11.08.2013

Working Safer – Government’s Blueprint for Health and Safety Released

The Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges, yesterday announced the introduction of a package of health and safety reforms, which aim to make a significant dent in New Zealand’s comparatively poor rates of workplace fatalities and injuries.

The package includes a whole range of initiatives, as we have predicted in our July ezine Health and Safety article.

In particular, the Blueprint notes that we can expect to see draft legislation in December this year, which will repeal the current Health and Safety in Employment Act, and replace it with a new Act, based on the Australian Model law. The new legislation will aim to:

  • Clarify both duty holders and their respective duties
  • Cover alternative working relationships
  • Place positive duties on directors to actively manage health and safety in the workplace
  • Contain controls to manage hazardous substances in the workplace
  • Provide appropriate regulations and guidance without being overly prescriptive

According to the Government, the Bill will also include a suite of new compliance and enforcement tools, including:

  • Stronger penalties (in this respect, we note that the Australian model law provides for fines of up to $3 million for a company, and $600,000 and up to 5 years’ imprisonment for an individual)
  • New compliance tools and Court powers including the likely introduction of ‘adverse publicity orders’
  • Cost recovery mechanisms for prosecutions

One of the more controversial aspects so far is the announcement that the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, is considering corporate manslaughter and the general corporate liability framework – that is, whether to allow a company to be charged with manslaughter in respect of a workplace death. The Government has been at pains to point out that this is just an idea, and no decisions on this point have yet been made.

The package of reforms also includes an increased emphasis on worker participation and representation, including:

  • Worker perspectives on the Board of WorkSafe, the Crown Agency with overall responsibility for workplace health and safety
  • Expert advisory groups containing worker representation
  • Strengthening the legal framework for worker participation
  • Ensuring there are specific obligations on all employers to support worker participation
  • Expanding the powers and responsibilities of health and safety employee representatives
  • Further protections for workers who raise health and safety issues
  • Requirements that businesses of all sizes must have worker participation practices appropriate to the business
  • An increased emphasis on building the capability and education of workers to allow them to participate effectively

The Blueprint also provides for ACC and WorkSafe to work more closely together on data gathering, research, and evaluation, and to remove duplication and potential gaps. It plans to provide more incentives for businesses to improve their workplace safety, including enhanced ACC incentives, and a Safety Star rating system which allows principals to see at a glance whether a proposed contractor has a proven health and safety commitment and record.

 

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