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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters



Safeguard Magazine

Editorial—One safety law for all

The introduction of the new Health and Safety at Work Act has been delayed, with the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee now not due to report back to Parliament until 24 July.

The committee had been set to report on Friday 29 May, but a stoush at the National Party’s weekly caucus on the Tuesday of that week prompted the delay. As we go to press, Radio NZ reports the select committee was to recommend watered down provisions for employee participation in general, with an exemption for businesses which employ fewer than 20 people.

It seems that isn’t enough for some in the National Party, who would prefer to minimise the voice of employees still further because it would interfere with what they would no doubt describe as management’s prerogative to manage. In their bid to placate the SME sector these MPs – and the select committee – appear to have overlooked two fundamental issues.

Firstly, the principle of one health and safety law to apply to everyone is too important to be lost to the special pleadings of interest groups. No exemptions, please.

WorkSafe is charged with preparing guidance material on employee participation, which will outline the participation practices international experience suggests work best. This is where it can clearly be spelled out how small businesses operating in low risk industry sectors can incorporate employee participation with very little compliance overhead. (Operate in a higher risk sector? Forget size – you need to do it properly. Looking at you, agriculture.)

The second principle arises from a simple question: should workers have the right to be concerned about how their work might affect their health? If you say yes to this – really, Mr Burns aside, who wouldn’t? – then you cannot argue with a straight face that this right shouldn’t extend to all workers, no matter the nature of their work or the size of their employer.

The prime minister needs to send a clear signal to his caucus that legislated health and safety coverage must remain universal, and that compliance expectations for smaller businesses and lower risk sectors can be outlined in the guidance material which supports the legislation.

However, as someone at the Safeguard conference said, if you are waiting for the new legislation to be passed before you do something about health and safety then you’re just not in the right head space. Legislation sets out the minimum standard, so it was a pleasure to attend the Safeguard awards dinner to hear some exceptional acceptance speeches from people representing organisations who are focused well beyond compliance.

It was also a night of great goodwill and humour from a room full of people who don’t hang around waiting for health & safety to be “done” to them, but are out there every day living it.

PETER BATEMAN @safeguardnz

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