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Few businesses ready for health and safety law changes

Few businesses ready for health and safety law changes

Too many businesses are ill-prepared for increased health and safety obligations under the Health and Safety Reform legislation that will become law early next year and this is putting them at risk, according to a health and safety expert.

The new law, which is expected to come into effect in April 2015, will increase employers’ responsibilities to have safe work practices and to be sure that employees know how to work safely.

This means that directors, owners and managers, who are duty holders with influence and control over the business, will need to know about all of their business’s operational risks and hazards and how they are being managed. They will also be expected to verify that the organisation’s safety management is effective and meets the Health and Safety Reform law’s requirements.

The onus will also be on duty holders to lead the organisation’s safety performance by making sure the changes are implemented and organisational practices are keeping employees, contractors and visitors safe.

Brent Sutton, Health and Safety Solutions Manager at health and safety development organisation Workbase, says anecdotal evidence suggests many businesses have done little to prepare for their new obligations, which is a concern because the new law will be more prescriptive.

“Businesses should immediately begin work on determining how they will meet the new requirements, if they have not already done so.”

He notes that the law will extend health and safety duties and responsibilities across all parties in a supply chain, and some contracting and principal organisations are already beginning to impose the new health and safety compliance requirements on their supplier businesses.

“The risks for smaller organisations go beyond higher legal penalties and include the risk of losing their contract business from larger organisations.

“Larger organisations concerned with the increased reputational risks are likely to stop using contractors and suppliers that are not demonstrating an ability to manage their own health and safety risks.”

Mr Sutton says addressing the situation starts with boards and business owners knowing what steps to take.

“This can be easier said than done, especially for the vast majority of New Zealand businesses that do not have a dedicated health and safety role.”

“Managing health and safety risks requires employers to understand and comply with a wide range of documents covering legal compliance, duties, requirements, guidance and standards. Many of these documents are long, and written in complex legal and technical language.”

Mr Sutton notes that getting to grips with health and safety requirements is particularly challenging for small and medium-sized enterprises. This is significant because they are often in the highest-hazard industries, such as forestry, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and construction.

Doing more of the same is not an option, says Mr Sutton, but more needs to be done to support businesses to comply.

“Industry bodies need to take a more hands-on role in supporting businesses to develop practical, industry-specific workplace health and safety systems that are simple, easily understood, used by everyone, and integrated into all parts of the organisation.”

In the meantime, Mr Sutton suggested that businesses could make a start on preparing themselves by:

1. Identifying all of the business’s hazards and risks.

2. Understanding the business’s health and safety obligations, and its strengths and gaps. Businesses could develop this knowledge by speaking with relevant industry associations or similar businesses, or through external verification of how well their health and safety system is working.

3. Developing a plan for implementing the health and safety changes, and making it manageable by creating a prioritised list.

4. Addressing the business’s greatest health and safety risks first.


The regulator, WorkSafe New Zealand, provides guidance and standards for many industries on their website: http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe/information-guidance/guidance-by-industry

ENDS

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