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The Independent Taskforce into Workplace Health and Safety delivered its sweeping recommendations to the Minister of Labour Simon Bridges yesterday after eight months of deliberation. Among comprehensive recommendations for change, was the bold statement that New Zealand’s current health and safety system is ‘not fit for purpose’ – as Rob Jager, chairman of the taskforce, put it.
New Zealand’s high rate of serious workplace injuries and fatalities could not be accounted for by a single critical factor, according to Jager. “Rather, we believe that our workplace health and safety system has a number of significant weaknesses across the full range of system components that need to be addressed if we are to achieve a major step-change in performance,” he said.
Principles underpinning the recommendations included:
The creation of a stand-alone health and safety regulator to provide a ‘single point of accountability’, and increased funding for the agency.
Modern and comprehensive legislation that provides greater certainty for all participants.
A tripartite system of oversight involving the government, employer and worker representatives at all levels.
A change in leadership and culture to lower our tolerance of ‘risky, unsafe and unhealthy work.’
Labour Minister Simon Bridges issued a press release stating that he welcomed the report and that the Government would now consider the individual recommendations. “The Government has already accepted the Taskforce’s early recommendation for a new stand-alone health and safety agency. We will respond in detail to the rest of the recommendations by July,” the Minister said.
Felicity Lamm, co-director of the occupational health and safety research centre at Auckland University of Technology, sat on the Taskforce and was struck by the unity of opinion. “I think, it may not be the first time in New Zealand, but it is the first time in a long time that employers and trade unions and employees were of one voice, for the first time. This was remarkable,” she said. “What Rob Jager is saying is being articulated up and down the country, that something is obviously not working in health and safety,” Lamm added.
For Lamm, the necessary culture change would only occur when health and safety concerns were taken seriously at all levels of an organisation. “I think when we have professionally trained occupational health and safety managers that sit alongside any of the senior management team, when management starts to take it seriously, when middle management starts to take it seriously, and employees start to look after their own health and safety, I think that’s when we’ll start to have that culture change,” she said.