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Mill company’s workplace record : need for new law

Mill company’s workplace record proves need for new law

Today’s Sunday Star-Times story highlighting the extent of health and safety problems at two Juken Nissho Ltd wood processing mills proves the need for new laws coming into effect tomorrow, says the country’s largest trade union.

From tomorrow, (Monday, May 5) workers will have a stronger statutory right to control over their safety at work.

EPMU national secretary Andrew Little said that the horrific record of accidents at JNL plants in Gisborne and Masterton showed what could happen in a regime where health and safety were left solely to the employer.

Labour Department statistics obtained by the union under the Official Information Act show that the company has had more than 300 serious harm injuries reported since 1995. Of these, 183 were at the Masterton mill and 68 were at the Gisborne mill. Both are largely ununionised.

“This gives us clear evidence that having workers involved in developing and monitoring health and safety practices, as they are at JNL’s Kaitaia triboard mill, drastically reduces the workplace toll,” Mr Little said.

“The people who are operating plant and machinery are the ones who know what the hazards are and how they can best be dealt with.”

Mr Little said that giving workers a greater involvement in workplace health and safety would free the Labour Department’s Occupational Safety and Health division to concentrate on enforcing the law.

The Council of Trade Unions aims to have 10,000 workplace health and safety representatives elected within a year. EPMU members have already elected 500 and expect to have another 1500 elected by April next year.

Changes to the Health and Safety in Employment Act that come into effect tomorrow include:

Aircraft and ship crews, railway workers and “mobile” workers (those who are injured while driving) are now covered. Increased protection for volunteers, people on work experience and employees who are “loaned” to another employer. People who sell or supply plant or equipment are required to make sure that it is safe for its intended use in the workplace. Stress and fatigue are now explicitly recognised as “harms” and “hazards”. Maximum fines are increased to $500,000. A new system of instant fines comes in. If OSH doesn’t prosecute, other organisations may. Employers may not insure against fines under the legislation. Employers are required to involve workers in the development, implementation and maintenance of health and safety systems, and provide paid leave for worker representatives to be trained. Worker health and safety representatives can issue hazard notices to employers. Workers may refuse to do work that they reasonably believe will cause them harm. The Employment Relations Authority may issue compliance orders over workers’ rights under the HSE Act.

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