NZ culture, deregulation blamed for broken health and safety system

Taskforce concludes the present regime is "not fit for purpose" in a wide variety of ways | Profound unease about the quality of data

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".


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