Are the new Health & Safety laws making New Zealand safer?

On 4 April, the ‘new’ Health and Safety at Work Act will have been in effect for a year.  So, what has changed - and where are we at?  We see hundreds of cases in the courts every year, and some of them are… interesting to say the least!. However, we still have a long road ahead of us before we see the positive effects of the changes in ultimately creating a safer society with a strong safety culture. 

A recent study by Deloitte, Are we as safe as we want to be? 2016 Health & Safety Leadership Survey, identified the main improvements underway in NZ businesses, and the main barriers to progress.

Improvements to H&S Performance

Activities to change the culture and improve engagement are the most common health and safety initiatives underway. Other initiatives include:

  • Education and training
  • Identifying risks and hazards
  • Improving reporting.

Barriers to improving performance

Culture is by far the most commonly identified barrier to becoming a leader on health and safety. Other barriers include: 

  • Leadership by the board and managers 15%
  • Having the time and money to put into health and safety 15% 
  • Contractors and other external factors 9%.

The new act is nothing new in respect of stating the duty to ensure that people under your control are safe, and the duty to provide a safe workplace. What is new is the way the act requires everybody to share the responsibility.  This is achieved by communication, cooperation, consultation and competence.

So why do we still encounter people with a duty to ensure people are safe and provide a safe workplace (and everyone has that duty) who think that they can delegate responsibility? Why do people ask things like “Show me where in the act it states that?” 

New Zealanders are still uninformed and unfortunately when it comes to health and safety, ignorance isn’t bliss. 

The fact of the matter is that health and safety law is not prescriptive, however it is goal setting legislation. This means that the duty of providing a safe place of work is the goal. But New Zealand businesses can’t simply decide how much they want to achieve and record it in a file that gets put away in a drawer. 

The health and safety performance of an organisation is measured by determining how effective you are in managing your workplace risks.  In most cases, it will be measured by how you control risks. Risk control is normally achieved by following regulations - or an approved code of practices, also known as industry good practice, in the absence of an approved code. 

What places organisations with a high health and safety performance level apart from the rest is the way they lead. In other words, these are the companies setting the benchmarks which become recognised as good practice.  This is the real measure of an OH&S compliant organisation. Organisations who strive to exceed industry expectations are the ones setting the good practice benchmarks for OH&S and gaining high performance ratings.

In the long run, the aim of the Health and Safety at Work Act act is to encourage people to take responsibility for their actions.  From the top down and from the bottom up, we all have a part to play to make New Zealand safer.

To find out how we can help you to achieve compliance – or exceed industry expectations – speak with a Safety First Health and Safety consultant today.