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Devil in detail for new world of workplace safety

Media statement Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Devil in detail for new world of workplace safety

After reading the 233 pages of the new Health and Safety Reform Bill just introduced to Parliament, the Employers and Manufacturers Association's Paul Jarvie can verify a new world order is indeed about to arrive for workplace health and safety.

"The Bill represents a paradigm shift from the existing Health and Safety in Employment Act," said Mr Jarvie, EMA's Manager of OH&S.

"In general we support the general thrust of the proposed new law but like all new legislation the devils in the detail," he said.

"A strong theme running through the new law is for consultation; for employers to consult with workers to ensure they are engaged, and for them to be active in all aspects of safety in their workgroups in their workplaces.

"This is good, except the extent of the prescription in the Bill goes too far.

"For example Health and Safety representatives have been around for over 10 years with little to show for the huge effort that went into that system. More of the same is unlikely to help.

"Missing from the discussion are ways to move a company culture so that health and safety practice becomes more inclusive of all employees including middle and senior managers. To concentrate only on Health and Safety reps in our view is misguided. We made this point to the Taskforce last year.

"The Bill introduces a new concept - the 'PCBU' or Person in Control of a Business Unit which includes everyone in charge of a workplace. It means a company's officers and directors will need to step up their individual and corporate activities to ensure the safety of workers and others in all workplaces.

"There is also a requirement for the Minister to publish an injury prevention strategy and for Worksafe NZ and ACC to publish action plans which must be measurable and objective.

"New Zealand doesn't want 'business as usual' from Worksafe NZ. We want Worksafe NZ, including its inspectorate, to change to become a modern, mentoring regulator that is well equipped, skilled and pragmatic, and understands business and with good communication skills. This works well in Victoria, Australia.

"The Bill's prescription contains many fish hooks for employers, and a tome like this to read and comply with may be a lurch too far, and with more Regulations and Codes of Practice to come. In Australia the Regulations ran over 700 pages.

"We look forward to working with MBIE, Worksafe NZ and the other stakeholders to ensure New Zealand achieves the objective of the new Bill which is to reduce the workplace death toll by 25 per cent by 2020, a huge challenge that will require many changes.

"In particular we agree with the requirements for Worksafe New Zealand and ACC to consult widely on injury prevention initiatives and look forward to assisting with this.

"Good enough is no longer good enough - workplace health and safety practice will now have to be 100 per cent correct."

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