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Health and Safety Reform Bill First Reading

Hon Simon Bridges

Minister of Labour
13 March 2014 Speech
Health and Safety Reform Bill First Reading

I move that the Health and Safety Reform Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee to consider the Bill.

The Government is committed to improving health and safety at work.

This Bill represents the most significant law reform in this area in 20 years. Its main purpose is to provide for a balanced framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces.

The new law will play a major role in helping us meet our target of reducing New Zealand’s workplace death toll by 25 per cent by 2020.

The Bill’s development has been prompted by a number of events, most tragically the loss of 29 lives at the Pike River Coal Mine.

The Bill addresses recommendations from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Mine Tragedy and the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety. I thank the Taskforce for its work and am pleased that this Bill gives effect to a range of its recommendations.

The Bill builds on the important work already done in establishing WorkSafe New Zealand as the new, independent, workplace health and safety regulator, and changes to mining health and safety legislation that brought New Zealand into line with international best practice for the mining industry.

The Bill is central to creating a world-class health and safety environment, but this will not happen in isolation. A shift in the way we all view our involvement in, and responsibility for, health and safety at work is needed to make a lasting change in our safety culture.

I therefore commend the forestry industry for convening the Independent Forestry Review Panel to investigate the contributing factors to the high rate of serious injuries and fatalities in that industry and to recommend practical steps for change.

Most workplace health and safety legislation in developed countries follows what is commonly known as the Robens model, named after Lord Alfred Robens’ 1972 report to the British government.

The Robens model provides for performance-based general duties that ensure broad coverage of work and workplaces to be specified in the Act. These all-encompassing duties support innovation and provide flexibility for business.

Under the Robens model, these broad duties are underpinned by industry or hazard-specific regulations, such as specific rules for mining, petroleum exploration or major hazard facilities, with approved codes of practice and guidance to clarify and assist people to understand what is required of them.

Australia and the United Kingdom have both confirmed their Robens-based models as the best approach after recent reviews. Our own review confirmed that a properly implemented Robens model is the best way forward for New Zealand, and the Bill reflects this.

The Taskforce recommended that the core concepts in the Bill should be closely modelled on the Australian Model Work Health and Safety Act. The Government has carefully considered areas in the Model Act that need to be modified to reflect New Zealand’s specific context.

Having said this, variations to the Model Act have been kept to a minimum, and have only been made for good reason. That approach was recommended by the Taskforce, and I would like the Select Committee to keep this in mind when it considers the Bill.

The driver for adopting and adapting the Australian Model health and safety regime in New Zealand is not harmonisation or alignment with Australia. However, simplifying workplace health and safety for trans-Tasman businesses is an important ancillary benefit of implementing a version of the Australian regime here.

Being able to draw upon the significant resources, body of knowledge and jurisprudence developed in Australia is another strong benefit. This is especially the case when it comes to the suite of regulations, codes of practice, and guidance material that has been developed to support the Model Act.

The Royal Commission and the Taskforce both told us that the inability to develop these independently in the past was a major contributing factor to our failed implementation of the Robens model through our current legislation. In short, there is no point reinventing the wheel if an excellent one already exists.

The Bill is an omnibus bill.

The first five parts will become the Health and Safety at Work Bill to replace the current Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and Machinery Act 1950.

The Bill will also result in amendment bills to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, Accident Compensation Act, Employment Relations Act, and WorkSafe New Zealand Act to ensure there is a consistent and robust health and safety framework.

The current work health and safety regulatory framework places a strong emphasis on the employer and employee roles within a fixed workplace setting and this is no longer suitable to address modern working arrangements.

Modern workplaces can contain multiple employers with diverse workforces made up of employees, contractors and others. Irrespective of a person’s role within a workplace, they should have the appropriate level of obligation to make sure their safety, and that of others, is not adversely affected.

This starts with the person conducting a business or undertaking, or “PCBU”.

PCBUs must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that no-one is put at risk from the work carried out as part of their business or undertaking.

Workers are afforded the same level of protection by the Bill, no matter what the working relationship - whether employee, contractor or self-employed.

Parties in the upstream supply chain of goods and services, including designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of plant, substances and structures, also have obligations depending on what is within their sphere of influence.

Directors and other officers in governance roles must be proactive in ensuring that the PCBU complies with its duties and obligations. This due diligence duty on officers of PCBUs is new and will ensure that decision-makers are held accountable for the health and safety consequences of their decisions.

The Taskforce said that our current worker participation system was not working. The Bill addresses this by expanding worker engagement, participation and representation requirements.

It acts to encourage workers to get involved, ensuring a framework exists to support workers in having a say in matters of health and safety that affect them, without fear of repercussions.

The Bill contains a strong and effective enforcement regime with new enforcement tools and graduated offence categories and penalties. Higher penalties for non-compliance are introduced where appropriate, and distinctions have been made between the role and nature of the offending duty holder.

The penalty regime under the Bill is complemented by a wider range of enforcement tools including enforceable undertakings or training orders, which can work to improve health and safety awareness and culture in ways that monetary penalties cannot.

The Bill, while central to improving health and safety at work, is one part of a broader reform package.

Introduction and consideration of the Bill is occurring parallel with the development of the first phase of health and safety regulations, with public consultation on these regulations expected to begin by early April.

The development of codes of practice and guidance material will also begin shortly, as these are fundamental parts of the framework necessary to ensure that a robust and effective system exists and is operational on the day that the new Act comes fully into force. I anticipate that this will be 1 April 2015.

Effective health and safety at work makes good business sense, it is an investment in productivity, worker engagement and reputation, and it is something that everyone must recognise that they have a part to play in, and a responsibility for.

Seventy five people each year are killed and many more are seriously injured in our workplaces.

The legacy we owe to these people, and their families, is to ensure that we deliver robust and effective work health and safety legislation, so that everyone can return home from work every day, safe and unharmed.

I commend this Bill to the House.


ENDS


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