Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill 2/4

Margaret Wilson Labour
Health and Safety in Employment
Amendment Bill - first reading

Mr Speaker, I move,

"that the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill be now read
for a first time".

It is my intention to refer the Bill to the Transport and Industrial
Relations Committee for consideration.

This Bill marks a new era in workplace health and safety.

It continues the Government's commitment to productive workplace
relationships and reflects international standards in the protection of
employees.

Work is an essential part of everyone's life. For some a day at work is
uneventful. For an increasing number of people however it ends in an accident or
even worse death. Every week, on average three people who head off to work don't
return. They are killed while they are doing their jobs, or getting to and from
their work.

The economic, social and human cost is unacceptable to this government, as I
am sure it is to all concerned New Zealanders.

The statistics are worth repeating because they explain the Government's
sense of concern on the issue.

It is estimated that 160 people die as a result of workplace accidents each
year and that the total cost to society and the economy of workplace illness and
injury is $3.18 billion per year.

The proposed Bill is about creating a workplace culture where health and
safety is a real priority, and builds on the existing legislation through small,
but significant steps.

The Bill proposes critical changes in three broad areas:

  • who is covered by the legislation,
  • how people can work together to improve health and safety, and
  • what penalties apply when all else fails?

The Bill expands the
coverage of the Act across all sectors and industries to provide certainty and
consistency of application across New Zealand's diverse workplaces. The most
significant change is in the transport sector where aircrew, rail workers and
crew aboard ships will all be brought under the coverage of the Act.

As part of the increased coverage, the Bill gives protection to volunteers
and employees who are 'loaned' by an employer to another person, and it
clarifies that mobile workers are covered under the Act.

A new provision also places duties on those who sell or supply plant or
equipment to ensure that it is safe for its intended use in a place of work.

Safe workplaces require a commitment to cooperate from both employers and
employees. For the first time this Bill makes clear not only the right of
employees to participate, but that there is a corresponding responsibility
placed upon them.

Effective enforcement tools are required as a deterrent to poor injury
prevention practice and to demonstrate the seriousness of protecting human life
and well-being in the workplace.

The Bill recognises that the management of health and safety must be based on
good faith, partnership and co-operation.

Prudent employers will adopt practices which provide real and reasonable
opportunities for employees to participate in the development of workplace
health and safety. Ultimately, the practices adopted will be up to each
business, employer and employees.

The Bill also makes explicit that work related stress and fatigue may include
physical and mental harm and, therefore, are workplace hazards.

Stress and fatigue are recognised worldwide as an emerging occupational
health issue in the 21st century. Just one indicator - the European Agency for
Safety and Health at Work estimates that in the United States, over half of the
550 million working days lost each year due to absenteeism are stress-related.

This is not a new issue; stress and fatigue are recognised under the present
law. The Bill proposes to make this explicit.

Employers should recognise that action to reduce stress can be cost
effective. The costs of stress to a business may be high staff turnover, an
increase in sickness absence, and more customer complaints. Developing stress
management strategies will be cost effective and bring benefits for employers
and employees.

To assist all parties to develop stress management strategies, I have
directed OSH to prepare a Code of Practice in consultation with employer
representatives and employee representatives.

New enforcement amendments reinforce that we take health and safety
seriously.

The introduction of new fine levels is intended to encourage people to treat
health and safety at work as a serious matter and encourage compliance with the
Act. This will bring us into line with other comparable countries. They are also
consistent with the fine levels of comparable legislation, such as the Resource
Management Act and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

Only OSH inspectors will be able to issue infringement notices, that is,
instant fines, for obvious and clear-cut breaches of the Act, such as a failure
to ensure the use of an appropriate guard on a guillotine. Instant fines can be
imposed on individuals or on bodies corporate. Employees as well as employers
may be fined.

To support this, the ability for other parties to prosecute is also
introduced. This is a real incentive for inspectors to consistently and
transparently apply their powers. Broadening the right to prosecute may assist
victims' families to bring closure to their tragic circumstances.

While OSH will maintain its enforcement role, the Occupational Safety and
Health Service must become more proactive in providing employers and employees
with quality information about the way people need to work and the things they
need to do to build safe workplaces.

As a first step, the Service will provide practical support through the
development of best practice Health and Safety guidelines to support the new
approach.

In conclusion, this Bill provides a comprehensive package of health and
safety reforms that challenge New Zealanders to work together to create safer
and healthier workplaces.

The Government's aim is to lift New Zealand's performance to match the
highest international standards.