What difference will high-vis and clipboards make to workplace safety?

Under normal circumstances it would be a dry old business that would garner very little attention, but the government's health and safety reforms have taken on an emotional edge given those involved in the Pike River tragedy have been campaigning hard to tighten the new rules up.

It now looks like the government have the numbers to push it through.

There was a delay and the delay was put down to the minor parties wanting tweaks. The final player to come on board was Peter Dunne yesterday, who is denying the whole thing has been watered down.


It must be awfully hard to face the families of the Pike River tragedy and try to explain that what you're doing isn't what they want, but I suppose that's government isn't it? Balancing up wishes with reality- moderating extremes.

What the debate has been about as far as the families are concerned is that the laws look too weak - that the protections they want aren't there.

The counter argument is that the cost of doing what the families want are prohibitive - you can't have every tiny business in the country electing health and safety officers.

There is debate around what sort of industries should be covered.

Agriculture is one, but what is agriculture? Is it a single bloke in a small farm milking a few cows? Yes. Is that a dangerous profession? Could be I suppose, depending on how you conduct yourself. What about a huge milk processing factory? The devil you see is in the detail.

There are those that are obvious, forestry for example has an abysmal record.

And they stuck number around industries, those with death rates of more than 25 per hundred thousand and injury rates of more than 25 per thousand - that seems sensible.

But mixed in there somewhere is the simple reality that a government can't do everything.


Health and safety officers funded by employers can't be endlessly wandering corridors and paddocks with high-vis vests and clipboards looking for people doing dangerous things.

As hard as it may be to hear, a lot of Pike River was top down mismanagement and it was a troubled and dysfunctional firm. A lot of that was laid bare in the royal commission; we learn all the laws in the world can't address that.

And on the upside, we are actually winning - work deaths are coming down, we are getting better.

Protecting workers with rules is one thing, hindering them actually doing their job or sending them broke adhering to rules is another.