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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Taskforce frames the issues

Taskforce frames the issues
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New Zealand

The health and safety taskforce's consultation paper issued on 16 September outlines New Zealand's poor OHS record and describes how the taskforce has come to view the existing OHS "system" and how each part relates to the others.

An appendix contains a useful comparison table showing how our regulatory framework compares to those used in Australia, the UK, Canada and Norway.

However the heart of the paper consists of an analysis of 14 issues on which the taskforce seeks specific input, namely:

  • Who gets harmed as a result of work?
  • The regulatory framework.
  • Regulators' roles/responsibilities.
  • NZ's changing workforce and work arrangements.
  • Worker participation/engagement.
  • Leadership and governance.
  • Capacity/capability of the OHS system.
  • Incentives.
  • Influencing OHS beyond one's workplace.
  • Major hazards.
  • Health and hazardous substances.
  • SMEs.
  • Measurement and data.
  • Our national culture and societal expectations.

It is clear the taskforce already has some notion of what could be the most fruitful areas to examine and challenge. The paper suggests the HSE Act needs some work, on the basis that other countries which also adopted performance-based legislation based on the Robens approach have evolved it further than we have - and enjoy better OHS outcomes.

The paper also gives a nod of approval to Australia's "model" health and safety act, which gives the regulator authority to issue non-disturbance notices and enforceable undertakings, and authorises safety reps to issue provisional improvement notices.

In another nod across the Tasman, the paper notes the Australian legislation's move to ensure company directors must exercise due diligence to ensure legal compliance has no current NZ equivalent.

Similarly, regulators elsewhere require employers and other "primary duty holders" to establish formal risk management programmes, again not required here at present.

Later, the paper notes the absence of OHS guidance material aimed at directors, and that neither MBIE nor the Institute of Directors sets safety performance-based requirements for directors. "It appears that a significant opportunity exists to improve ... outcomes by increasing the involvement, focus, competency and accountability for directors and senior leaders on matters relating to health and safety."

Perhaps indicating the taskforce is willing to consider sacrificing some sacred cows - calves, really - the paper notes the recent incorporation of the Department of Labour into the larger Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, looks back at the long-vanished but widely recalled OSH brand, and suggests confusion may be the result. "An agency whose sole focus is workplace health and safety, with matching branding, may alleviate this confusion."

As if to underline the point, the paper later notes that jurisdictions with single-focus agencies tend to have the lowest injury rates.

Buried in a footnote in the worker participation discussion is the statistic that from 2006 to 2010, there were only 22 occasions when the then DoL was asked to resolve a dispute between employers and safety reps arising from a hazard notice which the parties were unable to resolve by themselves. The report notes that safety reps are under no obligation to notify the regulator when they issue a hazard notice.

Not lacking in ambition, the last issue the paper canvasses is New Zealand's national culture, which it suggests might be the missing link which could explain why our safety performance is so much worse than comparable countries, even after allowing for the dozen other factors discussed earlier in the paper. The tall poppy syndrome, "she'll be right" attitudes and an ingrained reluctance to stand out from the crowd are all discussed as possible culprits which could be amenable to challenge.

Submissions can be made online, and also in person at public meetings during October and early November. Submissions close on 16 November, and the taskforce is scheduled to report its recommendations to the Minister of Labour on 30 April next year.

Organisations Mentioned:
Department of Labour; Institute of Directors; MBIE;
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From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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