Five Areas of Focus to Improve Health & Safety

The new H&S at Work Act 2015 and associated media coverage has brought a much needed focus onto health and safety in the workplace.  Tragically 29 men died at Pike River to initiate this level of attention. According to WorkSafe NZ an average of 71 people are killed in New Zealand workplaces each year.  Between 2013 and 2015 the ages of those killed in workplaces ranged from 7 months to 81 years. In 2015 alone, there were 3385 serious harm accidents reported. 

These statistics didn’t only relate to high risk industries. There were deaths in accommodation and food services, training and education, healthcare, retail and public administration. In the category of ‘Professional, Technical and Scientific Services’ there were 60 serious harm injuries in 2015 alone.

WorkSafe NZ want to see a 25% reduction in NZ’s workplace serious injuries, illnesses and fatalities by 2020.  If Australia’s improvements are any indication on what we might expect, given our new legislation is based on Australia’s law, this goal may be achievable.  Australia’s 2013 Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities Report (released July 2014) stated that they had experienced their lowest number of work-related deaths in 11 years. 

The government has stated on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website that ‘the Act works to focus effort on what matters, based on business risk, control and size:

  • It reinforces proportionality – what a business needs to do depends on its level of risk and what it can control
  • It shifts from hazard spotting to managing critical risks – actions that reduce workplace harm rather than trivial hazards
  • It introduces the “reasonably practicable” concept – focusing attention on what’s reasonable for a business to do
  • It changes the focus from the physical workplace to the conduct of work – what the business actually does and so what it can control
  • It supports more effective worker engagement and participation – promoting flexibility to suit business size and need.’ 

From a practical perspective this means businesses need to consider what they might need to do now.  WorkSafe NZ advises businesses to:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the key concepts of the legislation
  2. Review your health and safety practices
  3. Identify health and safety risks in your business and take steps (to do what is “reasonably practicable”) to prevent these from causing harm.
  4. Lead by example
  5. Make health and safety part of your workplace culture