The legislative legacy of the Pike River tragedy

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The Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation Bill), the purpose of which is to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, unanimously passed its first reading in parliament last week.

The Bill comprises three parts:

  • The first establishes WorkSafe New Zealand, the new health and safety agency
  • The second amends the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992
  • And the third creates a new Mines Rescue Act 2013

The first part includes legislation providing for the establishment of a new, stand-alone Crown health and safety agency – WorkSafe New Zealand. There is, however, some concern over how this will be staffed. The Labour health and safety spokesperson Darien Fenton told Fairfax that only 74 of the promised 158 inspectors had been hired. “This leaves the country with the lowest number of health and safety inspectors since the late 1940s and makes a mockery of the Government’s platitudes about improving health and safety for Kiwi workers,” she said.

However, Labour Minister Simon Bridges said that he was unaware of any problems with the recruitment process, which was ongoing.

The second part includes amendments to the Health and Safety in Employment Act, including a new set of mining regulations and the compulsory requirement that all mining operations have a documented worker participation system in health and safety.

Health and safety representatives are to be elected at mines and will have wide-reaching powers. Representatives will:

 

  • Attend interviews between staff and management regarding health and safety
  • Enter and inspect a mining operation
  • Examine and copy documents
  • Accompany an inspector who has entered a mining operation
  • Consult with an inspector on any health and safety issue
  • Issue a hazard notice if he or she believes there is a hazard in the mine operation
  • Give notice requiring the whole or part of aspect of a mining operation to be suspended if he or she believes that it is likely to cause serious harm to a person
  • Require immediate cessation of the whole or part or aspect of a mining operation if he or she believes that it is likely to cause serious harm to any person

 

If the representative exercises either of the last two powers and work is stopped, employees must do other work within the scope of their employment. Work that has stopped cannot be re-started until the site senior executive is satisfied that there is no likelihood of serious harm.

“The basic issue is we want health and safety representatives … to feel free to speak up to stop work in the interest of health and safety but of course, just as in Australia, we don’t want to see that used for other reasons like wage disputes for example,” Labour Minister Simon Bridges said.

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