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New Report Highlights New Zealand’s Inability To Learn From Health And Safety Failures

A report led by a group of senior CEOs and Directors has labelled New Zealand’s history of health and safety failings and poor progress as disgraceful and called for urgent action by government and industry.

The Been There. Done That report into New Zealand’s repeated health and safety failures was led by an independent Taskforce, set up by the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum in late 2023.

The Forum initiated the Taskforce following its State of a Thriving Nation report in August which highlighted the $4.4 billion cost to New Zealand from poor health and safety performance and progress in 2022 alone.

“We knew something had to be done to understand where we’re going wrong, so we brought together a group of seven experienced leaders to understand the key issues and map out a path to improving this country’s health and safety performance,” says Forum CEO, Francois Barton.

The Been There. Done That report draws upon interviews and data from senior New Zealand business leaders and stakeholders, as well as regulatory analysis, to generate five tightly-focused recommendations.

It also calls out the stalled progress from government with no action plan or work underway of the 2018-2028 Health and Safety Strategy, six years on from its launch.

“This lack of progress, combined with an absence of regulatory clarity and lack of accountability through inadequate coordination and action across government agencies and industry is unacceptable,” says Taskforce Chair Toby Beaglehole.

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“This is not the first time we’ve had an opportunity to learn and improve. Eleven years on, the 2013 Independent Taskforce’s report on Workplace Health and Safety could have been written today. We have an opportunity to finally do something different keep workers safer and reduce avoidable confusion for businesses,” says Toby.

Nearly all of the 50 senior business leaders and stakeholders spoken to during the Been There. Done That report and the hundreds more surveyed, indicated they wanted the Government to prioritise improvements to New Zealand’s health and safety performance.

“With clarity from the regulator, and an engaged and collaborative approach from Government to industry, New Zealand businesses can be set up for success to deliver genuine leading work,” says Mike Bennetts, former Z Energy CEO and Taskforce member.

“These changes don’t need to be expensive or time-consuming. They just need a government and system players who are willing to understand that we’re continuing to fail New Zealand workers, and the businesses they work for,” says Stacey Shortall, Partner at MinterEllisonRuddWatts and Taskforce member.

The report outlines five key recommendations to change the trajectory New Zealand is on, and the Taskforce believes this work can be initiated and executed within six months:

1. Rewrite and relaunch the 2018-2028 Health and Safety Strategy, including both implementing comprehensive governance and a three-year action plan to capture and ensure progress, including the next two recommendations below.

2. Review and implement priority regulatory changes to ensure the most appropriate mix of regulations, codes and guidance to clearly specify business’ accountabilities and expectations.

3. Apply the rules clearly and fairly and oversee them expertly to ensure poor or negligent business practices are consistently held to account, and leading performance is incentivised.

4. Establish an independent oversight function for safety strategy, incorporating a small group of industry leaders to ensure progress and momentum for improving New Zealand’s health and safety performance.

5. Establish and maintain a coherent, credible and current body of government and industry data and insights to inform and focus WorkSafe NZ and business health and safety efforts.

“This report makes uncomfortable reading. It also depicts the current state of government and regulatory insight as inefficient and ineffective,” says Forum CEO Francois Barton.

“But we know when we do act, we can thrive. This report presents and sets out a way forward that we cannot afford to ignore.”

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