The Government’s target of a 25% reduction in workplace fatalities and injuries by 2020 is realistic, but far from what the nation should aspire to.
New Zealand’s workplace health and safety system has a number of critical weaknesses, and needs major systemic changes to save lives, Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety chairman Rob Jager says.
Mr Jager says the current system “is not fit for purpose”.
“We believe there is no single critical factor that can account for New Zealand’s high rate of serious injuries and fatalities suffered at work,” Mr Jager says.
“Rather, we believe that our workplace health and safety system has a number of significant weaknesses across the full range of system components that need to be addressed if we are to achieve a major step-change in performance.”
The Taskforce delivered its report to Minister of Labour Simon Bridges last month, and the report is now online at www.hstaskforce.govt.nz.
Mr Jager says there were several principles underpinning its recommendations, including:
• A stand-alone health and safety regulator. This agency would provide a single point of accountability, and be best placed to promote and regulate workplace health and safety, and co-ordinate educational and compliance activities.
• Modern legislation. The current legislative environment is complex, confusing and outdated, with significant gaps in coverage.
New Zealand needs new law that is comprehensive in its coverage and provides greater certainty for all participants.
• Tripartism operating at all levels. The Government, and employer and worker representative bodies need to provide joint oversight of the system. At an operational level, workers and employers need to actively engage with the regulator in developing regulations, codes of practice and guidance materials.
In the workplace, workers should participate in the management of health and safety.
• Leadership and culture change. New Zealanders need to have a much lower tolerance of risky, unsafe and unhealthy work. A major national public awareness campaign is needed to shift attitudes. More people need to show leadership on workplace health and safety.
• Increased resourcing for the new agency. Priorities include standard-setting to clarify expectations of all participants in the system, compliance support to lift the capacity and capability of the inspectorate and in occupational health, which has suffered from significant under-investment and faces unique, complex challenges.
Mr Jager says the Government’s target of a 25% reduction in workplace fatalities and injuries by 2020 was realistic, but far from what the nation should aspire to.
The Taskforce’s vision was that “within 10 years, New Zealand will be among the best places in the world for people to go to work and come home safe and sound”.
Seismic shift in attitude
“Our vision is absolutely achievable, but it will require an urgent, broad-based step-change in approach and a seismic shift in attitude,” Mr Jager says.
“It will also require strong leadership, with businesses, workers, unions, industry organisations and the Government all having vital and shared roles to play in achieving this vision.”