Getting Ready for the Health & Safety at Work Act


22 Dec 2015

With the Health and Safety at Work Act coming into force on 4 April 2016, there has been plenty of speculation, myths and misinformation around supposed health and safety costs, responsibilities, enforcement and penalties. The good news is that doing the right thing is straightforward. WorkSafe New Zealand Sector Engagement Manager Bryce Fleury explains what construction businesses can be doing now to prepare.

The Act is part of a reform package that aims to reduce New Zealand's work related illness, injury and fatality figures by at least 25 per cent by 2020. That's a big ask, but it presents a great opportunity for organisations to review their health and safety practices and cultureand, if needed, revise how they manage critical risks.

One myth is that the Act will prompt extra paperwork and compliance costs. This doesn't have to be the case. The new law recognises that each business is best placed to know what it should do to meet requirements. If an organisation already takes a responsible approach to health and safety then little will need to change. Businesses need to do what is 'reasonably practicable' and proportional; balancing the level of risk, the chance of an incident happening and how much control the organisation has in managing it.

Then there's the one about hefty penalties and prison sentences if someone gets hurt. Not so. Hefty fines and imprisonment are only imposed by the Courts in extreme circumstances where health and safety obligations are recklessly or persistently not met. WorkSafe is not trying to catch people out or pounce on small oversights with minimal consequences; we are tackling areas where significant numbers of workplace serious harms and deaths occur.

So what can businesses do now?

  • Leaders - step up and be accountable. Under the new law company officers (directors, board members, chief executives, partners etc) are responsible for due diligence, ensuring their organisation complies with its obligations. This means always having current knowledge of work health and safety matters; knowing the nature of your organisation's operations and the associated risks; and assessing the resources and processes to manage these risks. In the same way that you will always be assessing things like finances and resourcing, health and safety should be treated as a fundamental part of running a business. 

 

  • Identify and manage your risks. Another myth is that an organisation (which, as an entity, has the primary duty of care for the health and safety of its workers and anyone affected by its work) and its officers must eliminate all risks. They can't. The nature of any work is that there will always be risks; and in the construction industry these have greater potential consequences than some other industries. What's important is that they can be managed and mitigated. First they must be identified. Remember, it's not just safety, health is also at stake. For example, construction workers are twenty times more likely to die as a result of respiratory disease than any other construction incident.

 

  • Make health and safety a part of your organisation's culture. The question is no longer "Do I have a liability?", but "How do I improve health and safety"  Get all staff thinking this way...

 

  • ...and get them involved - not just because it's the law but because they can help you and they also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own and their colleagues health and safety. The Act focuses attention on how we work more than where we work and the people doing the work are best placed to identify the risks. However, they might not always be comfortable speaking up. Managers - make them comfortable, because workers are a valuable health and safety resource. If you have people who don't like to question 'authority' (e.g. junior staff, tall poppy syndromers, English as a second language), think creatively about how you can get their input.

Engage and educate

Here's another myth - health and safety is all about stopping any activity that might possibly lead to harm. Wrong, and this is not WorkSafe's vision - we want to save lives, not stop them.  Our over-riding focus is to embed good workplace health and safety culture and best practice in New Zealand. To do that we will join forces with organisations and workers to educate them about their responsibilities and engage them in making changes that reduce the chances of harm. WorkSafe will of course enforce where it has to for those who fail in their duties but we will be proportionate and fair.

What happens next?

WorkSafe will work with businesses, industry bodies and other regulatory organisations to provide information and guidance to help get people up to speed before the Act comes into force. Formal guidance, as a result of regulations, will be issued from late 2015. Keep informed by visiting www.worksafe.govt.nz and sign up to the Health & Safety at Work Act subscriber updates.