The Cost of Health and Safety

05 Sep 2016

Alison Molloy, Chief Executive Site Safe New Zealand

I read with interest the recent article in the Sunday Star Times on the cost of health and safety to small businesses. The article referred to scaremongering around the new Health and Safety at Work Act and that some small businesses were being "panicked into spending thousands of dollars on unsuitable health and safety packages". 

It is disappointing to hear that in some cases small businesses, which are absolutely crucial to the construction industry, are being scared into spending thousands on health and safety advice. As a not-for-profit membership organisation, Site Safe is completely focused on making sure health and safety is available and accessible for small construction businesses - it is why we committed to delivering  a number of completely free guides and seminars on the new Health and Safety at Work Act and why we work really hard to keep the cost of our support and services as affordable as possible.

Aside from cost, the Times article raises a number of other important questions which need to be addressed.

  • How can we prevent unethical health and safety advice being given to SMEs?

Site Safe completely supports the concept of a formal registration system for all health and safety professionals in New Zealand, including a code of ethics and a complaints procedure. The Health and Safety Association of NZ is working on this system and Site Safe has committed to having all of its nationwide team of health and safety professionals listed on this register.  

  • Are big companies passing the buck?

The Times article also raised the question of larger companies who ask subcontractors to undertake training or use specific health and safety systems, such as Site Safe's (or any other) prequalification tool, and suggested this could be seen as ‘passing the buck’. I believe the new legislation makes it very clear that health and safety is now everyone's responsibility and I don't believe asking for a minimum standard of health and safety on a job is an example of passing the buck. Some companies are requiring small businesses to be part of an overall health and safety system and this should go a long way to change the culture and behaviour of health and safety in New Zealand.

  • Should health and safety be a one-off licence?

In my mind health and safety training is completely different to a one off test or licence. A licencing or assessment system offers a test of knowledge at a point in time, whereas training helps build skills and knowledge so that they can be practiced every day.  The new legislation requires ongoing and regular training and our members, who set up Site Safe 16 years ago, remain of the view that health and safety is an integral part of any successful business no matter how big or small it may be. The need for refresher training is common sense, particularly in areas like First Aid and health and safety where the focus is on helping people stay alive and uninjured.

Small and medium-sized businesses make up 80% of the construction industry and for many the investment into health and safety, particularly for those who are starting from scratch,  can appear high at the start.  I believe that there are opportunities for government, particularly ACC and Work Safe, to step up and provide better financial incentives to recognise good health and safety practice for these small businesses.

The generational change that is required to ensure that everyone can go home safely requires a collective effort and I look forward to future debates on how we can ensure that the most effective and efficient systems for health and safety can be made available for all.