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18th Annual EMA Occupational Health and Safety Conference

Simon Bridges
Minister for Labour

29 April, 2014

18th Annual EMA Occupational Health and Safety Conference

In August 2013, the Government announced the most significant reform of New Zealand’s workplace health and safety system in more than 20 years.

Our reform package ‘Working Safer – a blueprint for health and safety at work’ marks a turning point in New Zealand’s approach to safety at work.

It provides us with a valuable opportunity to create and deliver a world class health and safety system.

Working Safer follows the report of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy and the report of the independent taskforce.

We set up the taskforce to advise us on ways to meet our target of reducing the rate of New Zealand’s workplace fatalities and serious injuries by at least 25 per cent by 2020.

This target is purposefully ambitious.

It acknowledges that too many people are being harmed and killed while at work in New Zealand, and it commits to changing this.

Unlike other countries we are likely to compare ourselves to, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, our serious injury, fatality and occupational disease rates are not showing significant improvement; the social, financial, and personal costs of this are high and they affect us all.

Working Safer is a package of system-wide changes that aims to create a New Zealand culture that recognises health and safety is an investment in good business practice, improved productivity and a more engaged workforce.

In December, we established the stand-alone regulator, WorkSafe New Zealand, which has a dedicated focus on workplace health and safety, with a focus on high risk sectors.

We are also overhauling the law, with a new legislative framework currently making its way through Parliament.

However, achieving our target is not something the Government or the regulator can do on its own.

Health and safety at work is everybody’s responsibility.

Health and Safety Reform Bill

The Health and Safety Reform Bill is currently at Select Committee.

Submissions close on Friday 9 May, and I encourage you to have your say on the Bill.

The Bill is based on the Australian Model Work Health and Safety Act.

This framework recognises that a well-functioning health and safety system relies on participation, leadership, and accountability by government, business, and workers.

The Bill provides for performance-based general duties that achieve a health and safety standard while giving duty holders the flexibility to determine how that standard is met.

Its flexible structure will support both small and large businesses, as well as high-risk and low-risk sectors - without being overly burdensome or prescriptive.

It will provide clarity on what is expected of duty holders.

The Bill will continue to place requirements on the people in workplaces who create the risk and are best able to manage it, through the adoption of the concept ‘Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking’ or PCBU.

PCBUs

A PCBU is a broad term that captures modern working relationships, and may be an organisation or an individual.

A PCBU has a general duty to ensure the health and safety of workers and others affected by work carried out – so far as is reasonably practicable.

Defining a duty holder as a PCBU rather than an employer, as is the case under the current law, better aligns the allocation of a duty with the capacity to fulfil it.

It makes clear that risk management responsibility belongs to those who create, and are best placed to control risks.

The PCBU concept acknowledges that today’s business landscape is often characterised by non-traditional working relationships and sometimes complex supply chains.

It aims to foster shared responsibility and coordinated action across a supply chain in a logical, fair and efficient manner.

Worker participation

The new law also seeks to ensure PCBUs consult with workers on health and safety issues and procedures.

Involving workers in health and safety matters is a proven factor in better health and safety performance.

Under the new Bill, all PCBUs will need to adopt practices that provide reasonable opportunities for workers to participate in improving work health and safety on an ongoing basis.

However the Bill does not specify what types of practices PCBUs must have. This is to recognise that different types of practices will suit different work places.

Guidance will be developed to provide clarity on what forms of consultation may be appropriate for organisations of varying sizes and risk levels.

Due diligence

The Bill also creates a positive due diligence duty on officers.

Directors and other officers in governance roles must be proactive in ensuring that the PCBU complies with its duties and obligations.

This is to ensure the overall direction of an organisation, including the availability and allocation of resources, does not compromise the PCBUs ability to comply with their duties.

Failure to comply with a due diligence duty could result in prosecution and fines if it is proven that the officer was reckless in that they had foreseen a dangerous outcome and continued with the course of conduct regardless.

Regulations, Codes of Practice and guidance

Regulations, codes of practice, and guidance are being developed in parallel with the passage of the Bill.

The value in this cannot be understated.

Both the Royal Commission and the Taskforce identified that our current regime has always lacked the breadth and depth of regulations and supporting guidance needed to help duty holders fully understand how to meet their general duties.

We are determined that this will not be the case this time around.

The first phase of regulations will cover five specific areas of work-related regulations, they are:

• general risk and workplace management;

• worker participation;

• work involving asbestos;

• work involving hazardous substances; and

• major hazardous facilities.

These policy proposals will be released for public consultation soon, and I encourage you to engage with this process.

Your contribution will help us make informed policy decisions and ensure the right balance is struck between providing the information necessary for people to understand their responsibilities and duties – particularly in high-risk areas – and ensuring regulation is not overly prescriptive or burdensome.

A number of existing regulations will be transferred directly across, and some areas will be reviewed and consulted on in a second phase.

Improving the capability within system

Designing an effective Health and Safety system is not enough to create a step-change in our workplace health and safety record. We must implement an effective system.

As part of Working Safer, we are establishing a representative group for health and safety professionals and developing a workforce strategy.

Representative group for health & safety professionals

A Health and Safety Professionals Alliance will be established by June this year.

The purpose of establishing a peak body for workplace health and safety professionals is to promote overarching accreditation, professional development, and a consistent quality of advice.

For firms, the Alliance will provide a clear and agreed understanding of what good standards look like.

It will steer firms in the right direction for advice or services and provide assurance that professionals engaged are competent.

For the health and safety professionals industry, the Alliance will provide career development and support, and encourage consistency and cooperation across the sector.

Further work is being done on the form and function that the Alliance will take.

My officials and I are interested in engaging with health and safety professional bodies and hearing your thoughts on these issues.

A workforce strategy

Further, a workforce development programme is being established to ensure that those involved in regulating health and safety in New Zealand have the skills, resources and support to do their jobs effectively, and get the best outcomes for all New Zealanders.

Agencies will need to develop the skills of their staff, both in relation to the new legislation and to support compliance outcomes generally.

We are also focussing on better cross-government work.

In particular, collaboration between ACC, WorkSafe and MBIE will provide improved injury prevention strategies and incentive programmes.

These three agencies are already working together on the proposed Safety Star Rating scheme, which will reduce the cost to businesses in promoting good health and safety practices by providing financial incentives.

The scheme will deliver a credible standard to enable businesses’ health and safety practices and outcomes to be compared.

ACC and WorkSafe will also work together to form a joint action plan of workplace injury prevention activities at least once every three years.

Conclusion

There are some big changes afoot, and I acknowledge that there is some trepidation.

But I want to assure you that businesses that already have a strong culture of health and safety embedded in systems and practices will see minimal change.

I don’t need to tell you that every business should “do” health and safety because it is the right way to run a business not because the regulator or Government tells you to.

Health and safety is an aid to good business practice and improved productivity and reliability.

And it’s this leadership from the top that is fundamental to success in our health and safety culture. This is not something Government can do alone – we all need to play our part.

We must never forget that behind the title of ‘health and safety’ lies the reality of people suffering harm and too often untimely death as a result of their work.

Workers, and their families, have the right to expect they will return home safe from work every day.

ENDS

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