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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

H&S a 'managerial imperative'?

H&S a 'managerial imperative'?
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New Zealand

Unease about the harsher penalties available under the HSW Act is prompting managers to take more responsibility for health and safety, but this may be coming at the expense of worker participation.

This was one of the key findings from a small-sample qualitative research project carried out by Julia Bolotbaeva, a post-graduate student at AUT’s Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research.

Presenting her findings to the AUT conference, Bolotbaeva said her objective had been to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the new legislation from the perspective of employers, workers and WorkSafe, using a combination of semi-structured interviews and data from a variety of sources.

“All participants thought the [legislative] change was needed, and was a good move,” she said. “However there was a feeling that the implementation wasn’t as effective as it could have been.”

She cautioned that, because the interviews were done when the new law had been in place for only a year, the findings represented a snapshot from that period rather than an indication of how it is functioning in the longer term, but said private sector participants expressed confusion about some terminology in the act, and frustration that they had not been offered more help with compliance.

“While the definition of ‘serious harm’ was hard to understand in the previous legislation, they said that in the new act the definition of notifiable incidents and injuries was not very helpful.

“And while there was some online material available to help with implementation, it was not very user-friendly. I tried it and I can’t imagine a small business owner being able to use it to figure out what he or she had to do to be compliant.”

The business owners she interviewed, who were from SMEs, were frustrated there had not been better communication from WorkSafe about the new law, which they regarded as being focused on key high-risk industries.

“They felt they’d been left out. There was not much provision for education, or up-skilling of staff, to deal with the new law, and it was left for managers to decide how they were going to do it.”

Despite this she noted that the businesses she dealt with were taking the new legislation seriously, primarily because of the harsher penalties for breaches. As a result, however, H&S had become something of a “managerial imperative”, with workers getting less chance to participate.

“Because managers have become highly involved, workers are not necessarily considered part of the [H&S] decision-making process in businesses.”

MBIE statistics on worker participation confirm this disturbing trend, she said, with recent data showing workers feel less engaged in health and safety, and have fewer opportunities to provide input when decisions are being made.

Although one of the objectives of the new law was to increase worker participation, Bolotbaeva said many workers were not aware that they could request representation. Also, because the law offers no guidance on how to structure a representation system, managers are unsure how to go about it, resulting in representation levels that are, in some cases, lower than those under the previous legislation.



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Julia Bolotbaeva
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