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NZ’s first OSH prosecution for stress

NZ’s first OSH prosecution for stress could have been prevented

New Zealand’s first OSH prosecution for work-related stress could have been prevented, say Wellington-based stress experts Winsborough Limited.

Nelson engineering firm Nalder and Biddle was fined $8000 yesterday after pleading guilty in the Nelson District Court to failing to take all practicable steps to ensure a female employee was not exposed to work-related stress.

Rachael Stott, a Winsborough Limited expert on stress and coping, today pointed to the prosecution as a sign to employers of the need to provide managers with the skills to recognise overload in staff.

“The Nelson case is one in which it appears an ounce of prevention would have saved thousands in remedy,” says Ms Stott.

Previously head of the NZ Army Psychological Service, Ms Stott has worked with soldiers helping them ready themselves for combat, and is well qualified in the skills of prevention.

“Unfortunately, the fact that the Nelson case was prosecuted is a classic example of too little too late,” she says.

“Smart employers will do four things. First, managers will understand stress and what it looks like. Secondly, they will have systems in place to monitor and prevent hazards. Third, they will measure stress periodically, and, finally, they will equip staff with tools and skills that build strength and coping.”

Ms Stott is critical of many programmes in the market which are pitched at preventing or reducing stress.

“Such programmes are all after the fact. Employers need to be on the front foot, providing staff with the simple skills to make them stronger. As in combat situations, stress can’t be made to go away – but we can help people deal with it in positive, healthy way.”

The Nelson case is the first such prosecution under the Health and Safety in Employment Act which, two years ago, changed to include work-related stress as a health and safety issue.

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