Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Govt unveils health and safety reforms

The reforms will introduce stronger penalties for health and safety offences, and stem from the Pike River tragedy. File photo / APN
The reforms will introduce stronger penalties for health and safety offences, and stem from the Pike River tragedy. File photo / APN

Major health and safety reforms stemming from the Pike River disaster have been unveiled by Labour Minister Simon Bridges this morning.

The Working Safer reform package would introduce stronger penalties and court powers for health and safety offences, but did not include a corporate manslaughter charge, which had been called for by the Opposition.

A person who engaged in reckless conduct which put a worker at risk of injury or death faced a maximum penalty of $600,000 or five years' imprisonment, or both, or $3 million for a company.

At present, the penalties for this offence are $500,000 or two years' imprisonment, or both.

Judges would be given power to make "adverse publicity orders'' for individuals or companies which broke the law.

The package was a response to the recommendations of an independent taskforce on workplace health and safety, which followed the deaths of 29 men in the Pike River coal mine in November 2010.

Mr Bridges said: "The reforms recalibrate our approach so we are working smarter, targeting risk and working together to improve performance in workplace health and safety.

"This is the legacy we owe to the Pike River families, the families of the 75 people who are killed each year in New Zealand workplaces, and the estimated 600 to 900 who die annually from the long-term effects of occupational disease.''

The reforms included a new regulator, Worksafe New Zealand, which would target high-risk sectors where the most workplace injuries and fatalities occurred.

This regulator would require an increase in funding from $53.7 million a year to $79.3 million a year by 2017/18, which would be paid for by an increase to the existing health and safety levy.

The levy would increase from 5c per $100 of wages to an average of 8c per $100 of wages.

New legislation based on Australian law would be drafted to give clear, consistent guidelines to business, workers and government. Measurable targets for reducing workplace harm would also be established.

The reforms were welcomed by business and unions.

Business New Zealand head Phil O'Reilly said it was a significant step in the right direction.

"Moving to a principles-based regime in which health and safety responses are tailored to the business rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach will be a real help to many businesses, as will a simpler approach to levy setting and other costs.''

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly welcomed proposals to include workers more in health and safety discussions and to strengthen the roles of health and safety representatives.

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