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Margaret Wilson Speech: Taranaki Health and Safety


Margaret Wilson Speech: Taranaki Health and Safety in Employment Workshop and Expo Room 1, Yarrow Stadium, Maratahu Street

Good afternoon.

Thank you for the invitation to address your annual Expo.

I know Taranaki industries have worked very hard on health and safety and the turnout today is indicative of how seriously it is viewed in the region.

I have been asked to keep to the Expo theme of "Recognising the Risk." And as I see it recognition comes on three levels - the Government level, the level of the workplace and at the individual level.

Firstly, we as a Government have a responsibility to put in place a legislative framework that encourages people to work together to achieve safe and healthy workplaces.

I believe we have now achieved this with the Amendments to the Health and Safety in Employment Act which were passed just before Christmas and came into force yesterday.

This is not a stand-alone piece of legislation.

The HSE Amendment was the final piece of this government’s legislative framework for the improvement of workplace health and safety management in New Zealand.

It sits alongside legislation introduced for improved employment relationships based on good faith and trust (the Employment Relations Act) and for improved injury prevention practice at ACC (through the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act).

Its aim is to develop strong health and safety awareness and co-operative cultures in all workplaces.

It encourages best practice rather than the adoption of “one size fits all” standards, providing opportunities for employers and employees to work together to develop the right answer for the needs of their particular workplace.

In essence, the HSE Amendment 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.

What are the changes?

The Act includes critical changes in three broad areas:
who is covered by the legislation, how employers and employees can work together to improve health and safety, and effective enforcement

The Amendment 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 have been brought under the coverage of the Act.
As part of the increased coverage, the Act 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 it is safe for its intended use in a place of work.

Safe workplaces require a commitment to co-operate from both employers and employees. For the first time legislation makes clear not only the right of employees to participate, but that there is a corresponding responsibility placed on 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 Act recognises 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 Act also makes explicit that work related stress and fatigue may include physical and mental harm and, therefore, are workplace hazards.
So while we now have in place the right legislative framework, the next step is to develop a culture of safety which is supported and encouraged by everyone in the workplace.

I believe the ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude in the workplace when it comes to health and safety is too much the culture at the moment in too many workplaces.


At the workplace and individual level

The key provision in the legislation is the requirement that everyone in the workplace participate in determining what are to be the guidelines or the rules governing that workplace.

The idea is to get ownership of health and safety issues, for people to say ‘this is my problem too.’ It is not just an employer’s problem, it is everyone’s problem. And it is those people who have the capacity to be able to make the changes - sometimes it is the employers, sometimes it is the employees, sometimes it is the external environment – who should help identify the issue and then work together to find the solution.

Information

Underlying the whole process is prevention and the key to this is information, information that is accurate, accessible and easily understood.

The Occupational Safety and Health Service (OSH) of the Department of Labour is the key provider of information on how employers, employees, and others with duties under the Act can work together to improve health and safety outcomes.

A panel of employer and union representatives has assisted implementation. Clearly, accessible and timely information was essential to ensure people with new or changed duties under the legislation had the opportunity to become familiar with the requirements and to change or implement new systems.

So what have we done to communicate the changes to the legislation?

A dedicated website, www.workinfo.govt.nz, and a toll-free information service became available when the legislation was passed. Since December, there have been more than 5,700 visitors to the website and 1,200 calls to the Information Centre.

OSH has published 21 Fact Sheets on topics ranging from a general overview of the changes to information relating to volunteers. In addition, a new set of publications has been produced including booklets for employers and employees on their respective rights and obligations, on how to develop employee participation systems, the management of work-related stress and brochures for self-employed persons and volunteer organisations.

Every employer in the country should have already received a copy of the employer booklet and the self-employed should now have received copies of their brochures. All of this information is available on the workinfo website and can be accessed through the toll-free number.

During the past month, OSH held a series of 140 seminars from Kaitaia to Invercargill. More than 7,500 people attended the seminars and already, there have been requests for further seminars. Early feedback from attendees show they found the information given out useful.

OSH has produced customised information for Maori, Pacific People and other ethnic groups. A further series of Fact Sheets is planned, together with a further booklet on temporary impairment in the workplace.

There has been a great deal of information produced in support of these changes but there is far more information still held by employers and employees on how they have been putting the principles of health and safety into practice for many years. I would like to see examples of best-practice shared and this learning available to others to help and improve our national health and safety record.

The workinfo website contains a section that allows people to share what they have learnt; what works and just as importantly, what does not. Once OSH has collected a number of best-practice examples, these will be made available through the website and other channels.

The Employment Relations Education Advisory (ERE Advisory) Committee will approve courses for health and safety representative training and some of these approved courses will be eligible to be funded by the ERE Contestable fund.

Details of the approval process are available from OSH on their websites.

In addition, unit standards registered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority are being developed.

These will set out the competencies required of a health and safety representative before they are able to issue a hazard notice. However, I should stress the employee participation provisions in the Act are intended to promote communication between employers and their employees. The hazard notice provisions only apply when an employer and a trained health and safety representative cannot agree on a way to resolve a potentially hazardous situation in a workplace.

How do we develop a culture of safety?

I believe we can develop a culture of safety by emphasising the consequences that flow if you do not. I think all too often people believe workplace accidents only happen to someone else.

Research by the Department of Labour and ACC, entitled Aftermath, identifies the social and economic consequences of workplace injury, illness or death for the workplace, employers and colleagues, and for the families and communities of victims of workplace injury and illness. The research also highlights the consequences for the economy as a whole, drawing those connections together. A moment’s inattention can have serious consequences.


In conclusion

You as managers at the coalface have a responsibility to make sure there are robust processes to manage the hazards in your workplace, and ensure a systematic review of those processes to take account of any changes in practices.

On the individual level, everyone has a responsibility to ensure their actions do not harm themselves or others.

And every individual has a responsibility to ensure they take an active part in the development of health and safety plans designed to keep everyone safe.

We must get people thinking about workplace safety in a different way, so they are not just seeing it from the enforcement point of view, but from a positive point of view of enriching their lives through safer and healthier workplaces.

For its part the government must continue to fund research into occupational health and safety in New Zealand to inform effective future policy development.

Research infrastructure for this area is fragmented, with expertise spread across a diverse range of universities and departments. While the Department of Labour seeks expert advice on occupational health and safety issues, there is no advisory body of experts to provide independent and contestable advice directly to the Minister of Labour. To rectify this gap – and as I announced yesterday - the department will get new funding in this month’s Budget to establish a five-member National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee.


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