“We are at a unique point in the continuing evolution of our health and safety system in this country. A watershed, if you like.” This is how Labour Minister Simon Bridges summed up the current state of New Zealand’s health and safety system when addressing the Safeguard Conference last week.
The Minister called the Pike River Royal Commission a ‘defining moment’ in its identification of ‘system-wide failures.’ “The legacy we create for the Pike River workers must not allow such systemic failure again. We owe it to their families and friends,” he added.
Bridges also mentioned the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, and how he was indebted to its chair, Rob Jager, and his colleagues for their wide-ranging and sweeping report. “The report is a comprehensive document which requires the Government’s careful and thorough consideration,” he said, adding that he intended to reply by the end of July.
However, the Minister also noted that he had already taken one concrete step: to create the stand-alone health and safety crown agency recommended by both the Royal Commission and the Taskforce. Nominations for its board are being considered now, and its make-up will be announced at the end of the month. At the same time, legislation is being prepared to establish the agency and is expected to be introduced to parliament this month.
The agency, Bridges announced, would be called WorkSafe New Zealand and its job will be to enforce workplace health and safety regulations. It will work with employers and employees to promote and embed good health and safety practices.
“WorkSafe New Zealand will be the structure through which the Government will deliver on the Royal Commission’s and the Taskforce recommendations,” the Minister explained. “It will – and it must – do things differently.”
However, another critical aspect of New Zealand’s health and safety system that was identified by the Minister was ‘collective and personal ownership and responsibility.’ “I believe it is the duty of each of us and our organisations to step up and own the problem, commit to its resolution, and actively work with each other and the regulator to bring down the health and safety workplace toll,” he said.