Grant Nicholson: Standards in NZ much lower than Australia or the UK

By Grant Nicholson

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Companies need to appoint a senior person to oversee workplace health and safety, writes Grant Nicholson.

Small businesses seem to have flown under the radar with health and safety inspections. Photo / Thinkstock
Small businesses seem to have flown under the radar with health and safety inspections. Photo / Thinkstock

What did the workplace health and safety taskforce conclude about New Zealand businesses?

The taskforce said New Zealand has far lower workplace health and safety standards than Australia and the UK and a much greater per capita number of workplace injuries and fatalities.

It seems that business owners and employees have too much of a No8 wire approach to health and safety procedures.

I think it is both a systemic and cultural issue. The industries that are most prone to accidents include construction, manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries. Look at the number of quad bike accidents on farms and you will get the idea.

What is WorkSafe New Zealand setting out to do and how will small businesses be affected?

Small businesses seem to have flown under the radar with health and safety inspections.

It looks as though large businesses may get more involved in helping small businesses with their procedures.

For instance, a construction company with a number of subcontractors may be asked to influence small businesses it is dealing with on their health and safety outcomes. It will also affect large companies' procurement decisions.

When large companies engage contractors, they will make sure those contractors adhere to the correct health and safety guidelines.

Companies will have more support from WorkSafe to adhere to guidelines and the agency will play a more proactive role.

Who are the worst culprits in the workplace at health and safety procedures?

Commonly it would be the new arrival and the very experienced worker. The new ones don't know the regulations or the procedures and the very experienced workers think they know everything and tend to use shortcuts which can be the wrong thing.

When I talk to owners of small businesses, they will say health and safety measures cost too much. I would argue that businesses are more efficient and profitable if run properly on a health and safety basis.

Do businesses need to make someone responsible for health and safety?

Yes, somebody needs to have it in their job responsibility to oversee procedures.

Traditionally it used to be done by someone in human resources but I think it is more sensible for someone relatively senior in an operational role to take responsibility.

It seems under the new regime directors and the people running the business will be looked at closely for any liability and could end up going to jail or will be charged large fines if they are proven negligent.

Grant Nicholson is a Kensington Swan partner.

- NZ Herald

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