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Health and safetySeptember 7, 2018
The Pike River Mine disaster in 2010 saw a renewed emphasis on workplace health and safety across New Zealand, eventually leading to the creation of Worksafe.
And while various sectors have seen a decline in workplace deaths and injuries in recent years, Worksafe Chief Executive Nicole Rosie has warned that business attitudes towards health and safety are showing signs of stagnating.
“People have done the things that are easy to do relatively quickly,” Ms Rosie said in a recent interview.
“The real challenge now becomes to get the more enduring change which is all about culture, making proper choices about moving to automation or making more substantial changes to the risks that are actually killing New Zealanders.
“In general New Zealand is seeing a stagnation of attitudes towards health and safety, which is concerning. The real risk is, you think you’ve made the change and you take your eye off the ball.”
Health and safety laws place responsibility on employers to take all reasonable practicable steps to identify any risks, resolve these where possible, and notify employees of best practice. It is vital that employers get informed about their obligations.
To be compliant with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), employers must ensure that relevant health and safety information is readily accessible form, such as:
However, these distribution methods alone are not enough. Maintaining a safe work environment is a team effort and should involve everyone in the organisation. This can be achieved in the following ways:
Known as ‘toolbox talks’ in some industries, safety briefings are a simple and effective way to speak about health and safety to a large group of people. Safety Briefings are usually informal meetings held before the start of a work day to inform employees on:
Be sure to record the details discussed in these meetings and pass on the information to any workers who were not present.
Employers also have a legal obligation to ensure workers do not suffer from psychological harm. This includes minimising excessive workplace stress that may occur through bullying, overwork or a lack of autonomy. Employers who fail to recognise psychological health and safety risks within the workplace can face financial penalties, especially if incidents are reported and ignored.
It is essential therefore that a clear workplace policy is in place which details how employees can make complaints. The employer should also ensure that all incidents are responded to in a timely manner.
EAPs are a free and confidential service that employers may choose to offer to their employees as part of a wider health and safety policy. EAPs address the wellbeing of workers by providing individual advice and support.
EAP providers offer a wide range of services in the form of counselling, workshops and training programs. The information in these programs can be a general overview of health and safety in the workplace or address key issues, for example manual handling, misconduct or poor performance.
EAPs do more than address issues in the workplace, many providers offer counselling and psychology sessions to address issues in a person’s life that may be affecting their relationships, productivity and wellbeing. Sometimes these sessions can reveal the underlying cause of poor performance or misconduct.
The work health and safety obligations for employers vary widely depending on the type of work conducted by the business. For example, the safety issues faced by a construction company are very different to those faced by an accounting firm, which are again different to those faced by a beauty salon. Despite the differences, there are four fundamental elements of work health and safety that apply to every workplace regardless of industry.
It is essential to train and supervise all staff in workplace health and safety. Training of employees can be as a collective, such as via mass emails or at toolbox talks or company-wide updates which are relevant to all staff.
A more specific and focused effort can be paid to individual jobs or tasks, with training aimed at employees that are directly involved in these tasks and not the whole company.