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Worker health still not taken seriously

Worker health still not taken seriously, two years after new legislation

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, 3 April 2018

Two years after new health and safety legislation came into force a survey of more than 900 people demonstrates the scale of the challenge to have workers’ health taken as seriously as their safety.

It also reveals that business owners and senior executives take a much rosier view of how health & safety is going than workers who hold positions as health & safety representatives.

Safeguard magazine’s third annual State of the Nation survey shows 80% of respondents believe the safety of workers is taken seriously, while only 50% believe the same about workers’ health and wellbeing.

This is important because far more workers die each year from their past exposure to workplace health risks (eg chemicals and other hazardous substances) than die from sudden trauma incidents such as falls.

The State of the Nation survey used business and union channels, and Safeguard’s own networks, to invite three types of respondent to take part: health & safety practitioners, workers who are also health & safety representatives, and business owners/senior executives.

Three questions about communications and consultation over health & safety elicited notably different responses between representatives and business. While 87% of business owners/senior execs agreed their staff are regularly asked for input into how H&S is managed, only 72% of reps thought the same.

Similarly, 86% of business said senior managers and/or board members regularly ask questions about H&S, while only 65% of reps felt the same.

And as to whether H&S risks are discussed with other businesses sharing the same site, 78% of business said yes compared to only 59% of reps.

Taken together, these responses demonstrate a distinct gap between work-as-imagined (by the executives) and work-as-done (on the shop floor).

On the bright side, 83% of respondents felt New Zealand’s health & safety performance is improving (similar to last year), and 78% felt H&S had improved at their own workplace over the previous 12 months.

However, only 47% of respondents were confident that no one would be harmed or made unwell by the activities carried out at their workplace – the same figure as in last year’s survey.

Regarding health & safety regulator WorkSafe New Zealand, 64% of respondents say it is performing well, and 71% of those who have had direct dealings with WorkSafe in the last 12 months say their interactions were satisfactory.

Peter Bateman, editor of Safeguard, says that eliminating or minimising the exposure of workers to health risks remains the great strategic challenge. He notes that compared to last year, the proportion of business owners/executives who feel worker health is taken seriously has dropped from 65% to 56%.

“To take an optimistic view, this could indicate that at the level of senior management the scale of the health challenge is starting to be recognised. What we need to see now is action on correctly identifying and managing critical risks to worker health.”

Notes for media
The Health and Safety at Work Act came into force on 4 April 2016. The legislation was one of the direct outcomes of enquiries into the Pike River mine explosion in 2010.
There were 905 respondents to this year’s survey: 462 H&S practitioners, 324 H&S reps, and 119 business owners/executives.
A complete table of results is available on request from the Safeguard editor.
Started in 1988, Safeguard magazine is New Zealand’s leading publication on the management of workplace health and safety. It is published by Thomson Reuters.
Thomson Reuters also runs the annual Safeguard National Health & Safety Conference (since 2007), New Zealand’s largest; and the annual New Zealand Workplace Health & Safety Awards (since 2005). This year the conference runs in Auckland on 30-31 May, and the award gala dinner is in Auckland on 30 May.
Visit safeguard.co.nz to ask for a free sample copy of the magazine.

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