Health and Safety Print

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Reforms receive warm welcome, says Trina Snow.

 The Government has announced what they describe as the “most significant reform of New Zealand’s workplace health safety system in 20 years.”

The reforms will not begin to come into effect until December 2013 and will be progressively rolled out over several years, but supermarkets should consider the new requirements carefully now. Although supermarkets are not a high-risk industry, stores should ensure they begin planning for any changes needed to ensure a safe workplace, or implementing those changes immediately.

Labour Minister Simon Bridges launched the Working Safer package in August, saying it “represents a major step change in New Zealand’s approach to meet our target of reducing the workplace injury and death toll by 25% by 2020.”

Here is a summary of the main sections of interest to supermarkets, with Nargon’s comments:

• A new law - the Health and Safety at Work Act - will provide clear, consistent information for business, workers, and government about what they need to do to keep workers and others safe. It will be based on the Australian law because workplace harm and deaths are significantly lower on the other side of the Tasman.

•A clear and transparent government-led strategy will be developed to reduce workplace harm with measurable targets. It seems almost mandatory to have a Government strategy, but if the targets are measurable and challenging then they may have a practical impact.

•Risk areas will be the target of the regulator WorkSafe New Zealand, expected to be operational from December 2013. WorkSafe will focus on the major areas of harm including high risk sectors (based on numbers of fatalities and serious injuries) and major hazard facilities which have the potential for one-off catastrophic events. Supermarkets will not be included in either category – the focus is on industries such as forestry and construction, and critical facilities such as chemical plants and power stations.

• Supermarkets should be aware of stronger penalties, more enforcement tools, stronger court powers and new directors’ duties.

•Better coordination between government agencies that regulate workplace health and safety. For example, ACC and WorkSafe will create a shared programme of workplace injury prevention. If effective, this could be a useful innovation.

•Enhanced worker participation with health and safety matters. Stores will have a general duty to involve and consult workers on health and safety matters. If workers want to have health and safety representatives, the store must consult the representatives, allow them time off for training, pay for training, provide time and resources to perform their role, and give them information. This will apply to businesses of any size – an important change from current requirements.

•Capability and knowledge will be developed at all levels of the system – workers, managers, health and safety professionals, and WorkSafe, including the establishment of a new Health and Safety professional body and a workforce development plan. There will be taxpayer support for training and skill development in a number of instances, though it is unclear how much will be available to supermarkets. Support is likely to be targeted to the high risk areas.

The Government says the system has been designed to get the balance right by being proportionate for small and large low-risk businesses and making the requirements easy to comply with. The Working Safer document states “the regulatory system will make it clear low-risk businesses only need health and safety practices which are in proportion to the risks in their workplace. For businesses in low-risk sectors, this means the requirements will not be of the same magnitude as for businesses that face higher risks. The legislative changes will be supported by clear guidance as we recognise that many (particularly smaller) businesses would rather adopt existing material than design their own compliance systems.”

The full document can be read on-line: http://www.mbie.govt.nz/what-we-do/workplace-health-and-safety-reform.

The Dominion Post editorial noted “it is a rare feat for a government of any hue to embark on changes to workplace laws that win the approval of employers and unions alike… The fact the measures have been broadly welcomed by the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and Business NZ is a good indication the task force struck the right balance between the need to reduce on-the-job accidents and strangling businesses with red tape.”

Both groups had reservations – the CTU about a lack of guaranteed worker representation on the Board of WorkSafe NZ and Business NZ around unintended consequences if the details are not thought through – but the unions described the package as “pretty good” while the business lobby called it a “step in the right direction.” That does not happen very often.


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