Fears city not ready for sweeping health & safety changes

There are fears Rotorua employers are ill-prepared for tough new health and safety laws that come into effect on Monday.

And an expert says the city is lagging behind the rest of the Bay of Plenty when it comes to getting up to speed with their obligations - which affects employers, schools and clubs.

The Health and Safety at Work Act was created as a result of the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy in 2010 and replaces the current Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Darrin Walsh expressed concern last July that small- to medium-sized businesses in the city were not prepared for the changes.


He told the Rotorua Daily Post yesterday those concerns were still at the forefront, days before the Act came into effect.

"It is very scary. Many of those small to medium businesses are not prepared for the changes and do not have a good handle on their obligations under the new legislation. We had some research done last year that showed 75 per cent of small businesses did not have any formal business planning.

"If they are not doing that, then they have probably not done a health and safety plan."

Mr Walsh said it appeared that bigger businesses were more on top of the changes.

"The bigger businesses seem to have a tighter grasp on what the changes mean for them. For those smaller businesses we will be running workshops next month to clear up some of the confusion and help drill down to what they need to know and what they should be doing."

Rotorua Securo health and safety consultant Kay Mead echoed Mr Walsh's concerns.

"There has been a bit more interest about health and safety from the small to medium business sector but there certainly hasn't been a landslide of inquiries," she said.

"Many of these businesses either have a 20-year-old health and safety system that isn't used, have nothing, or have pulled bits and pieces together but are far from having the over-arching plan needed under the new legislation."

She said Rotorua businesses were "lagging behind" compared with other regions in the Bay of Plenty.

"Businesses in other parts of the Bay of Plenty, like Tauranga, have been a lot more proactive about getting up to speed with their obligations ahead of the new Act coming into effect. A lot more work needs to be done in Rotorua and Whakatane."

Lake City Athletic Club president Rob College said his club's biggest concern was volunteers being liable in the event of an accident.

"The risk-management plans take up a lot of time and effort but we are more focused on what the Act means for our volunteers.

"All it would take is for one volunteer to be prosecuted and it would be all over for clubs like ours that rely on people volunteering."

However he said he did not expect the Act to limit the events the club currently provided.

The Rotorua Daily Post reported this week about the worries local school principals had about how the new Act would affect the education sector.

Despite reassurances from WorkSafe, some principals share concerns that school camps and outdoor education will become a thing of the past as they have higher risk, and principals fear personal liability if something goes wrong.

Under the new Act, a principal could be fined up to $600,000 or face jail time if they failed to prove due diligence was exercised in making sure the school met its health and safety obligations.

WorkSafe communications general manager John Tulloch said while the organisation was not telling businesses to relax, it was realistic about the time it would take to implement health and safety changes.

"Small to medium enterprises make up the bulk of businesses in New Zealand and they are always the hardest to reach because they are time-poor and cash-tight.

"We acknowledge it will take some time for businesses to get to where they need to be so we are not treating Monday as a deadline, it's the beginning of a journey," Mr Tulloch said.

"The positive is that there is heightened awareness around the Act - people are aware of it and are talking about it."

He said most of the misinformation and "disquiet" had come from low-risk sectors, such as clubs and schools. "This Act focuses on the industries where most deaths and serious injuries happen. In those sectors we have had a lot of positive engagement.

"It has been in those low-risk sectors where there is confusion and we are working to clear that up," he said.

"At the end of the day, everyone deserves to be safe in their workplace and this Act will give businesses the opportunity to improve their current systems."

Click here to see a video presentation from WorkSafe for businesses and the public.