Worker participation in health and safety – what does this mean for your business?

General / 25 July 2016
Worker participation in health and safety – what does this mean for your business?

A raft of new regulations to support the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (Act) were released recently, covering general risk and workplace management, worker engagement, participation and representation, major hazards, asbestos, as well as infringement fees and more specific topics like mining, quarrying and adventure activities.

The new Act clearly directs that all workers must be allowed the opportunity to engage and participate in decision making about health and safety matters affecting them.  Engaging workers in health and safety matters makes good business sense because they are the people carrying out the work which health and safety risks relate to, and it encourages “buy in” to safe practice because there is a higher degree of ownership.  This helps to build a positive safety culture, as well as reducing risk taking behaviour and associated loss time injuries.  Engagement with workers is also a crucial step in your process to work towards continual improvement regarding health and safety risk management, required by the Act.

WorkSafe NZ summarises the meaning of these terms as follows:

Engagement is how a business involves its workers in work health and safety matters and decisions.
Participation practices are the on-going ways for workers to raise health ans safety concerns, be part of making decisions which affect work health and safety, and offer suggestions for improving health and safety.
In summary, engagement and participation should involve:

asking for, listening to and taking into account the views of workers when making decisions that may affect their health and safety;
explaining to workers the results of any health and safety decision in a timely way;
having clear ways for workers to raise their own suggestions for improving health and safety.
All businesses must have worker participation and engagement processes regardless of size or risk level.

How you manage engagement with workers in terms of processes and practice will depend on your business circumstances.  Engagement could be managed by talking about health and safety matters at toolbox or other regular meetings, by regular meetings of a formal health and safety committee with elected health and safety representatives.

Employers must facilitate the election of health and safety representatives and establish health and safety committees where requested by workers.  The exception to complying with such a request is if the business has less than 20 workers or is not within the scope of any “high-risk” sector or industry prescribed by regulations.

High-risk sectors industries include aquaculture, forestry and logging, fishing, hunting and trapping, coal mining, food product manufacturing, water supply, sewerage and drainage, waste collection, treatment and disposal services, building construction and heavy and civil engineering construction.  Current industries prescribed by the regulations include adventure activities, mining and quarrying.

An employer may also initiate an election for a health and safety representative or establish a health and safety committee at their own initiative.  This is a well-established way to support worker engagement and participation.

The regulations set out requirements for health and safety committees, elections for health and safety representatives, records that must be kept, and training.  To ensure you understand the requirements as they apply to your business, we recommend seeking advice.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek guidance from your employment lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.

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