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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters


Update

Resource cuts shift emphasis

There has been a shift towards state regulators taking broader and more strategic roles in workplace health and safety as a consequence of dwindling resources, says a visiting UK work environment academic.

Dr David Walters, of Cardiff University, was recently in New Zealand to discuss vulnerable workers and the role of worker representatives in OHS with AUT’s NZ Work and Labour Market Institute.

Walters told Safeguard the Health and Safety Executive in the UK had to re-orientate itself in the face of diminished resources. “The regulatory agency is reinventing itself to deal with fewer resources to inspect.”

There had been significant budget cuts to the HSE which was trying to educate, advise and coordinate wider efforts. “But the level of regulatory intervention is less than previously, and that’s not good.”

Walters said the changes had come at the expense of the inspectorate. “There were never enough inspectors … and now there is a lot of evidence that there are significantly fewer inspectors, inspections and enforcement actions.”

He had some sympathy for the shift in focus, adding that inspection alone was not going to solve everything. “So I think it is good for a regulator to bring a vision that might address the nature of the new economy … but there is no doubt in my mind that the broader vision has been rolled out as a response to falling resources.” Walters added there was no evidence to suggest such a strategic view would be successful.

Walters has a long-standing interest around issues of worker representation in the UK. His research had demonstrated “quite convincingly” that a union presence in workplaces is associated with better H&S outcomes. In the UK neo-liberal influences saw unions constantly fighting to maintain the positions they had, rather than building on them.

Unions in the UK had similar experiences as in New Zealand with a decline in membership levels and a breakdown in collective bargaining, in part reflecting world-wide changes in the labour market and employment.

Walters said Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government of the 1980s had made an “all out assault” on the notion of trade unionism. “There was a period of unprecedented regulatory attack on unions which left its mark.”

Unions were “rather conveniently” portrayed as dinosaurs, and he found it remarkable that union representatives in OHS had survived. “Although arguably the workers’ representation is much less than it used to be, it is still significant.” He noted that with societies becoming more individualised globally, there were generations now who had no sense of why there were collectives such as unions in the first place.

And in the context of overarching state changes, the public discourse around OHS in the UK had focused on “elf n’safety”, over-regulation, and a compensation culture. “But the reality is the opposite – there is less regulation, fewer inspections and fewer enforcement actions.”

DEATHS AT WORK INVESTIGATED RECENTLY BY DOL

WORKPLACE DEATH TOLL

FOR THE YEAR STARTING JULY 2010: 66

3 JanuaryMale, 59Hawke’s BayAgriculture
Quad bike fatality   
7 JanuaryMale, 80TuatapereAgriculture
Drowned in sewerage pond  
5 FebruaryFemale, 2RecreationWaiwera
Drowned in pool   
7 FebruaryMale, 76DargavilleAgriculture
Ute crashed   
9 FebruaryMale, 45NelsonMines
Truck went over cliff  
17 FebruaryMale, 61MarlboroughForestry
Struck by tree branch  
8 MarchMale, 43TaihapeAgriculture
Tractor rolled   

A FOREIGN AFFAIR

TASMANIAN MINING LAW AMENDED

Changes to Tasmania’s health and safety legislation have been made to focus specifically on mine safety.

The changes will require mine operators to appoint a site senior officer, being the most senior officer at the mine site, with the authority to suspend or close operations if there is undue risk to life.

The site senior officer must have sufficient mining experience, given the size and nature of the particular operation and the level of OHS expertise available.

For an underground mine above a certain size, the site senior officer must have training in risk management, and a degree in mining engineering if there is no one else similarly qualified to assist.

The legislation changes also require mine operators to develop a formal documented OHS management system, and to consult workers in the creation or amendment of the system.

Mine operators must also develop a major hazard management plan depending on the risks uncovered in the hazard identification process, or if

Thomson Reuters

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