Workplace safety legislation that came into effect last year has influenced two award-winning local companies in a range of ways. They report an increased emphasis not just on compliance, but on educating staff about the reasons behind the regulations.

"We've always treated workplace safety really seriously," said Richard Thurlow, chief executive of the Waipuna Hospice.

In the case of organisations such as the hospice, where staff worked long hours, there was an increased focus not just on safety, but on the overall health and wellness of staff.

However, Mr Thurlow noted that while the new legislation addressed some necessary issues, it had also created some concerning anomalies for companies such as the trust, which relied heavily on volunteer workers.

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The trust was a finalist last year in the Accident Compensation Corporation Workplace Safety category at the Westpac Tauranga Business Awards, which was won by Z Energy Retail Operations for the Bay of Plenty.

Mr Thurlow said the Waipuna Hospice trust - which has won the award in the past - had taken an especially close look at the new legislation because it was a non-profit with a volunteer board. And as well as its employed staff of about 115 people, it had a further 700 or so volunteer workers.

"For health and safety purposes, we have the equivalent of 800-plus employees because our volunteers are treated under the legislation like staff," said Mr Thurlow. "We have the same liabilities for the volunteers, and they have the same liabilities for people in their care as staff."

That meant upping the game in terms of ensuring compliance, with additional compliance costs, he said.

In addition, a decision to exempt volunteer board members from liability under the workplace legislation had created an anomaly, said Mr Thurlow, who as a company officer has liability for workplace safety infringements under the legislation.

This had damaged the governance structure relating to workplace safety, he said.

"To do my duty, I have to tell the board if I think there is a health and safety risk."

But if a situation arose where the board did not agree with the chief executive's assessment of the risk, while the board was not liable in their governance capacity, an interpretation of the legislation suggested they would still remain liable as, effectively, volunteer staff members.

Mr Thurlow said he had raised the anomaly at a recent workplace safety symposium, and none of the experts present was aware of the potential problem. Their view was that, if such a situation arose, it would have to be tested in court, he said.


Z Energy Bay of Plenty retail operations manager Dave Gillies said management had been shifting from a compliance focus to getting staff to understand why the company did what it did in terms of workplace safety.

"There's no point in waiting till the game changes. It's all about ensuring our people can go home safe at the end of the day."

Mr Gillies, who with his wife Lynette runs 10 Z Energy stations across the Bay of Plenty, noted that service stations didn't just face compliance issues in the obvious dangerous goods category of handling inflammable fuels.

They also needed to observe food-safety regulations because of their convenience store and cafe services, as well as ensuring the personal safety of staff at the stations, nine of which operated 24/7.

Mr Gillies said the Bay of Plenty operations were ranked at the top of Z Energy's national safety culture. Key staff at the stations wear an alarm pendant at all times, which is monitored by an alarm company.

Dave Gillies from Z Energy. Photo/File
Dave Gillies from Z Energy. Photo/File

"When we first introduced those, it was a very conscious effort to make sure people wore them," he said. "It's now automatic for them to hand them over to incoming staff when the shift changes."

Mr Gillies said the Westpac judges, which included the ACC's injury prevention management consultant, Deb Rolls, spent several hours in intensive interviews with award entrants.

"They were looking for compliance, but they were also looking for what you were doing that was different from everyone else," he said. "Work safety isn't just a check-box exercise, it's about building a real culture of health and safety in the business."

The Westpac award judges said Z retail outlets had demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the health and safety of their employees and the community.

"They demonstrated that safety is 'what they do' rather than mere compliance," the judges said.

"They engage all employees in health and safety and value the input they provide. They have employees lining up to be safety champs, a position that is a local initiative by the representative to help employees understand the 'why' in health and safety.

"The impression given is that the company's health and safety is genuinely geared towards the welfare of all personnel and people."


Health and Safety at Work Act

-The new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 came into force in April, 2016.