The Government has announced that it will establish a new, stand-alone Crown agency responsible for workplace health and safety – one of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. “The new agency will have a dedicated focus on health and safety and underlines the Government’s strong commitment to addressing New Zealand’s workplace fatality and serious injury rates,” Labour Minister Simon Bridges said.
“The Crown agent will enforce workplace health and safety regulations and work with employers and employees to promote and embed good health and safety practices,” Bridges added. The Minister also noted that the agency is part of the Government’s effort to reduce the incidence rate of workplace fatalities and serious injuries by 25% by 2020.
Legislation to establish the agency is expected to be introduced to parliament this June with the agency up and running by December. Until the agency is in place, it will be ‘business as usual’ for employers and employees and the Health and Safety Group within the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment will continue its work.
Union groups and the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) were united in their support of the move, although such support was not unconditional. Helen Kelly, president of the Council of Trade Unions, warned that more work was necessary to improve the safety of workers in the lead-up to the agency’s establishment, while Richard Wagstaff, national secretary of the Public Service Association, insisted that the agency should be well resourced.
“If we are going to have a separate health and safety agency every effort must be made to ensure it is well-funded, well-staffed, well-trained and includes strong professional leadership. It is not an opportunity to waste,” he said.
The EMA similarly welcomed the move, while cautioning that the agency would have to work differently. “We don’t want to see the same old culture we have had before transferred from OSH [Occupational Health & Safety] and the former Department of Labour to the new agency…The new organisation must lift itself and business to a whole new level of health and safety actions, to the benefit of both employers and employees,” he said.