NZ’s Workplace Health & Safety System “Not Fit For Purpose”

- Victor Billot

New Zealand’s workplace health and safety system “is not fit for purpose”, according to a Government-appointed task force. After ten months of work, the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety delivered its report on 30 April 2013. The Taskforce, chaired by long-time Shell New Zealand boss Rob Jager, said there was “no single critical factor behind New Zealand’s poor health and safety record” – but the system had “a number of significant weaknesses”. The report said the Taskforce was “deeply concerned” about New Zealand’s workplace health and safety, with around one in ten workers harmed annually. “While we acknowledge that there are problems with the data, the fact is that a lot of bad things happen to people at work in this country”. The inquiry’s findings included that men were more likely than women to be seriously injured, along with youths and older workers, the self-employed and workers with low literacy and numeracy skills. New Zealand has a “particular issue in the potential for catastrophic harm as a result of ineffective oversight of major hazard facilities ... The catastrophic consequences of inadequate management of such facilities were brought into stark relief by the 2010 Pike river mine tragedy”

The report provides recommendations to the Government that will help reduce the rate of fatalities and serious injuries in workplaces. Recommendations included:

  • A stand-alone health and safety regulator (already announced by the Government).
  • Modern legislation as “the current legislative environment is complex, confusing and outdated, with significant gaps in coverage
  • Tripartism operating at all levels. The Government and employer and worker representative bodies (unions) need to provide joint oversight of the system.
  • 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.
  • Increased resourcing for a new health and safety agency.

The NZ Council of Trade Unions made a substantial submission based on improving workers’ rights around health and safety

In August 2013 Simon Bridges, the Minister of Labour, announced a package of health and safety laws, based on the Taskforce’s recommendations. He touted it as the biggest change in 20 years. Ed.


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