After making sweeping amendments to New Zealand’s workplace health and safety laws earlier in 2016, WorkSafe NZ remains cautiously optimistic that the nation’s WHS culture can be improved if given time.
The country’s safety record for the current year appears to be following a similar trajectory to the five years previous – 24 workplace fatalities had been recorded by the middle of 2016, with an annual average of 48.8 from 2011 to 2015. That said, CEO of WorkSafe Gordon MacDonald believes meaningful change is coming, but concedes it could take years for the impact to truly be felt.
A question of balance
Given the scope of the WHS changes, it’s understandable that some organisations are yet to fully grasp the new regulations. According to MacDonald, it’s all part of the process towards a better, safer environment for Kiwi employees.
“We’ve had some rather daft stories about people taking coat hooks down from cloakrooms in bowling clubs because people might impale themselves, we’ve heard about advice being given to principals in schools that they should put their houses in trusts in case they’re taken off them in penalties imposed by courts – that’s not proportional health and safety,” he told Radio New Zealand.
Jen Natoli, delegate for the E Tu union in New Plymouth, agrees that further education about the legislation is required.
Some organisations are yet to fully grasp NZ’s new WHS regulations.
“You end up with workers getting disciplinary action for something they’ve been doing for a number of years – they just need a bit of time and encouragement to understand that what they’re doing is serious and that this is real change.”
Achieving WHS compliance in NZ
As a gesture of good faith to NZ organisations, WorkSafe has agreed to a six-month period for workers to acclimatise to the changes, but heavier enforcement of the laws can be expected towards the end of 2016.
Richard Wagstaff, Council of Trade Unions’ president, stresses the importance of a clear workplace health and safety program from the nation’s employers.
“When you talk health and safety with a lot of people their eyes glaze over and they want to get back to work – this doesn’t have to be laborious and heavy-handed, it can be quite simple things that employers do that makes a difference,” he said.
For a comprehensive overview of WorkSafe NZ’s changes, download the free ebook “New Zealand’s Work Health and Safety Future,” and make sure your organisation is prepared to meet the latest compliance obligations.