Since December 16, 2013 WorkSafe New Zealand has dealt with all workplace health and safety matters, taking over responsibility from the Health and Safety group of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
WorkSafe is a new standalone Crown agency with its own governance board, as part of a huge reform of our workplace health and safety system.
The move was a key recommendation of both the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy and the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety.
The new agency says it will, with a single focus, have “high visibility, provide a single point of accountability and play a leadership role in improving H&S performance”.
It says the MBIE will continue to be primarily responsible for workplace health and safety strategy and policy, legislation and regulations but will work closely with WorkSafe NZ, which will have the ability to make recommendations on legislative change and play a major role in the development of strategy.
The agency will be mostly responsible for the implementation of workplace health and safety reform under a blueprint called Working Safer.
We asked the new agency if its functions are any different from previous ones as we all remember the old Department of Labour’s Occupational Safety and Health regime, and other agencies, and a litany of name changes, mergers, new directions and an obsession for acronyms as successive government departments chase their tails.
“The Government has provided funding at levels unprecedented in the past to ensure that to use the words of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, ‘there is a step change in health and safety in this country’,” says the agency.
“The former Health and Safety group of MBIE has been through a significant inspectorate restructuring to ensure that resources are targeted where they can make the most difference.
“The inspectorate has been divided, essentially, into assessments and investigations, which allows either to specialise rather than in the past where an inspector would do both.
“It is clear from international experience that having a team of dedicated assessment inspectors makes a real difference as they are able to be proactive – note our recent work in forestry where we’ve undertaken 150 or so assessments of cable hauling operations and issued 180 enforcements, including 14 prohibition notices (ie, shut down notices).
“Under the former structure, this kind of work would not be possible, and the proactive work is a high priority for WorkSafe NZ going forward.
“Additionally, there is the Safety at Work legislation which will go through Parliament this year and we’re expecting enactment about the end of 2014.
“This places duties across the workplace spectrum; increases fines and draws these I nto a graduated scale.
“This will give greater clarity to workplaces, but also a clear line for our educative and engagement activity along with enforcement.
“The Government has set WorkSafe NZ the task of leading the country to a 25 percent reduction in workplace deaths and serious harms by 2020 – the funding, the revised inspectorate model, and the mandate from the Government will all see this agency work in a more targeted and effective way than its predecessors.”
Professor Gregor Coster, the board chair of WorkSafe, says around 75 Kiwis are killed at work every year.
“Another 6100 report a serious injury suffered at work. A further 600-900 people die annually of diseases, cancers and illnesses associated with occupational exposures and hazards and it costs the economy $3.5 billion a year – and that takes no account of the devastating personal, family and community impacts,” he says.
“Unsafe and unsound – this is our current state of affairs. We need to work together to change it.”
WorkSafe NZ is a key plank in the Government’s strategy for change, he adds, and it is the first time in our history that there is a standalone Crown Agency solely focused on improving workplace health and safety, and the safe use of electricity and gas.
“We are acutely aware of the urgency of our work. WorkSafe has a plan and a clear set of priorities.
“We are building the capability of our growing ranks of inspectors, and we’ve changed the structure to ensure we are targeting our work to areas where we can do the most good.
“We are also taking seriously the need for a collaborative approach – WorkSafe alone cannot tackle the problem.
“The combination of a motivated regulator and committed employers, employees and their representatives working in a true partnership is the only way we can bring down the toll.”
The tools they have to achieve this, he says, are through the major legislative reform we will see roll-out this year, starting with the Health and Safety Reform Bill introduced to Parliament early this year.
“It is anticipated the Health and Safety at Work Act 2014 will be fully operational by April 2015. We are committed to helping keep you informed of the progress of the legislation, and helping to prepare businesses and workers so we are all aware of our respective roles and responsibilities when it comes into law.”
Among the principal changes is a new definition of ‘responsibility’ in the workplace and, yes, it involves another new acronym.
“It will be the core duty of a ‘PCBU’ (person in charge of a business or undertaking) to ensure the health and safety of downstream workers, contractors and subcontractors so far as is ‘reasonably practicable’.”
The duty will be applied more widely than the current definitions in the Health and Safety in Employment Act, he adds.
“There will also be a much greater requirement for PCBUs to consult and support their employees in health and safety matters. Wise businesses will begin preparing for these legislative changes now.”
Cabinet approved the final Health and Safety in Employment (Mining Operations and Quarrying Operations) Regulations 2013 at the end of last year.
These regulations are gazetted and are available on the Government legislation website (www.legislation.govt.nz/).
The Extractives Inspectorate Team of WorkSafe will of course be implementing the regulations.
WorkSafe says the Inspectorate will, “make every effort to discuss the new requirements with operators and provide support as these requirements are put into practice”.