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Health, Safety, and ACC

6.3 Worker participation

Worker participation
Worker participation and representation is viewed as a significant requirement to ensure improved health and safety practice in organisations (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Development of regulations to support the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 at p60 <>). It is a means of assisting PCBUs and officers in their duty of eliminating or minimising risks by being better informed by the workers who face those risks directly.
From HSE Act to HSW Act
When considering the reform of health and safety legislation, the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety was concerned that the previous legislation (the Health and Safety in Employment Act, the HSE Act) did not provide sufficient detail about the role of both health and safety representatives (HSRs) and health and safety committees (HSCs) (Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety The Report of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health & Safety (April 2013) at 59 <>). Further, the HSE Act did not provide guidance as to the relationship between HSRs and employers. One of the key recommendations of the Taskforce was therefore that the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSW Act) provide both HSRs and HSCs with sufficient powers and functions to effectively contribute to health and safety matters within the workplace.
Under the HSE Act, as part of having an employee participation system, a business could establish a HSC. A “health and safety committee” was defined as “a committee established to support the ongoing improvement of health and safety in a place of work”.
The HSE Act allowed businesses to decide the membership of any HSC in an organisation themselves.
Default provisions applied where the parties failed to agree a system within six months. This process required the employees (or the employer if requested) to elect:
at least one HSR to act independently; or
up to a maximum of five HSRs to be members of a HSC (and the representatives must comprise at least half of the committee).
Little other guidance was provided and while it was anticipated that a code of practice would be issued for worker participation practices to accompany the HSE Act, none eventuated (Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety The Report of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health & Safety (April 2013) at 57 <>).
Two mechanisms for worker participation under the (HSE Act) have been carried forward into the HSW Act but with substantially more power and functions. These are having a health and safety representatives (.HSRs and health and safety committees (HSCs).
Worker participation practices
Participation duties
Under the HSW Act, PCBUs have a duty to provide reasonable opportunities for workers to participate effectively in improving work health and safety in the business, on an ongoing basis. This means:
complying with prescribed requirements relating to worker participation, including requirements relating to a particular industry, sector, or kind of workplace; and
taking into account any relevant approved code of practice;
“Reasonable opportunities” means reasonable in the circumstances, having regard to relevant matters. These include:
the number of workers;
the number of different workplaces of the business or undertaking, and the distance between them;
the likely risks to work health and safety in the business or undertaking and the level of those risks;
the nature of the work performed and the way it is arranged or managed;
the nature of the employment arrangements or contracting arrangements, including the extent and regularity of employment or engagement of temporary workers;
the willingness of workers and their representatives to develop worker participation practices; and
in relation to employers and employees, the duty to act in good faith as required by s 4 of the Employment Relations Act 2000.
Effective participation approaches
Many PCBUs deal with worker participation obligations via formal representation processes. While these are important (see [6.4]), good health and safety performance is founded on worker participation that is more routine in application and broader in scope.
The key reasons for increasing worker participation are:
workers are familiar with the risks faced;
workers understand work as it is done in practice, which often varies from procedure;
workers understand which solutions are most likely to be effective;
workers are more likely to buy in to processes that they have been involved in developing; and
the opportunity to influence the working environment is very motivational.
Acknowledging the benefits and drivers of worker participation can play a significant role in positive health and safety performance and making participation effective is therefore highly desirable.
Participation approaches can be broadly separated into two categories – task related and non-task related.
Task-related participation
Task-related participation is undertaken in direct relation to a specific work activity. Frequently, many health and safety related activities are carried out by a health and safety advisor, or by a team leader or supervisor, rather than by the workers. Such activities include:
hazard identification;
development of risk assessments;
creation of safe work method statements;
incident investigations; and
completion of permit-to-work paperwork.
These activities are widely practiced and some are described elsewhere within this book. The key point from a participation perspective is to do them in conjunction with the work team, and not simply ask them to endorse the completed documents.
Non-task-related participation
Non-task-related participation covers health and safety topics more broadly. These are system-level activities that impact across multiple work tasks and are improvement-led rather than execution-led.
Some examples of these and how they can be applied effectively are presented in the table below. As this kind of activity is developed, it will be important to ensure adequate participation from the workforce.
Table 6.1 — Examples of non-task-related activities
Key points for effectiveness
H&S committees
Representative of the workforce
Set a clear mandate and terms of reference so the committee members know what they are trying to achieve.
Establish a budget so the committee has control over appropriate matters and can implement their own improvements.
Learning teams
A review of an incident or occurrence to understand what conditions led to the unintended event
Involve a diverse range of people who have a good knowledge of the operations under review.
Treat it as a positive exercise to learn as much as possible about the operations, rather than focusing on specific incident causes.
Use for reviewing positive outcomes and normal operations as well.
Improvement groups
A project team brought together to improve a process, or to find a solution to an identified issue
Use cross-functional teams that can bring different ideas to the table.
Ensure the business is ready to implement the identified improvements.
After-action reviews
A team review at the end of a shift, or a week or a specific job or project to see what went well and what could be improved
Similar in approach to learning teams, but quite informal.
Keep them very front-line-focused and make them quick and simple.
Talk about the whole job, not just health and safety.
Ensure there is some way for issues and improvements to reach other teams.
Lessons learned
Sharing of lessons learned from incidents and successes
Allow workers to tell their own stories of what happened.
Make sure improvements are actioned.
Have a high ratio of positive stories to incidents.
Across both task-related and non-task-related categories, the following are fundamental to effective participation and the support of better health and safety performance:
genuine involvement to improve performance leading to co-creation of tools and processes;
self-directing, with workers leading discussions and priorities;
routine – not just as and when dictated by process; and
cognisant of appropriate literacy, numeracy and language requirements for the whole workforce.

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