NZ culture, deregulation blamed for broken health and safety system

New Zealanders' cultural tendencies towards "stoicism, deference to authority, laidback complacency and suspicion of red tape", along with too much 1980-90s deregulation, are root causes of our poor health and safety record, according to a government-ordered taskforce.

The report of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, issued today, says the taskforce is "deeply concerned" about the number of deaths, injuries and workplace illnesses occurring, not least because they are so poorly measured.

"The taskforce is left with a profound unease about the quality of data in New Zealand," says the report, which recommends sweeping changes to the law, regulation and attitudes to workplace safety and health.

The report also finds strongly in favour of formally involving employees and trade unions in a "tripartite" approach to workplace health and safety, with structures that share responsibility between employers, their workers and government regulators.

It criticises the last major rewrite of law in the area, the 1992 Health and Safety in Employment Act, for being too light-handed in its implementation of a system known as the Roden model, developed in Britain and adapted for local use.

This reflected specific factors at play in New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s, "notably resource constraints (including public sector staff cuts), changing attitudes towards the roles of government and business (including the ethos of business self-regulation) and liberalisation of the labour market with weakened union representation".

The six-member taskforce was chaired by the chairman of the Shell oil company in New Zealand, Rob Jager, and included the Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg and Business New Zealand's Paul Mackay.

It concluded the country's health and safety regime is "not fit for purpose" in a wide variety of ways, with no one single element to blame. New Zealanders' attitudes to health and safety at work were part of the problem "from the boardroom to the shop floor".

"If recognition and support for health and safety are low or intermittent, workplaces are liable to develop, accept and defend low standards, dangerous practices and inadequate systems."

The report received endorsement from across spectrum of unions and employers, including from Labour Minister Simon Bridges.

"The government has already accepted the taskforce's early recommendation for a new stand-alone health and safety agency. We will respond in detail to the rest of the recommendations by July, once we have had a chance to systematically chart our next steps," he says.

Julian Hughes, executive director of the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum, says the taskforce was proposing "realistic and achievable recommendations to fix our broken health and safety system".

(BusinessDesk)


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Any new H & S system must include ways to prevent 'them' getting away with it. Enforcement is currently lacking, fines are far too low, and companies should be required to provide cover, or a bond to cover, for any (future) issues that can be blamed on failed safety in the workplace.
This cover should stay in place for several years after the company changes hands or goes belly up. Too many companies get away with murder by going into (voluntary) receivership to avoid picking up the tab for bad (safety) management.

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Yeah, well I went to a union-run health and safety seminar and all the presenter talked about was how to use the H&S Act to get at the bosses ... you need to dump them from any impartial decision-making around H&S because paint it however you want. Unions are not impartial.

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Reading your comments, I doubt it very much that you have been to any Union H & S seminars. Try and fool someone else.

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Neither unions nor employers are impartial. However, a H & S that works is surely good for business.

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We still don't appreciate in New Zealand how critical a H & S record is in any due diligence undertaken by overseas investors. There is a cavalier attitude here that seems to be reflected in the number of dislikes on comments here. Some appear to see H & S as an unnecessary business cost undermining business profits - Dickensian, yet too prevalent in NZ.

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The need for a completely independent body to regulate safety becomes obvious in the stories that emerge from the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Interaction from members of that body with industry must be controlled and (attempted) lobbying or offering 'incentives' by industry must be severely punished.

And a separate committee created by the government to oversee the cleanup is loaded with industry insiders, including from the Ministry of Trade, in charge of promoting nuclear energy, and nuclear reactor manufacturers like Toshiba and Hitachi.

The story of how the Fukushima plant ended up swamped with water, critics say, is a cautionary tale about the continued dangers of leaving decisions about nuclear safety to industry insiders.

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Or, safety being a function of decision-making by committee.

Here in NZ we allow our progress to be dictated by the RMA, though. A decision by committee on progress...

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The RMA is not responsible for a satisfactory H & S regulatory regime.

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The world's largest multinational companies (in oil and mining) have a clear approach to this issue. Nobody gets hurt . Their public reporting starts with this, before they talk about profits and returns to shareholders. It is time NZ companies took the same approach.

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Oil and mining firms might well mention H&S at the start of their presentations, but the evidence is clear.
Deepwater Horizon and Pike River for starters. But let's not forget the forestry industry - 4 dead this year so far.
But if we mention them at the start of the report, then that's all good - best not dwell on these most unfortunate events.

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Safety costs money. Builders don't want it if it means they may lose out to a cowboy. The cowboys play the odds on not getting caught. Ask around. You will find this is the prime reason corners are cut.
If the playing field was level then all jobs should comply. Then the clients have less reason to complain about paying for things they don't see as necessary.
As much as the commercial boys trumpet H&S, if they are in danger of losing a bid they will cut H&S corners. The playing field must be level and policed.

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There can never be any justification for compromising H & S and threatening people's lives. Corporate accountability (and even better, personal liability) would provide a more level playing field while ensuring there is a real incentive for change.

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Any union that would allow its members to work inside the likes of Pike River can't be seen as anything other than working for the employer rather than employees.

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