Health and Safety Reforms

Health and Safety / 20 June 2024
Health and Safety Reforms

On 14 June 2024, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister, Brooke van Velden announced that the government will initiate a public consultation process for changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA).

The changes are a response to what MBIE described as “an outdated and incomplete regulatory framework”, where it has previously highlighted the need for reform in areas where workers operate machinery, use equipment, or work at heights which account for almost 80% of New Zealand’s work-related deaths (roughly double the Australian rates).

Proposed Changes to HSWA:

While specific changes to HSWA are yet to be proposed, the government has identified five key areas of interest:

  1. ensuring businesses are in the best position to identify health and safety issues;
  2. investigating whether the law strikes the right balance between flexibility and certainty;
  3. improving worker engagement and participation in health and safety issues;
  4. ensuring the effective operation of health and safety regulators; and
  5. determining whether the wholistic health and safety system is meeting its objectives.

The consultation process begins with a roadshow across New Zealand over the coming months, seeking input from both businesses and workers.

Submissions can be made through the MBIE website here, closing on 31 October 2024.

Changes to WorkSafe

The HSWA changes are also influenced by perceived inefficiency of WorkSafe, with a newly released Cabinet paper from last September describing that in 2023, WorkSafe lacked control over its resources and was facing an expected deficit of $17.8m.

As a result, 113 WorkSafe roles were disestablished to reduce operating costs in November last year. Nine functions, including a victim support service, were removed to make up the deficit. As at Q3 of WorkSafe’s current year, a financial surplus of $7.9m was produced, compared to the budgeted deficit of $2.3m.

On June 7 this year, WorkSafe launched a refreshed strategy, which can be viewed here.

The strategy puts three types of harm at the forefront of health and safety investigations:

  1. acute harm – serious injury, illness or death from a single event;
  2. chronic harm – serious injury illness, or death from continuous work or repeated events; and
  3. catastrophic harm – serious illness, injury or death affecting multiple people.

Contrary to overseas trends, this marks a shift away from investigating “psychosocial risks” and mental harm.

The refreshed strategy is the first of three publications expected to describe WorkSafe’s future direction. The second publication is an “operating plan”, due to be announced later this month to be effective 1 July. The operating plan will set out priorities, initiatives, activities, describe how resources will be allocated and identify the outcomes WorkSafe aims to achieve. WorkSafe also intends to release a functional model to define the key functions required to deliver the strategy effectively.

‘Been There. Done That Report’ – Business Leaders Health and Safety Forum Independent Taskforce

In other health and safety news, this Taskforce has released its report with five key recommendations, which the taskforce believed could be done within six months:

  1. Rewrite and relaunch the 2018-2028 Health and Safety Strategy, including both implementing comprehensive governance and a three-year action plan to capture and ensure progress, including the next two recommendations below.
  2. Review and implement priority regulatory changes to ensure the most appropriate mix of regulations, codes and guidance to clearly specify business’ accountabilities and expectations.
  3. Apply the rules clearly and fairly and oversee them expertly to ensure poor or negligent business practices are consistently held to account, and leading performance is incentivised.
  4. Establish an independent oversight function for safety strategy, incorporating a small group of industry leaders to ensure progress and momentum for improving New Zealand’s health and safety performance.
  5. Establish and maintain a coherent, credible and current body of government and industry data and insights to inform and focus WorkSafe and business health and safety efforts.

Message for employers

We will share more information as it is published and encourage interested employers to participate in the WorkSafe roadshow and consultation process.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law, health and safety and immigration topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for tailored legal advice.

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