H & S — the height of consistency required


Last month I mentioned there were two urgent things that needed addressing — one being the risk-based consenting regime and recognition of quality building providers, and the other a consistent approach to health and safety (H&S).

The H&S matter is one that is not new, and I have spoken about it many times in the past. It is something that the Government is very serious about, as is evident in its response to the recent enquiry in response to Pyke River and the establishment of WorkSafe NZ.
We have also seen initiatives to improve H&S, such as the working safely at heights campaign from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (formerly the Department of Labour).

Construction is one of the five sectors where the Government wants to see improvement. We have no argument with that.
However, you may recall that I said the biggest test for the regulator was ensuring consistency of approach with the working at heights implementation.
For any regulator, this is always a major management issue when inspectors are spread all over the country and interpreting the legislation and standards as individuals. Back then, I thought only time would tell if this was problematic or not, and it may take a while to settle down.
Heavens knows, we have had similar experiences in obtaining building consents between and within councils. It seems we are having similar issues with H&S inspectors, which is confusing and frustrating.

As a former regulator I can attest to how tough this is, but it is essential to get it as consistent as possible.
The regulator’s goal should be that no matter where in the country you are, the issues faced are answered/addressed in the same manner. If not, the recipient does not know what to do from one case to the next, and it becomes a lottery on how to respond.
It generates inefficiencies, can be expensive, and can create resentment when an observed incident that is similar is either ignored or responded to in a different way.
Over the past few months I have been receiving reports of more and more such instances of perceived inconsistencies and mixed messages about how to address and respond to hazards.
While I am sure we can all do better, I am equally certain the regulators need to do the same. We will need to work on how to do that.

 Another matter we have been predicting for a couple of years now is the “tale of two cities” performance — that is, a busy Christchurch and Auckland and a lacklustre regional situation.
The latest building consents continue to reflect that, and while at a national level some 19,500 to 20,000 new homes and apartments will be consented this year (compared to just under 17,000 in 2012) more than 55% will be in Canterbury and Auckland.

Their growth, of around 30% and 24% respectively, is to be welcomed, but outside of these two areas it is still pretty tough.
The past six months saw an average of 10% growth in the North Island regions compared to the previous six months, while the South Island regional areas are actually down 7% on the previous six months.

We are also seeing apprentice numbers grow rapidly at last and skill shortages developing, particularly in Canterbury.
The pressure is also starting to bear in Auckland, Wellington, Waikato and others for quality skilled staff, as many have either left New Zealand or the sector, or are relocating to where the work is.

Expect this situation to get worse as time goes on, as it is the result of five years of recession followed by sudden growth.

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