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HSE Amendment Bill - first reading speech Wilson

Hon Margaret Wilson
Wednesday, 5 December 2001 Speech Notes

Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill – first reading

Mr Speaker, I move,

“that the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill be now read for a first time”.

It is my intention to refer the Bill to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for consideration, with an instruction to report back by 1 April 2002.

This Bill marks a new era in workplace health and safety.

It continues the Government’s commitment to productive workplace relationships and reflects international standards in the protection of employees.

Work is an essential part of everyone’s life. For some a day at work is uneventful. For an increasing number of people however it ends in an accident or even worse death. Every week, on average three people who head off to work don’t return. They are killed while they are doing their jobs, or getting to and from their work.

The economic, social and human cost is unacceptable to this government, as I am sure it is to all concerned New Zealanders.

The statistics are worth repeating because they explain the Government’s sense of concern on the issue.

It is estimated that 160 people die as a result of workplace accidents each year and that the total cost to society and the economy of workplace illness and injury is $3.18 billion per year.

The proposed Bill is about creating a workplace culture where health and safety is a real priority, and builds on the existing legislation through small, but significant steps.

The Bill proposes critical changes in three broad areas:

- who is covered by the legislation,
- how people can work together to improve health and safety, and
- what penalties apply when all else fails?

The Bill expands the coverage of the Act across all sectors and industries to provide certainty and consistency of application across New Zealand’s diverse workplaces. The most significant change is in the transport sector where aircrew, rail workers and crew aboard ships will all be brought under the coverage of the Act.

As part of the increased coverage, the Bill gives protection to volunteers and employees who are ‘loaned’ by an employer to another person, and it clarifies that mobile workers are covered under the Act.

A new provision also places duties on those who sell or supply plant or equipment to ensure that it is safe for its intended use in a place of work.

Safe workplaces require a commitment to cooperate from both employers and employees. For the first time this Bill makes clear not only the right of employees to participate, but that there is a corresponding responsibility placed upon them.

Effective enforcement tools are required as a deterrent to poor injury prevention practice and to demonstrate the seriousness of protecting human life and well-being in the workplace.

The Bill recognises that the management of health and safety must be based on good faith, partnership and co-operation.

Prudent employers will adopt practices which provide real and reasonable opportunities for employees to participate in the development of workplace health and safety. Ultimately, the practices adopted will be up to each business, employer and employees.

The Bill also makes explicit that work related stress and fatigue may include physical and mental harm and, therefore, are workplace hazards.

Stress and fatigue are recognised worldwide as an emerging occupational health issue in the 21st century. Just one indicator – the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimates that in the United States, over half of the 550 million working days lost each year due to absenteeism are stress-related.

This is not a new issue; stress and fatigue are recognised under the present law. The Bill proposes to make this explicit.

Employers should recognise that action to reduce stress can be cost effective. The costs of stress to a business may be high staff turnover, an increase in sickness absence, and more customer complaints. Developing stress management strategies will be cost effective and bring benefits for employers and employees.

To assist all parties to develop stress management strategies, I have directed OSH to prepare a Code of Practice in consultation with employer representatives and employee representatives.

New enforcement amendments reinforce that we take health and safety seriously.

The introduction of new fine levels is intended to encourage people to treat health and safety at work as a serious matter and encourage compliance with the Act. This will bring us into line with other comparable countries. They are also consistent with the fine levels of comparable legislation, such as the Resource Management Act and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

Only OSH inspectors will be able to issue infringement notices, that is, instant fines, for obvious and clear-cut breaches of the Act, such as a failure to ensure the use of an appropriate guard on a guillotine. Instant fines can be imposed on individuals or on bodies corporate. Employees as well as employers may be fined.

To support this, the ability for other parties to prosecute is also introduced. This is a real incentive for inspectors to consistently and transparently apply their powers. Broadening the right to prosecute may assist victims’ families to bring closure to their tragic circumstances.

While OSH will maintain its enforcement role, the Occupational Safety and Health Service must become more proactive in providing employers and employees with quality information about the way people need to work and the things they need to do to build safe workplaces.

As a first step, the Service will provide practical support through the development of best practice Health and Safety guidelines to support the new approach.

In conclusion, this Bill provides a comprehensive package of health and safety reforms that challenge New Zealanders to work together to create safer and healthier workplaces.

The Government’s aim is to lift New Zealand’s performance to match the highest international standards.

ENDS

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