour Minister Simon Bridges on 30 April 2013. The report makes sweeping recommendations to change New Zealand’s current health and safety system. The taskforce was set up in response to the Pike River Mine tragedy and the government has already adopted its recommendation to create a stand-alone workplace health and safety agency.

Standalone workplace health & safety agency to be created

The new agency, which will be a Crown Agent with its own governance board, will be up and running from 1 December 2013. In the meantime the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will continue to monitor and manage health and safety issues. The new agency will be responsible for enforcing all workplace health and safety regulations and will work with employers and employees to promote good workplace health and safety practises. Its functions will include providing educational and compliance activities.

Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety Report

The report from the Taskforce released on 30 April 2013 calls for urgent change in New Zealand’s workplace health and safety system. The report states the current system is not fit for purpose and has a number of significant weaknesses across the full range of system components that need to be addressed if NZ is to achieve a major step change in performance.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Each year 1 in 10 workers is harmed, with about 200,000 claims being made to ACC for costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses. Approximately 26,000 workplace related entitlement claims were approved by ACC for people harmed at work in 2010. In 2010 the costs were reliably estimated at $3.5 billion a year.
  • Five industries – manufacturing, construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing – account for more than half of all workplace injury entitlement claims and have the highest entitlement claims rates.
  • Work-related injury claims occupational disease data and fatality figures show that Maori, Pacific Island and workers of other ethnicities are more likely to be seriously injured at work.
  • Occupational illnesses have significantly worse human and financial impacts than harm incidents. These illnesses arise from a broad range of poorly-managed hazards in the workplace, resulting in gradual impairment or chronic harm conditions such as cancers and musculoskeletal disorders, and acute harms related to hazardous substance exposures.
  • In 2011 it was estimated that occupational illness cases result in 500-800 premature deaths a year. The majority are from work-related diseases due to occupational cancer, from the exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos and arsenic, and diseases of the respiratory system and ischaemic heart disease.
  • NZ has a particular issue in the potential for catastrophic harm as a result of ineffective oversight of major hazard facilities, the stark reality of which was brought to light by the Pike River tragedy.
  • The weaknesses that exist across the system include: confusing regulation, a weak regulator, poor worker engagement, inadequate leadership, capacity and capability short comings, inadequate incentives, poor data and measurement, risk tolerant culture, hidden occupational health, major hazard facilities, particular challenges for SME’s and particular at-risk populations.

In addition to the establishment of a standalone workplace health and safety regulator, the taskforce recommendations include new Health and Safety legislation which is modern and comprehensive, providing greater certainty for all participants.

A tripartite system is recommended so that the government, employer and worker representative bodies develop a joint oversight of the system. At an operational level, workers and employers need to actively engage with the regulator in developing regulations, codes of practice and guidance materials. In the workplace workers should participate in the management of health and safety.

The taskforce also recommends a change in leadership and culture in New Zealand. We need to have a much lower tolerance of risky, unsafe and unhealthy work. A major public awareness campaign is needed to shift attitudes.

How up to date are your Health & Safety systems? Time for a Health & Safety Audit?

The release of the taskforce report and its findings is a timely reminder of the need to ensure your workplace has adequate health and safety systems in place. Conducting an audit of your health and safety systems is an excellent way to ensure your current practises are relevant and well supported.

Reviewing your H&S systems may not only deliver improved workplace policies and practises but could enable you to achieve entry to or advancement in the ACC Workplace Safety Management Practices Programme, (WSMP). In addition to providing a safer workplace you could also pay lower premiums.

In a recent example concerning a significant, nationwide organisation we conducted an initial ACC audit at a number of sites from which a report was completed. The report identified the gap between current state and the entry level requirements for the ACC WSMP Programme scheme together with a plan on how the required outcomes could be achieved. The client then undertook the implementation of the necessary initiatives to close the gap for the ACC WSMP Programme and achieved ‘secondary’ level accreditation with a 15% discount and expects to achieve ‘tertiary’ level accreditation within 12 months which will entitle it to a 20% discount. Discounts apply for 24 months, starting from the first day of the month after a successful audit.