Workplace safety rejig gets thumbs up

  • 28/07/2015
Workplace safety rejig gets thumbs up

The Government's post-Pike River workplace safety rejig has retained the most important principles that underpinned it and will eventually "help to shift how we think about health and safety", says Z Energy's health and safety boss.

Julian Hughes, a former executive director of the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum, had expressed fears the reforms would be gutted.

He was among senior executives who last month questioned the motives behind the delayed report back of the Health and Safety Reform bill from the industrial relations select committee.

But Mr Hughes now says while there had been some "tinkering around the edges" of the bill, his worst fears had not been realised.

However, it remained to be seen how the decision to create distinctions between the obligations of high and low risk businesses would pan out in practice, he said.

While the bill softened the requirement for companies with fewer than 20 employees to have a health and safety representative, Mr Hughes said the fundamental obligation on all employers to provide a safe, healthy workplace was unchanged.

"If you are a director, owner, business leader all in one go, that's not watered down at all," he told BusinessDesk.

"Our position is that, as opposed to a lot of the reporting last week, this represents the most significant shift in health and safety legislation ever in New Zealand."

The Labour Party withdrew its support for the bill last week, largely because of those changes, saying it effectively relieved employers of their obligations to the health and safety of about 330,000 workers employed in small businesses.

"The bit where I think the select committee has created a slight problem for themselves is the introduction of defining low and high risk industries," Mr Hughes said. "How do you decide that?"

While some industries were obviously high risk, such as mining, forestry, or fishing, others were less obvious, he said, citing hairdressing as an industry where harsh chemicals, sharp instruments and posture injuries were all well-documented.

It remained to be seen whether farming would be defined as a high-risk industry.